The party is over – Political parties and the renewal of democracy in Europe

Mer, 10/12/2022 - 12:30 / 13:30

Aula Polivalente, Viale Romania

Speaker: Udo Zolleis , European Parliament


Political parties are the backbone of representative democracy. In the last years, their role has been existentially challenged.

This challenge has been mainly endogenous, coming from the inside. Cartellisation, deterritorialisation and personalisation have deeply changed party organisations and weakened their links to society.

Political parties have focused on their office-seeking role to the detriment of programmatic creativity and have focused on mastering the technologies to gain and manage power.

Therefore, parties have become identified with the quest of power and have played down their ideological and cultural profiles.

This changing role of political parties has fuelled disaffection and disenchantment vis a vis them, thus contributing to lower trust in representative democracy: citizens feel less and less represented by political parties and this negatively reverberates on representative democracy itself whose parties are pillars.

The first wave of populism has thriven in the vacuum left by political parties but this has proven to be a political failure  (Afd, Five Stars, Le Pen etc..). New technocratic forms of representation are also taking hold. Deliberative democracy in particular is achieving a higher profile.

This technocratic response has however shown several limits. The emphasis put on complex methodologies and the systematic smoothening of conflict do not seem able to reinvigorate democracy. On the contrary, a representative regime based on weak parties and technocratic tools is shaping a low energy democracy, characterised by low interest in politics, purely managed interests allocation and public lethargy. This low energy democracy is the perfect bedrock for a second wave of populism which could remobilise voters around even more radical and disruptive issues.

In order to preserve the European representative democracies, it is necessary to reinvigorate democracy by providing more energy and only renewed political parties can play this role. However, political parties face a difficult conundrum. Either they structurally reform themselves or their crisis will dramatically spill over democracy. Political parties’ change should be both organisational and programmatic. More cohesive  parties with a more distinctive ideological profile could help renewing the connection between citizens and institutions. High intensity  democracy also need a more adversarial approach able to motivate voters. While parties should agree on the rule of the game, a clear competition on policies could attract back voters and supporters.