Transformation of West European Political System

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2016-60-7-16-24

K. Kholodkovskii, Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO), 23, Profsoyuznaya Str., Moscow, 117997, Russian Federation (

Abstract. Nowadays, one can see the multiplying manifestations of a crisis of the party system that have been characteristic for the countries of Western Europe. They point at the beginning of its restructuring – already the second in the post-war period. In the first post-war period continental Western Europe was featured by a multiplicity of parties that seriously diverged in their ideologies and were placed along the axis “right-left”. In the subsequent decades (finally – by the end of XXth century) a bipartisan (or two coalition) system formed that isolated the marginalized radical flanks from the power. Center-right and center-left governments succeeded each other. Right governments were primarily concerned by provision of free economic development, while the center-left ones to a great extent contributed to the emergence of welfare state. The social base of these governments was be the substantially grown middle class. However, at the beginning of XXIth century the two-party system underwent erosion. Its manifestation included the crisis of left centrism and the consequent weakening of socialist and social democratic parties. This stemmed from the transition to the post-industrial economy, decrease of the middle class, crisis of the welfare state, and the dominance of neoliberalism. Also importantly, the political topics not connected tightly with opposition along the axis “right–left” (regionalism, ecology, Euroscepticism, other culture immigration) came to the forefront. Finally, the role of parties as a channel for interaction between society and state weakened while requests for increased political representation methods and application of various forms of direct democracy strengthened. Other (new) parties, parties-movements, “parties-antiparties” came forward at the political arena. The attempts to offer solutions of new issues on the ways of political radicalism intensified. The new party configuration hampers formation and operation of governments as the dominant parties receive only a relative majority at the elections. The eventual outcome of this restructuring is uncertain, but a return to bipartisanship is improbable. Most likely, the new – third in the postwar period – party system will be featured by fragility, multiplicity of parties, non-rigid binding of them to the axis “right–left”, existence of other political axes, variety and vagueness of the parties’ forms. It is probable that the bipartisan centrist governments (like the present government of A. Merkel) will become more or less constant phenomenon. Some currently radical parties will turn more moderate and in difficult cases the non-partisan, technocratic cabinets (like Monti government in Italy) will be formed.

Keywords: parties, party system, right centrism, left centrism, political ideologies, elections, crisis of social democracy, political radicalism, political instability 


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For citation:
Kholodkovskii K. Transformation of West European Political System. World Eonomy and International Relations, 2016, vol. 60, no. 7, pp. 16-24.

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