In This Review

Political Conflict in Western Europe
Political Conflict in Western Europe
By Hanspeter Kriesi, Edgar Grande, Martin Dolezal, Marc Helblin
Cambridge University Press, 2012, 368 pp.
The Politicization of Europe: Contesting the Constitution in the Mass Media
The Politicization of Europe: Contesting the Constitution in the Mass Media
By Paul Statham and Hans-Jörg Trenz
Routledge, 2012, 224 pp.

The political history of European countries is traditionally told in terms of a small number of significant, divisive issues. These issues emerged successively -- first religion, then class, and more recently “postmaterialist” values, such as the environment -- creating points of identification for voters and fault lines of conflict among political parties. They persist to this day and get layered on top of one another, defining the uniqueness of each country’s politics. 

Recently, some political scientists have claimed that a new and enduring cleavage has formed around globalization, a matter that has been of surprisingly little concern to European voters for the past half century. Those hurt by international economic integration now mobilize around issues such as immigration and European integration. A significant portion of them vote consistently for the radical right, helping explain its rise, while still backing the traditional welfare state. Kriesi, Grande, and their co-authors show that while globalization has grown more important as a motivation for voters, there may be less to this shift than meets the eye. Right-wing parties are actually surprisingly weak, fragmented, and local -- something the authors attribute to the bias of parliamentary institutions against them. Moreover, the book shows that although a few ideological concerns, such as opposition to immigration and hostility to the EU, are widespread, no common economic or political program unites antiglobalizers.

Statham and Trenz’s examination of public debates over an EU constitution notes a similar lack of cross-border mobilization. European voters remain resolutely national in their orientation and are heavily influenced by the institutional and ideological particularities of their home countries, making a broad shift in European politics or in the policies of the EU difficult to engineer.