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Re-conceptualizing party democracy

This research project seeks to cast empirical and theoretical light on the state of political parties and modern party democracy. It intends to investigate the changing conceptions of parties and democracy through a focus on party law, i.e. the nature and intensity of the legal regulation of parties in post-war Europe. The tendency for modern European democracies to make party structures and activities subject to increasingly intensive regulation by law implies that party organization and behaviour are becoming more and more closely managed by the state. The increased relevance of party law and the corresponding privileged legal status of parties not only implies an explicit acknowledgement of their institutional importance for democracy, it also effectively accord them a (quasi-) official status as part of the democratic state. The nature and intensity of party regulation is an important source for investigations into the quality of the linkages between parties and the state, which have appear to have become progressively stronger in the face of a deterioration of their linkages with society and a weakening of their representative capacity. This research focuses on the question whether this implies that parties have been transformed from agents of society to agents of the state and whether today’s dominant conception of party democracy is one that is based on a notion of parties as public utilities rather than private and voluntary associations. The project also seeks to explore the motivations for the formal legal recognition of political parties and analyze the different modalities of party regulation in light of the various normative understandings of party democracy. Re-conceptualizing Party Democracy is a five year research project (2008-13) funded by the European Research Council (ERC).

The constitutional regulation of political parties in post-war Europe

This project focuses on an increasingly important but often neglected aspect of party law: the constitutional codification of political parties. The formal constitutional recognition of political parties is a relatively new phenomenon in modern Europe. Historically, the constitutions of the liberal European democracies have typically refrained from making reference to the existence of political parties and from describing their role in the political system. The constitutionalization of parties in Europe effectively began in the immediate post-war period, with the restoration of democracy in Italy (1947) and the Federal Republic of Germany (1949). These were the first European democracies explicitly to recognize the positive contribution of political parties to democracy in their constitutions. This practice has since been followed in constitutional revisions in many other polities, to the point that most democratic constitutions in Europe today acknowledge the relevance of political parties. This makes the constitution an important source of party law, as well as an important source for investigations into the character of modern democracy and the prevailing ideas about the place of political parties within the organizational infrastructure of the state and their role in relation to its citizens. This research analyzes the empirical dimensions of the process of party constitutionalization as well as the underlying normative conceptions of political parties and democracy. The Constitutional Regulation of Political Parties in Post-War Europe is a two-year research project (2007-09) funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Research team