Literature Review: Does politicisation matter for EU representation? A comparison of four European Parliament elections

Photo Credit: Gerd Altmann/

Vasilopoulou, S. / Gattermann K. (2020). Does politicisation matter for EU representation? A comparison of four European Parliament elections, Journal of Common Market Studies. DOI: 10.1111/jcms.13125

The European Union´s (EU) polities and politics, the party-system and the public debate become ever more contested, a phenomenon referred to as politicisation. Vasilopoulou and Gattermann investigate the possible influence of the latter on the perceived political representation of voters through parties in the European Parliament (EP). The authors argue that politicisation could potentially reduce the relative voter congruence (RVC), i.e. the ideological distance of the individual voter in relation to all citizens that casted their vote for the same party. Because of growing contestation, party positions on EU policy and polity change. As voters increasingly voice their preferences, parties may reflect the views of voters more closely. Alternatively, Vasilopoulou and Gattermann hypothesise that politicisation has no effects on RVC because of the EP´s second-order election characteristics and the member state´s heterogeneity. The authors test these expectations based on data for the EU-15 countries over the course of four elections (1999-2014). To cover policies made through, and polities of the EU system, the study considers RVC on a left-right and a pro-anti EU dimension. Different spheres in which EU affairs might be contested are taken into account through party polarisation, salience of EU issues, Europeanness of news, and media dispute. The findings indicate that EP parties and their voters are rather close on the left-right and EU dimensions of political conflict. However, Vasilopoulou and Gattermann find no significant influence of politicisation on the level of closeness and accept the alternative hypothesis that  inconsistent polarization and the second-order nature of EP elections do not create an environment for party responsiveness at the EU level. Nevertheless, the authors are reluctant to reject the idea that politicisation impacts the congruency between parties and voters at the EU level entirely, and suggest that additional analyses of ideological party positions, the voter-level, issue specificity, and the national arena might lead to different results.

The authors thus contribute to the debate on the necessity of politicisation for further integration. To move this research forward, I would also like the analysis to consider gender related differences in RVC. With growing politicisation of gender in the EU, I would expect that voters perceive their representation differently, based on their gender. Given the EU´s gender mainstreaming approach women might perceive a higher level of correspondence between their own positions and pro-European parties. For male voters, in turn, the perceived party-responsiveness might depend more on their placement in the left-right dimension and policy contestation. However, to be able to executive such research, we would need additional data on gendered EU polity and policies, party contestation, and the elections to the EP 2019. The findings of such work can contribute to the democratic legitimacy debate in the EU by highlighting the importance of the Union´s gender equality narrative for perceived representation of female citizens and set a gender sensitive baseline for RVC analysis on EU policies – which is already well-established at the national level.

By Darius Ribbe in November 2020

Darius Ribbe is a doctoral student and research assistant at the University of Greifswald. His academic interest includes European integration, the European institutions (especially the European Commission), and representative claims. Further, he follows the scientific debate on EU-Turkey relations and the Economic and Monetary Union.

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