New book shows changing shape of political conflict

Written by Rosie on . Posted in Publications

Political Conflict in Western Europe Hanspeter KriesiEUI professor Hanspeter Kriesi has co-authored a book examining the political dimensions of Western Europe and investigating the shift from economic to cultural opposition between left and right.

‘Political Conflict in Western Europe’, published on 17 September, draws on research of national and European electoral campaigns, political debates and protest from the 1970s, 1990s and 2000s.

“We start from the observation that national boundaries in cultural, economic and political terms are breaking down and that this leads to new conflicts in western European countries between losers of globalisation and winners of globalisation,” Kriesi explains.

Focusing on Austria, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the UK, the book shows how these ‘losers’ of globalisation are mobilised by right-wing populist movements which appeal to their cultural insecurity. Whereas pre-1970s conflict between the political right and left was largely in economic terms, Kriesi states that the rise of such movements has transformed the political battleground.

Conservative parties have, the book argues, either become the functioning equivalents of populist parties or themselves become such parties in order to rally those who have not felt the benefits of globalisation. The UK is one example, the professor says: “What we find is that the Conservatives are very similarly situated in political party space or conflict space to the right-wing populist parties in the countries in which they exist.”

The research was initially focused on national election campaigns – one per country during the 1970s and all in the 1990s and 2000s – as they represent an intensification of political communication. As Kriesi describes: “In this period the parties try to appeal to the voters and they do so by addressing issues which they think are most promising for their own electoral purposes…It [the party] reveals to the voters its position on the issues which it think are its most important.”

This research was complimented by that into three key political debates during the 2000s – immigration, European integration and neoliberal reform.

In also examining political protest, ‘Political Conflict’ discovers a very different approach between right and left. “Protests in these countries is mainly the domain of the left, whereas the new populist right is surprisingly only mobilising in electoral terms,” says Kriesi. Even on immigration – a heated issue in recent years – protest by the right was “very weak”.

Such comprehensive research demonstrates the considerable change that has occurred over the past 40 years, although Kriesi is mindful that his research stops in 2007 – the year before the global financial crisis struck. He hopes to develop the work and see how the turmoil which has swept across Europe in recent years has impacted the shape of political conflict.

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