Theoretical Framework

The theoretical underpinning of EGPP’s research builds on a number of key research approaches and broad crucial themes for contemporary Europe, strictly connected with each other. EGPP’s research projects fit one or more of these theoretical features:

Governance and politics perspectives

As the name of the programme reveals, EGPP addresses governance as well as politics aspects in Europe:

  • Governance describes the way in which public policy is conducted between nation-states and the EU. It refers to formal and informal institutions, treaties and laws, fundamental rights, and policy processes. Historically, the concept is useful in describing the process of centre-formation and constitutionalisation at EU level. It is also useful to understand European identity building around cultural and constitutional values.
  • Politics refers to the conflicts and tensions that such processes of centralisation create and to the cleavages they produce, within and across countries. Politics also refers to the actors, such as new parties, that mobilise on these transformations, either in support thereof or in resistance to them.

Multi-level national and EU governance and politics

Analysis at EGPP covers and brings together the national and the EU levels and investigates how they influence one another, collaborate and conflict. It considers both nation-states and the EU institutions as core actors and sources of explanation to understand the dynamics of politics in Europe. Consequently, the programme adopts a multi-level perspective. Over time as well as across countries, the relationship between nation-states and the EU varies.

Differentiated integration

The multi-level perspective is linked closely to variation in the depth of integration across countries. Differentiated integration refers to policy sectors in which variable groups of countries integrate more or less deeply, which is typical of a compound polity. Such variations express in governance structures put in place where integration is deeper, but also in the politics of integration, in which support or lack of support for integration expresses through various channels of voice: elections, referendums, protest.

Centre formation, identity-building, and territorial/functional cleavages in Europe

Centre-formation and identity building at EU level can be interpreted as a critical juncture producing cleavages both between territorial areas and functional socio-economic groups or groups aligned on cultural dimensions that do not align territorially but that, on the contrary, cut across national borders. EGPP analyses both types of fault lines in Europe as they help develop theories about divergence in Europe and eventually disintegration, but also convergence and similarity of the challenges European societies face, and ultimately Europeanisation.

In a context of a compound but also fractured and fractious Europe, the politicisation of the European integration process concerns:

  • winners and losers of the process of deeper and wider integration, both in terms of specific groups of countries and European-wide socio-economic classes;
  • core-periphery cleavages between centralizing forces and national or even regional resistances;
  • groups of countries aligned along similar interests, be it financial interests (creditor vs debtor countries; issues of cross-country redistribution and solidarity), immigration (distribution of burden and costs for domestic welfare system), support for specific policy areas (CAP), etc. Such territoriality can take North-South, East-West, “frugal” vs rest, among other forms;
  • European-wide transnational groups with shared interests (such as generations) and value- and attitude-based groups cutting across national borders;
  • Diverging interests between groups of member-states with different degrees of integration (Eurozone vs non-Euro countries, Schengen member-states, etc.);
  • Masses vs elites, nationalist populism mobilization against technocratic EU and elite constituencies at national level; populist and technocratic critique to representative democracy;
  • European identity and national identities in the restructuring of citizenship with the supra-national integration of political, civic and social rights, with consequences on redistribution of resources across territories and across dimensions of inequality.

The effect of crises

The multiple crises confronting the EU in recent years – economic and financial during the Great Recession, the refugee crisis, the COVID-19 emergency, climate change and the war in Ukraine – have both further exacerbated divisions and provided opportunities for collective action in Europe. From a political economy perspective, these crises exposed imbalances between countries, especially within the Eurozone, but also fundamental social inequalities with weaker economic sectors being overwhelmingly affected. From a governance perspective, these multiple crises exposed the limits of the EU’s public finance capacity and its struggle to address distributive and re-distributive economic themes, but also stressed the capacity to create new common instruments for financial and security cross-country solidarity.

Technocratic governance, national populism and the challenge to democracy

One central cleavage that emerges from the push toward EU centre-formation is the centre-periphery cleavage between the EU core and the varying degrees of resistance coming from nation-states. This, alongside the contrapositions between groups of countries, is the main territorial feature of European politics. It is a politics element that is directly linked to governance structures, namely through integration (for example, creation of common debt instruments), disintegration (for example, Brexit), non-membership or differentiated integration (for example, Eurozone, Schengen, among others). From a governance perspective, it is an element that juxtaposes technocratic elites and nationalist mobilization of voters by populist anti-establishment parties. Both pose a threat to core features of representative democracy and its institutions in Europe.

Politicisation and analysis of actors and processes

The politicisation of territorial and functional cleavages is addressed through:

  • The analysis of political actors: political parties and EU federations and EP’s parliamentary groups, social movements and protest forms of voice expression, interest associations, mainstream media and social media platforms. Actors are considered at both the mass level (electorates) and elite level (organisations);
  • Their agenda-setting power, in conjunction with processes such as elections and the use of referendums and other non-representative, in a traditional meaning, democratic instruments, namely democratic innovation in the form of citizens’ assemblies, deliberative institutions and so on;
  • The crisis, instability and volatility of configurations of actors. Party systems and the alignments that structure them are profoundly changed. The recent turbulences have a profound impact on democratic politics in the member states. In many of them, a pronounced legacy of the crisis is the volatility of domestic politics and the severe punishment of governing parties. Mainstream parties are being squeezed and the vote share of challenger parties have increased. In a number of Eastern and Central Europe countries there has been a pronounced shift to the right; the ‘European project’ has become much more politicized and contested.

Europe in the global cleavage constellation

Finally, EGPP considers global cleavages and the way in which Europe as a whole stands in the international alignments: diplomatically and strategically; economically in the context of globalization or de-nationalization; culturally as supportive of a democratic, rule of law-based, redistributive type of governance. EGPP analyses the relationship of such European features with economically more liberal and/or politically more authoritarian world competitors.