ECPR

Install the app

Install this application on your home screen for quick and easy access when you’re on the go.

Just tap Share then “Add to Home Screen”

ECPR

Install the app

Install this application on your home screen for quick and easy access when you’re on the go.

Just tap Share then “Add to Home Screen”

Back to Paper Details

Contamination or Containment? Federalisation and ethno-political positions and discourse of political parties in Belgium.

Niels Morsink
Dave Sinardet
Universiteit Antwerpen
Open Panel

Abstract

The academic debate on the ‘federal paradox’ often remains theoretical. On the one hand, federalisation is said by some authors to be a conflict-regulating mechanism that can appease sub-state nationalist demands and (further) disintegration of the state by allowing sub-state nations forms of autonomy. On the other hand, federalisation is said to institutionalise and legitimise sub-state nationalist identities, that way creating a dynamic that can reinforce nationalist and separatist movements and parties, which could possibly end in total disintegration. Our paper aims to explore this empirically by analysing the positions and ethno-political discourse of Dutch- and French-speaking political parties in Belgium in historical perspective. This is particularly relevant as Belgium has been plagued by a political crisis around institutional reform since 2007, even leading to speculation about a possible split of the country. More precisely, we will examine whether nationalist and other parties influenced each other. Were nationalist parties able to make their analysis mainstream and accepted by other parties? In that case, the federalisation process would not have reduced disintegrative tendencies. We would rather be able to speak of contamination than containment. Or could it be that (some) nationalist parties have become less radical and were co-opted by the others? Can we distinguish key moments and events that had an influence on this relationship? More importantly, we also want to map the exact dynamic of this possible mutual influence over the years and how it precisely manifests itself. Do nationalist and other parties maybe not share similar institutional programs but do they share, on a more subconscious level, a similar analysis of Belgium’s institutional problems? Or is it the other way round: not sharing the same rationale behind similar programme points? Does the position of a party in majority or opposition play a crucial role? The dynamics between the parties will be examined by analysing the election manifestoes of all parliamentary represented Dutch-speaking and French-speaking Belgian political parties between 1965 and 2010, the period in which Belgium transformed from a unitary to a federal state. This will be done on three dimensions. The first is the evolution of the attention given to so-called community issues (regionalisation, cultural identity, nationalism, etc) in each program. The second is the evolution of specific party positions on these issues (e.g.: regionalising specific competences, the protection of linguistic rights, etc.). The third and most crucial dimension is that of the ‘etno-political discourse’ of the parties. We will use frame analysis, a method new to the study of election manifestoes, to find out what is the rationale behind the party’s positions: how do they define the problems related to federalisation, why do they advocate certain solutions, etc. We will look for indicators of a nationalist frame and discourse in the programs of the nationalist parties (such as the use of terms like ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘the people’, ‘nation’, identity, …) and see to which extent they are also present in other parties’ programs.