Středoevropské politické studie – Central European Political Studies Review
ČÍSLO 2–3, ROČNÍK V., JARO–LÉTO 2003, ISSN 1212–7817 – PART 2–3, VOLUME 5, SPRING & SUMMER 2003, ISSN 1212–7817
Conceptualization and typology of European regional parties: a note on methodology
This paper was produced in the framework of the grant project „European regional parties and party systems“(GA 407/02/1491) and the research proposal „Ethnics, minorities and marginalized groups in the Czech Republic“(MSM 142300001).
Abstract: The paper comments on issues of conceptualisation and typology of regional parties in Europe. Regional parties could be defined briefly as independent formations with regional identity, region–based legitimacy and region–based electoral resources. The territorial aspect of their identity and of their modus operandi is the crucial one in this respect. It should be reminded that a number of heterogeneous party phenomena could be subsumed under the label of regional parties. The existence of a genuine regional party family, which could be, eventually, included into the classic familles spirituelles scheme, is not obvious. It seems that recent attempts to conceptualise the regional (and/or ethno–regional) party family have only small chance to success. Moreover, it should not be taken for granted that invention of such party family would enhance the capacity for comparative research into the European regional party phenomena. It could be a counter–productive move. There is an implicit danger to be avoided: that of conceiving of the differences between regional parties and non–regional parties as the differences between party families. However, these differences are not of the same kind. The paper proposes to distinguish several types of regional parties according to their origins (genuine regional autonomist parties, regionalized branches of state–wide parties etc.) which could allow for a sophisticated explanation of their heterogeneity and of various combinations of the systemic properties of regional parties. It is also suitable to pay more attention to the differing opportunity structures and to the compounded nature of territorial–political operational space of regional parties.
Keywords: regional parties; conceptualization; typology; Europe.
The paper aims to make a concise contribution to the issue of conceptualization and typology of regional parties. The main focus is on analysis and evaluation of concepts of regional political parties and the search for suitable and sufficient methodological approaches to classification and typology of political parties. The issue of regional parties has shifted to the center of attention within the context of European political science during the previous five years, which relates to the effort to develop a comparative research of sub-state political party phenomena and to the determination of some researchers to conceive of regional or ethno-regional parties as belonging to a distinctive political party family. Heuristically efficient and well theorized comparison of regional parties as well as conception of a family of regional or ethno-regional parties is however a much more difficult task than what it may seem to be at first glance. As a matter of fact, we cannot ascertain that there is a family of ethno-regional parties or, to be more precise, a family equivalent to the standard familles spirituelles or political party camps. The existence of a such family of parties would have to be proven. At the same time, it is important to point out that the outcomes of previous attempts at comparing, classifying or making typologies of regional parties (in the European context to say the least) have been afflicted by ambiguity in defining regional parties (i.e. ethno-regional, ethno-regionalist, autonomist etc.). Thus the key problem is how to define regional parties.
For the purpose of our argument it will be best to typify regional parties as independent political formations of regional character whose program identity and organizational structure as well as the sources of political legitimization (bound to their identity) that the parties draw on and appeal to the electorate are of regional character. The definition has far-reaching (or at least potentially far-reaching) consequences for subsequent classification and typologizing of regional parties, namely in what it speaks about as well as what it leaves out on purpose.
It may be evident that a territorial aspect plays the central role in the above mentioned definition. In my opinion, it could not be otherwise if we are primarily to examine regional parties. Regional parties are not statewide parties and the other way round (here I leave out the issue of differentiating between regional parties and regional branches of state-wide parties; cf. Strmiska 1998: 11, 14–15; Strmiska 2003: 6–7). I add, however, that regional parties do not stand for the only embodiment of substate parties; we have to consider existence of political party formations that are local, i.e. sub-regional as taken from a specific perspective, and multi-regional.
Regional parties can, yet at the same time need not be ethnic parties and vice versa. Hence we can label a subgroup – even a dominant subgroup – within regional parties as an “ethno-regional parties”. Thus it would be incorrect to consider ethnic parties to be identical with regional parties or to claim that all regional parties in fact tend to be always ethno-regional.
It is also not possible, without getting away scot-free and without taking negative consequences, to keep replacing the concept of “regional party” with the idea of “regionalist party”, possibly also “ethno-regionalist party”, or “autonomist party”. We have to insist for good reasons on distinguishing between the terms “regional” and “regionalist” as they are not synonymous. In this sense, I suggest we attached the adjective “regionalist”, as well as “autonomist”, “separatist”, “centralist” etc., primarily to a certain position or passage within the continuum of integration-separation, i.e. to keep these terms for relevant application in classifying regional parties according to their location in the above mentioned continuum. In my view, we cannot implicitly attribute to regional parties defined earlier a specific position in the continuum separtion-integration. What should be taken into consideration is the fact that a regionalist party need not be always regional; even state-wide parties may become “regionalist” formations under specific circumstances, i.e. providing they assume a corresponding location in the continuum integration-separation or in the framework of territorial reorganization policies in general.
I hope that my reasoning so far has contributed to a better understanding of the skeptical approach to the issue of existence of a family of regional parties (ethno-regional, regionalist etc.), which was established at the beginning of this paper. If we draw on the suggested working definition of regional parties we have to ascertain that the regional parties thus defined do not and cannot constitute a distinctive “spiritual family”. The reason for this lies in the definition as it does not assume sameness established beyond all doubt, or proximity of programmmatic position and ideology among the parties in question, neither does it presuppose a direct relationship between their regional character and particular political program standings. To avoid misunderstanding I have to emphasize that we thus neither rule out the possibility of establishing sameness or propinquity in the parties’ essence nor do we rule out the above mentioned direct relationship as regards individual instances or groups of cases. As the matter of fact, some regional parties active in European countries may without difficulties, regardless of their regional character, be assigned to individual political party families (the best example of the latter is the “liberal” Democratic Convergention of Catalonia and “Christian-democratic” Democratic Union of Catalonia. The call for theorizing a family of regional and/or ethno-regional parties has been nevertheless sustained by the existence of an array of regional parties that can be hardly or not at all classified within the system of standard party families. However, the question remains whether it is possible to attend to the difficulties in classifying the parties by resorting to the problematic category of regional or ethno-regional party family which is virtually relegated to a residual position of a substitute. This may not be always a problem if the concept of regional (ethnic etc.) parties gets to be utilized in “national” environment or in the framework of particular party systems. However, the problem arises when we move to the international-continental or in our context European perspective. When considered as an isolated instance, assigning formations such as the Flamish Bloc (VB) or the Basque People’s Union (Herri Batasuna) or its successors to the “spiritual family” of regional parties may appear as an acceptable solution, i.e. in the Flemish-Belgian and Basque-Spanish contexts.
From the European perspective this is not however the case since the above mentioned political party formations differ so much in their programs and ideologies that they cannot belong simply to one “spiritual” party family. When speaking of “family” belonging of the two parties we cannot override the obvious difference of significant features, which doubtless determine to a greater or lesser degree their systemic character, by referring to regional (ethno-regional) similarity or sameness and by referring to the parties’ regional modus operandi. If the parties concerned share certain common features on the basis of which we can classify the parties as regional, there is no reason to claim that they, at the same time or as a consequence, belong to the same political party family.
From the point of view of political programs, European regional parties represent apparently a heterogenous group and, more significantly, the parties are genetically diverse. To accept this fact should not however result in skepticism when examining their character and individual dispositions. Contrary to that, such acceptance constitutes a useful starting point for interesting debates about desirable differentiation of regional parties. It is for example evident that we may arrive at the concept of the regional party in different ways and the curricula of such parties plays a significant role in examining their features and the related position or role (or a group of roles) within a particular context of the political party system or systems. Under these circumstances, we should try to distinguish between several basic regional party models:
a) regional party which was founded and has developed as a “pure”, authentic autonomist party or as a “territorial defence party” emerging out of the conflict between the center and the periphery;
b) regional party which has evolved from an unsuccessful state-wide (“national”) party, i.e. from its core or a dominant faction;
c1) regional party which represents a product of regionalization and emancipation of an individual regional branch of a state-wide party (on condition that the state-wide party does not cease to exist including some of its regional branches);
c2) regional party which came into existence due to general regionalization and fragmentation of the state-wide party (this case entails ceasing of existence of the original party);
c3) regional party which came into existence as the result of the process of regionalization-emancipation of all the regional branches of a state-wide party while the original party has continued to exist in a non-regional sphere;
d1) regional party which emerged out of the process of regionalization and emancipation of an individual branch belonging to a multi-regional or macro-regional (thus not state-wide) party;
d2) regional party which arose as a consequence of general regionalization and fragmentation of a inter-regional or macro-regional party while the original party has ceased to exist;
d3) regional party representing the outcome of the process of regionalization and emancipation of all the regional branches of an inter-regional or macro-regional party while the original party continues to exist in a non-regional sphere;
e) regional party coming out of transformation of a sub-regional or local political party or parties;
f) regional or rather quasi-regional party which acquired the “regional” character later on due to major transformation of territorial-political configuration, namely state borders, which was brought about by more or less exogenous factors, i.e. division or annexation of the given territory or region, unification of different territorial formations within a new state etc.
The limited space and even the character and the aim of this paper do not allow me to focus on thorough examination of implications and possibilities of research that opens up thanks to the differentiation of regional party models and representations. In conclusion I would like to point out at least that the models mentioned help to better understand and evaluate causes and implication of heterogeneity of regional parties, i.e. formations that can be classified as regional parties according to the definition, and with this heterogeneity associated different features of regional parties. I take here into consideration especially those features of regional parties that are linked to their programmatic crystallization and to their sources of political legitimization in use. I also consider the suggested models to be convenient for an analysis of different dispositions for maintaining and political valorization of the electoral potential of individual regional parties in different arenas of party competition and cooperation. This relates also to the question of comparison as well as classification and typology of regional and non-regional parties. The approach to regional parties I have been trying to introduce and support acknowledges “generic difference” of regional and non-regional (primarily but not only statewide) parties. It should be emphasized that the generic difference is not of the same kind as the difference or “generic difference” of individual familles spirituelles. Going against this argument would constitute a fatal mistake – a mistake to which the previous attempts at conceptualizing the family of regional parties have not been sufficiently immune.
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 If we look for example at the contemporary European regional and/or ethno-regional parties from the point of view of their location within the left-right spectrum we will receive a very fragmented and heterogenous picture that can be hardly used. We can find representative of this kind of political parties within the whole right-left party spectrum, yet no significant conclusions can be made based on that. We can just mention that the call for territorial and political transformation is in principle compatible with any ideological orientation and location within the right-left party spectrum. Hence we are able to explain why some European regional or ethno-regional parties could afford to transform their ideological orientation in the course of their development, which was often radical and at times very frequent. The issue of ideological orientation of regional or ethno-regional parties could gain in importance in the environments characteristic of more distinctive pluralization of political representation of an ethnic-nationalist movement or a “territorial defense” movement. At the same time, the ideological orientation played a significant role there where individual groups of the movements’ leaders underwent the process of differentiation not only within the scale of radicals vs. moderates, i.e. within the continuum of integration vs. separation as regards the call for regional administration or independence, but also in relation to social and economic criteria (cf. Strmiska 2002).
 As has been suggested, the platform of regional parties may entail ideological aspects of different kinds, between which and the dominant idea of self-government and political-territorial reorganization there need not be any connection. It is important to acknowledge and understand that some regional parties (most probably the “authentic” autonomist parties) could additionally include into their patrimony elements of different ideologies and, on the other hand, other parties that were not previously regional, could later accept autonomist or regionalist orientation or doctrine and adjust their ideological program identity.
Copyright (c) 2003 Maxmilián Strmiska
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