Why We Still Need Parties: The Resilience of Europe’s Political Parties Explained

Certain political “truths” are taken for granted: the story of the decline and even disappearance of political parties in Europe is a famous example. Outdated communication, undemocratic decision-making processes, lack of compelling ideologies, susceptibility to corruption are all criticisms directed towards political parties to explain why they are a relic of the past.

But, perhaps surprisingly to some, political parties haven’t disappeared. They have remained the core political acteurs in all Western-style democracies. Much acclaimed alternatives such as “movements” or other forms of “direct democracy” had not been able to substitute those old-fashioned institutions from the 19th century.

How have political parties across Europe reacted to a rapidly changing environment? Are there lessons from different European countries worthy of being adopted by others? How can the legitimacy of Western democratic systems be strengthened, and what specific contribution can political parties make to this? And last but not least, what is the particular role of European political parties as a relatively new type of political actor?

To find answers to these and many other questions, the International Republican Institute (IRI) has set up an ambitious project for a comparative analysis of selected national party systems across Europe, which the Wilfred Martens Centre for European Studies is pleased to publish. Leading experts from political science, think tanks and parties had been invited to provide a comprehensive insight into the diverse landscape of political parties on the continent.