A puzzling lack of impact Back in 2002, Bogaards complained that ‘[i]n line with a general neglect of the effect of European integration on domestic political change . . . little attention has been paid to the impact of the EU on domestic consociationalism’ (Bogaards 2002: 369). A fair number of EU member states qualify as consensus democracies, and a smaller but still significant number are regarded as consociational democracies, at least in origin. The European Union itself has long been interpreted as a consociational or at least a consensual political regime (from Steiner 1974: 281-3, to Conversi 2013). Hence, the question of how European integration and national consensus politics affect each other seems a rather obvious one. It would be naive to reason that the fit between the rules of the game at the national and EU levels cannot but have reinforced the tendency of national political elites to shun competition and share power. In fact, the introductory chapter to this volume lists many reasons to expect a weakening rather than a strengthening of domestic consensus politics because of involvement in European consensus politics. If member states play the same role within the EU as the subcultures at the national level, we should also expect the same concentration of power around the leadership of the member states that has been found around the leadership of the domestic subcultures in consociational democracies. Indeed, the EU is often said to have caused a strengthening of the executive over parliament (and thus of the governing majority over the opposition). EU summitry is also alleged to have strengthened the heads of government within the executive (Goetz and Meyer-Sahling 2008). The transformation of erstwhile foreign enemies into fellow EU members has removed the external threat that once helped induce domestic elites to put national unity above subcultural rivalry. In general, the protection offered by EU membership reduces the urgency to close ranks at home to avoid military or economic disaster. On the contrary, EU multilevel governance has even created possibilities for national interests to bypass national decision making if the opportunity structure seems more favourable in Brussels. And although Jacques Delors’ famous prediction that after the introduction of the EU Internal Market, 80 per cent of national economic regulation
would originate in Brussels (Debates of the EP, no. 2-367/140) has proven wildly exaggerated (Brouard et al. 2012), there is no gainsaying that the growing acquis has reduced the scope for domestic bargaining. Less often observed is the fact that European decision making also sets the timetable (Goetz and MeyerSahling 2012), reducing the window available for domestic bargaining. Finally, European integration has contributed to the rise of a new dimension of electoral conflict, between the ‘losers’ and the ‘winners’ of globalization (Kriesi et al. 2008), complicating the already complex ideological constellation that is characteristic of consociational democracies. In short, Europeanization may well have pushed towards domestic hierarchy, weakened incentives to share power, and narrowed the opportunities for finding compromises. As the introductory chapter also shows, a few rival hypotheses exist that link European integration to a strengthening rather than a weakening of consensus politics at the national level. Depoliticization is one of the ways in which consociational elites traditionally have sought to defuse subcultural conflict, and transferring potentially divisive issues to the rather technocratic EU provides them with a new opportunity for depoliticization and hiving off of responsibility for unpopular decisions. And in contradiction to the hypothesis of a reduced scope for bargaining, it can be argued that the EU’s removal of internal trade barriers has made the economies of member states more open, and, following Katzenstein’s well-known argument (Katzenstein 1985), an open economy is hypothesized to contribute to a corporatist style of interest intermediation. Yet, in terms of hypotheses, the emphasis is clearly on an expected corrosive effect of EU membership on consensus politics. In that light, it is more surprising that the chapters of this book do not find a substantial weakening of consensus politics as a consequence of European integration than that they also fail to find evidence of a significant strengthening. The fact that governing coalitions have become less inclusive is probably the strongest indicator of a development towards a more majoritarian style that can be linked, albeit indirectly, to European integration. The introduction of more parliamentary instruments to scrutinize national decision making with regard to EU policies is probably the strongest evidence supporting the view that consensus politics has recently been strengthened. Apart from these two changes in opposing directions, there have been no important shifts in the domestic mode of decision making. It cannot be excluded that Europeanization has exerted a push towards either more or less consensus politics, but that this impact has been neutralized by other factors. However, the in-depth studies in this book were designed to capture any such countervailing developments. It could be argued that the time frame of this study (since 1990) is too short, but for that reason this study explicitly does not confine itself to the formal institutions and rules. It could also be objected that the starting point of this study is set too late, as Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands are founding members, and they have felt the impact of EU membership since the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951. However, membership is not a static condition, and both the Single European Act and the Treaty of Maastricht do mark the start of an
intensification of Europeanization that would have been bound to have had an effect since the 1990s over and above any previous impact of EU membership. It seems unlikely that the apparent absence of a shift in the mode of decision making can be accounted for by countervailing tendencies or by the chosen time frame.