Observatory on Political Parties and Representation > Research


The Observatory on Political Parties and Representation (OPPR) hosts a series of innovative research projects on European political parties, which adopt either a trans-national or cross-national perspective.


On-going research projects


1. "Trans-Nationalisation of EU politics"

This research project could be launched and could receive some preliminary feedbacks during the conference with the EU Foundations. In particular this project could be divided in two parts. The first one would be devoted to the plausibility of Duff’s draft on the possible standardization of the national electoral systems for the European elections. This could be considered as a first step towards the concrete trans-nationalization of EU politics. The second part of the project, even more ambitious, would be devoted to identifying the current relevant social and political cleavages for each member state. The rationale of this part is that only common and shared cleavages can make trans-nationalisation really possible. This project could be submitted to the EP Constitutional Affairs Committee, taking into consideration the previous and proficient relations already established between the OPPR and this committee.


2. "Parties as Multi-Level Campaigning Organisations"

This can be considered as the infrastructural project of the OPPR. For many years literature has considered European Elections as secondary order elections where the national parties still perform the main role in respect to the Euro-Parties. This assessment has never really been tested. We want to monitor the role of the Parties at the European Level in the electoral campaigns for the next European elections and individuate whether they really play a minor role or whether they play a relevant role in defining electoral programs and national party candidatures. Due to the relevance of this project we want to submit it to the EP presidency.


3. "Relations between Political Parties at the European Level and National Parties of Associate Countries"

Associate countries have always received particular attention from European national governments and also from non-governmental organizations. In particular, as happened in the past, European national parties have helped with resources and legitimization sister parties in neighboring countries. Nowadays, taking into consideration the increased formalization and resources of the PELs, such a role is played even by Euro-Parties. We want to test this hypothesis through this project, analyzing the current relations between PELs and sister parties in the associate countries.


4. "Relations between Political Parties at the European Level and Turkish Parties"

This can be considered as the extension of the previous project. We have already established relations with the Ege University (Turkey). The target is jointly to prepare a project and to submit it to the Turkish Education Minister.


5. "Party Leadership Selection in National Parties"

In our research of 2010 “How to Create a Transnational Party System” we devoted an entire chapter to the candidate selection procedures for the European elections. We discovered a huge variety amongst national parties even of the same spiritual and political family; on the other hand, we found other aspects that characterize and distinguish the different political families. We assume that even for the party leadership selection procedures we can find the same differences and similarities. We have submitted this project to the European Socialists Party, focusing our topic on the national parties of the socialist family and, as for comparison, the popular family. We are still waiting for a definite answer.


6. "Electoral Systems, Parties, and Political Personnel"

OPPR members have been included in a joint project led by the Universities of Pisa, Rome and Bologna and financed by the Italian Minister of University (MIUR). The project, named “Sistemi elettorali, partiti e personale politico in Italia: 1987-2008” [Electoral Systems, Parties, and Political Personnel in Italy: 1987-2008] aims to study the impact of the change of the electoral rules on the quality of candidate and elected politicians. The project is included in the international project “Electoral Systems and Party Personnel: The Consequences of Reform and Non-reform, directed by Ellis Krauss, Robert Pekkanen, and Matthew Shugart.


Past Research Projects


Political Parties and Political Foundations at European Level. Challenges and Opportunities

This report is based on a follow-up study on “How to create a transnational party system”. Four years after the original study, this updated, revised and extended Report provides policy-makers with a thorough understanding of both long-term and recent challenges or opportunities regarding the emergence of transnational parties and a transnational party system at the European Union (EU) level and, ultimately, of the constraints and opportunities for representative democracy in the EU.

The Report focuses on the following aspects: (a) the policy positions and coherence of the EP Party Groups after the Euro-crisis; (b) the regulation and funding of political parties at European level (PPELs); (c) the role of political foundations at European level (PFELs).

More specifically, the report ascertains the continued ability of EP Party Groups to respond cohesively to the challenges posed by the current economic crisis. The report further assesses the opportunities and incentives provided by the current and proposed legislation on political parties at the EU level for the development of a transnational party system, but also the remaining obstacles still to be faced. Finally, it provides an assessment of the institutionalization of PFELs as organizations created for the promotion of democracy at EU level and for the support of their related PPELs through activities aimed at improving the linkage with EU citizens.


How to Create a Transnational Party System

In November 2009, the OPPR won a tender of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs of the European Parliament for writing a report on “How to Create a Transnational European Party System?”. The report, written in the first half of 2010 by four OPPR researchers under the direction of Prof. Bardi and Prof. Mair, analyses the factors that could affect the development of a full-fledged party system at EU level, and is divided into four parts: 1) An analysis of the political doctrine and programme of major political parties in as many Member States as feasible; 2) An examination of current procedures applied to political parties to choose leaders for European Office; 3) The development of proposals (starting from that of Liberal MEP Andrew Duff) on how to help a European political party system evolve from national structures strongly influenced by historical traditions and cultural factors; 4) The development of suggestions regarding the extent to which the European electoral system and different systems of party financing would have to be revised in order to facilitate the above.

The preliminary results of the report have been presented on 2 June before the Committee on Constitutional Affairs and the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament, whereas the final version of the report has been Published by the Europan Parliament in early October. One of the core conclusion reached by the report is that we need to distinguish between the phenomenon of transnationalisation of political parties and the phenomenon of transnationalisation of their party system. Much of the evidence examined in the report points to the increasing transnationalisation of the parties, and reveals that there are relatively few obstacles to large-scale convergence across Europe. Despite this convergence, however, there is still little progress towards the formation of a transnational party system. At the level of competition between parties, in other words, national boundaries and national identities remain paramount. In the concluding remarks, the report formulates and discusses some ways in which these latter barriers might be lowered, and the implications of such a change.

On 19.04.2011 Members of the European Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee have backed a report, drafted by Liberal UK MEP Andrew Duff, that calls for the creation of 25 additional MEPs, elected on a pan-European basis in order to boost the legislature's popular legitimacy.


Party Membership

In collaboration with colleagues at the University of Leiden and the University of Dusseldorf, a research project on party membership in Europe is currently being completed. This project has gathered data on current levels of membership in 27 European democracies, and a report analysing the data has been written by Ingrid van Biezen (Leiden), Peter Mair (EUI) and Thomas Poguntke (Dusseldorf). The paper, which is currently under review, concludes as follows:

"While political parties continue to play a major role in the elections and institutions of modern European democracies, it seems that they have all but abandoned any pretensions to being mass organizations. There are some parties, to be sure, that continue to emphasize the need for a strong membership and which cultivate close organizational links to local communities and constituencies. The Dutch Socialist Party is one such example, the rightwing Italian Lega Nord is another. In both Austria and Cyprus, moreover, political parties in general tend to maintain very large memberships, setting both polities ever more evidently as being at one remove from the normal patterns of party organizational development in contemporary Europe.

Even taking account of these exceptions, however, what we see in these membership data is very concrete evidence of the sheer extent of party transformation in Europe since the 1980s. When data on party membership first began to be systematically collected and compared, the phenomenon itself was believed to matter. Members were believed to provide mass parties with a large proportion of their income and other organizational resources. They offered a valuable input into party policy-making, not least in the lead-up to and usual conduct of national party congresses. By allowing the party to maintain a presence on the ground, they helped to legitimize party organizations and party campaigning. Finally, by offering commitment and loyalty, they constituted a fairly inexhaustible reservoir for candidate recruitment and office-holding obligations. The benefits provided by members were also evident in the scale of membership. In the early 1960s, according to the data collected by Katz, Mair et al, party membership constituted an average of almost 15 per cent of the electorate in the ten polities researched. In West Germany, the lowest ranking country, the figure was then just 2.5 per cent, and in Belgium, the next lowest, 7.8 per cent. The remaining cases ranged from over 9 per cent in the UK and the Netherlands, to 19 per cent in Finland, and to over 20 per cent in Sweden and Austria. This undoubtedly made for a very strong party organizational presence in European societies.

Today, the figures look wholly different. The average M/E (membership/electorate) ratio across Europe is just 4.7 per cent. Only two polities – Cyprus and Austria – score above 10 per cent. The figure of 7.8 per cent for Belgium in the 1960s, which placed it as second from last in the list of countries for which data were then available, would now warrant the fourth highest place in a list of 27 countries (after Cyprus and Austria, only Finland still reaches 8 per cent). The conclusion is then obvious, if also somewhat banal: Parties are not what they once were. The age of mass organizations has passed, and, with few exceptions, the parties which compete today are visible only within the institutions and on the airwaves. The membership of these parties is not only substantially reduced, but it also appears to be relatively narrowly drawn, and no longer justifies the assumption that these parties have a presence in civil society. Indeed, as we have suggested above, it seems that membership itself no longer offers any meaningful gauge of party organizational capacity. It is also clear, however, that the decline of mass organizations is not something that affects parties alone. Rather, as the data sources reviewed above suggest, the other traditional pillars of organized mass society, the churches and the unions, are also losing membership and clout, and are also beginning to float free from any real fundamental connection to the wider society. This also means that the world of collateral organizations is no longer capable of offering a refuge to parties that seek other routes to organization building, and that it offers little potential for the parties to make up for their own declining memberships. Not only has the age of the mass party passed, but the conditions which fostered its development also no longer prevail".

These data on party membership, disaggregated by country and by party, will be made available on this website following eventual publication of the paper


Party Patronage

A research project on party patronage being conducted with colleagues from the University of Leiden is now nearing completion. The project has involved an intensive three-year effort to gather and analyse data on public appointments and political control in 15 European democracies, ranging across both northern and southern Europe, Eastern and Western Europe, and across both large and small democracies. It combines the analysis of polities in which there has been a strong tradition of patronage and clientelism, such as Greece, Ireland, and Italy, as well as those in which patronage is normally deemed irrelevant or non-existent, such as Denmark and Norway. The result of this large-scale research project has been the creation of a unique data set which is likely to be extensively mined by researchers for many years to come, and which will soon be made available on this website.

The data was gathered by 15 country teams following a common approach. The bulk of the data comes from interviews with about 45 expert respondents in each country (or 675 for the whole volume). Experts were chosen from within three major groups: academia, the non-governmental sector and the civil service. They were chosen as experts who were knowledgeable about appointments to institutions in nine different policy areas (e.g. judiciary, economy, foreign affairs, welfare etc.). The country teams interviewed at least 5 experts for each of the nine policy areas, with each responding to a uniform questionnaire in face-to-face interviews. Respondents were asked to assess the pervasiveness, persistence and several other aspects of the party patronage practices within their policy area of expertise. Their answers were analysed systematically to produce a detailed description of the empirical situation in different institutional arenas of the state, but also aggregated to produce a more general picture of the patronage practices in the country. These data are supplemented with information from other primary and secondary sources such as literature on the status of the civil service, prior history of patronage, media reports about the current practice and government reports about employment trends in the individual countries. A volume edited by Petr Kopecky and Maria Spirova (Leiden) and Peter Mair (EUI), reporting and analyzing the results of this research, will shortly be submitted for publication.


EU-civil society consultations

In December 2009 EUDO won a tender from the European Social and Economic Committee (EESC) to produce a comparative study on member state consultations with civil society on European policy matters. The aim of the study is to map and analyse consultations with civil society at the national level, in order to offer policy advice on how to improve EESC-led consultative processes. The project is led (within the OPPR and the OPO) by Didier Chabanet, who is supported by a team of appointed country experts, EUI researchers and external fellows trained in the field. They will collect and analyse information about the way civil society is represented, not only at the national level, but in particular through EESC-led consultative processes. The study, which will be completed by June 2010, will contain 27 national reports and a cross-country comparison. For further information contact the project coordinator Tijana Prokic.



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Page last updated on 31 July 2015