Media often portrays European Union (EU) decision-making as a battleground for national governments that defend the interests of their member states. Yet even the most powerful individuals, such as the German chancellor, the French president, or the Commission president, are party politicians. At the same time the consistent empowerment of the European Parliament (EP) means that the party groups of European-level “Europarties”—political parties at European level—are in a key position to shape EU legislation. The Parliament has also become more directly involved in the appointment of the Commission, with the results of EP elections thus influencing the composition of the Commission. Examining the “partyness” of European integration, this article argues that scholarly understanding of the role of parties in the EU political system has taken great strides forward since the turn of the millennium. This applies especially to the EP party groups, with research focusing particularly on voting patterns in the plenary. This body of work has become considerably more sophisticated and detailed over the years; it shows that the main EP groups do achieve even surprisingly high levels of cohesion and that the left–right dimension is the primary axis of contestation in the chamber. It nonetheless also emphasizes the continuing relevance of national parties that control candidate selection in EP elections. Considering that most votes in the Parliament are based on cooperation between the two largest groups, the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the center-left Party of the European Socialists (PES), future research should analyze in more detail how these groups build compromises. Actual Europarties, however, remain relatively unexplored. Case studies of treaty reforms or particular policy sectors reveal how individual Europarties have often wielded decisive influence on key integration decisions or key appointments to EU institutions. The Europarty meetings held in conjunction with European Council summits are particularly important in this respect. The regular, day-to-day activities of Europarties deserve more attention, both regarding decision-making and vertical links between national parties and their Europarties. Overall, it is probably more accurate to characterize Europarties as networks of like-minded national parties or as loose federations of member parties, especially when compared with the often centralized and strongly disciplined parties found in the member states.
Karl Magnus Johansson and Tapio Raunio
Cost-benefit analysis (CBA) is a widely used economic appraisal method that aims to support politicians in making decisions about projects and policies. Several researchers have tried to uncover the extent to which CBA actually impacts decision-making by investigating the statistical relation between the results of CBA studies and political decisions. Although these studies show that there is no significant statistical relation between the outcomes of CBA studies and political decisions, there is clear evidence that the institutionalization of CBA affects the planning and decision-making process within the bureaucracy. Civil servants, for instance, use CBAs to government projects in the early phases of the planning process. The literature identifies various barriers that hamper politicians’ use of CBA when forming their opinion. First, politicians often receive results of CBA studies too late in the process. When politicians receive a CBA after they already made up their mind and communicated their viewpoint, the chance is low that the results of the CBA will (substantially) influence their decision. A second important barrier that limits the use of CBA by politicians is that they do not have enough trust in CBA’s impartiality. A third barrier is that politicians contest value judgments implicit in CBA. The literature distinguishes six ideological value judgments that inevitably need to be made when conducting a CBA: (a) Which individuals have standing in a CBA? (b) Which preferences have standing in a CBA? (c) Which procedure is used to value impacts? (d) On which dimensions are standard numbers differentiated? (e) Which weight is assigned to preferences of individuals in the social welfare function? (f) Which approach is adopted to select the social discount rate? The implication of the fact that CBA analysts cannot escape from making value judgments when conducing the study is that CBA is currently a problematic tool for democratic decision-making because, when applied in practice, the analysis is based on a specific set of politically loaded premises that fosters (damages) the interests of politicians (not) endorsing these premises. It is possible to overcome this problem through informing politicians about the extent to which switching value judgements leads to different CBA outcomes. The introduction of so-called normative sensitivity analyses safeguards that politicians with different belief systems are equally equipped to use the results of a CBA to arrive at a well-founded evaluation of a government project.
The emerging literature on the politics of social protection in Africa provides insights into the ways in which the unevenly changing character of representative democracy shapes processes of public policymaking in practice. Reforms are widely on the agenda, in part as a result of their advocacy by diverse international organizations and aid donors. But there are many obstacles between the policy agenda and policymaking (and implementation). In many countries, political elites hold conservative views on cash transfer programs. The institutionalization of regular and nominally contested elections has rarely resulted in significant pressures from below for pro-poor programmatic social policy reforms. In some countries, “democratic” politics continues to revolve around competition for patronage rather than programmatic reform. In others, voters themselves seem to prioritize other programs (especially agricultural subsidies) ahead of social protection. Nonetheless, a growing number of competitively elected governments have introduced reforms, as have some semi-democratic or authoritarian regimes. For both more and less democratic governments, regime legitimation through apparently more inclusive development seems to be a more powerful factor than voter pressure.
Richard C. Eichenberg
Scholars and governments are interested in four sets of questions concerning public opinion on foreign policy and national security policy. First, what do public opinion polls measure? How do citizens, who are generally uninformed about foreign policy and world affairs, form opinions on these matters? Second, how rational is public opinion? Is it stable or volatile? Are opinions coherent? Do opinions plausibly reflect the flow of world events? Third, what factors influence the formation of citizen opinions? Specifically, what is the impact of fundamental attitudes toward war and military force, partisanship, ideology, and gender? Finally, how universal are the determinants of citizen opinion, especially on crucial issues of war and peace? Are the findings in global comparisons the same as those in the American or European contexts? Considerable scholarship has been devoted to these four questions. Scholars now characterize public opinion as rational, in the sense that it is fairly stable, coherent, and responsive to real world events. Attitudes toward war and military force are a major focus of the research literature because many specific policy attitudes flow from fundamental views of war. Gender has also become a major focus of research because many studies find that women are less supportive of the use of military force for most purposes. Finally, scholars are beginning to discover that some opinion patterns are universal across societies, while others are more affected by the individual characteristics of national societies. Studies of global public opinion have expanded greatly, with recent scholarship focusing on global attitudes toward gender equality, immigration, and climate change.