Since the late 1980s a consid er able number of radical right-wing popu list parties (RRWPs) have achieved elect oral break through in Western Europe.1 Parties like the Alleanza Nazionale (AN), the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ), the Front National (FN), the Lega Nord (LN) and the Vlaams Belang (VB) have succeeded in gaining and main tain ing parlia ment ary repres en - t a tion for several decades now. Yet despite their success at the polls, RRWPs have long been kept out of public office. It was only during the late 1990s that main stream right parties started to cooper ate with RRWPs in national govern ments. This was the case for example in Italy in 1994, when Silvio Berlusconi invited the AN and LN to govern with Forza Italia (FI) after the three parties had success fully contested the elec tions in two elect oral alli ances. In 2001 Berlusconi formed a second govern ment coali tion with the AN and the LN, which remained in power until 2006. Although defeated in the 2006 elec tions, the coali tion returned to office in 2008 and still governs at the time of writing. Austria was the second country to have a govern ment in which an RRWP parti cip ated. In 2000 the Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP) formed a govern ment with Jörg Haider’s FPÖ after lengthy coali tion nego ti ations with the Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ) had broken down. Three years later ÖVP leader Wolfgang Schüssel decided to re-form his coali tion with the FPÖ, despite the poor elect oral showing of the latter party in the 2002 elec tions. In the twenty-first century the govern ment parti cip a tion of RRWPs has spread to Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands. In 2001 centre-right minor ity govern ments that survived by the grace of the support of RRWPs assumed office in Denmark and Norway.2 Thanks to support of the Dansk Folkeparti (DF) the Danish minor ity govern ment of Venstre (V) and Det Konservative Folkeparti (KF) contin ued in office after the 2005 and 2007 elec tions. Between 2001 and 2005 the Fremskrittspartiet (FrP) fulfilled the same role in Norway. Moreover, in 2002 the Lijst Pim Fortuyn (LPF) entered the Dutch parlia ment with an impress ive 17 per cent of the popular vote and was imme di ately invited into a govern ment alli ance by Jan Peter Balkenende, leader of the Christen Democratisch Appèl (CDA) (see Table 1). This article invest ig ates why these ten govern ment coali tions have been formed. Designed

as a compar at ive study of the new alli ances between main stream right parties and RRWPs in West European demo cra cies, it explains why these alli ances have been forged in Austria, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands and Norway and why they have only been created recently. To invest ig ate their form a tion the article uses coali tion form a tion theor ies, which permit the analysis of the prop er ties of govern ment coali tions in which main stream right parties and RRWPs have cooper ated. On the basis of the predic tions of these theor ies infer ences are made about the motives main stream right parties might have had for chan ging alle gi ance from social demo cratic and left-leaning centre parties to RRWPs. The results of the analysis show that the vast major ity of the ten right-wing govern ments under invest ig a tion are predicted

by the coali tion form a tion theor ies, suggest ing that their form a tion has been inspired by a combin a tion of office and policy consid er a tions on the part of main stream right parties. These find ings are explored in more detail by analys ing Austrian, Danish, Dutch, Italian and Norwegian seat distri bu tions and party posi tions and by study ing the coali tion form a tion processes that resul ted in the rise to power of these govern ment coali tions. These analyses demon strate that office, policy and votes made main stream right parties turn to RRWPs as new coali tion part ners and that two import ant changes in West European party systems have enabled the form a tion of the new alli ances, the first being an elect oral shift to the right and the second the conver gence of party posi tions of main stream right parties and RRWPs. This study thus confirms the prelim in ary find ings of Tim Bale (2003, p. 68), who has argued that ‘the appar ent swing of western Europe’s polit ical pendu lum away from social demo cracy and back towards the centre-right’ has brought RRWPs to power. Although the find ings of this study might appear self-evident to students of coali tion polit ics,

they run counter to many ideas promoted in the liter at ure on RRWPs. In this body of literat ure norm at ive schemes of inter pret a tion are the rule rather than the excep tion and a func tion al ist approach is not often applied.3 Scholars in this field talk of strategies of ‘engagement’ and ‘disen gage ment’ (Downs, 2001), and use notions like the ‘exclu sion ary oligo poly’, ‘maximum integ ra tion’ (Kestel and Godmer, 2004), ‘defend ing demo cracy’ (Pedhazur, 2004) or ‘margin al isa tion’ and ‘accom mod a tion’ (Widfeldt, 2004). These types of concept or typo l-ogy have an ad hoc char ac ter and cannot easily be applied to parties other than those that belong to the RRWP family, because they rely heavily on the specific prop er ties of these parties, such as their alleged anti-demo cratic char ac ter and their alleged racist or xeno phobic programmes. As a result they are of little added value to compar at ive research ers. Coalition form a tion theor ies, on the contrary, assume that ‘there are no a priori constraints

which circum scribe or inhibit the nego ti ation and coali tion between any two parties’ (Dodd, 1976, p. 40). Less form ally put, each party considers every other party as a poten tial coali tion partner until the para met ers that shape parties’ coali tion pref er ences (e.g. elec tion results and party posi tions) are known. Clearly, the assump tion that parties have general coali tion ab il ity conflicts to some degree with the beha viour of parties in coali tion form a tion processes.