Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Introduction to Comparative Politics of Europe

LEVEL 01 - Year 1 in Modular Undergraduate Course


DEPARTMENT European Studies

DESCRIPTION - The central aim of this study unit is to foster an appreciation of the different political systems to be found in the EU’s twenty-eight Member States as well as serving as an introduction to the EU institutions.
- Related to this, the study unit will also serve as an introduction to political science, one of the three disciplines, along with law and economics, upon which European Studies is built.
- During the study unit students will learn about basic political concepts, how to analyse a political system and how to question elements of the political system and their effectiveness.
- A central teaching outcome is to improve the student’s ability to undertake comparative analysis and to be able to build an opinion based on relevant arguments and sound analysis.
- While class participation is difficult due to the large number of students who register for this study unit, students are encouraged to feel comfortable in giving their opinion and a part of each lecture, normally towards the end of each two-hour session, will be put aside for questions and discussion.

Study-Unit Overview:

The central aim of this study-unit is to foster an appreciation of the different political systems to be found in the EU’s twenty-eight Member States. As the building blocks of EU decision-making, it is essential that students understand that each EU Member State is unique and that different actors play different roles in each political system. This study unit is essential for those who will continue to study the EU political system in the second and third years: No appreciation of how the EU works can be developed without a basic understanding that the national representatives who sit in the Council of the EU ultimately represent different political traditions thus making consensus difficult. The study-unit will also serve as an introduction to the EU institutions.

Study-Unit Structure:

As the study-unit is comparative, each lecture will analyse a different element of a political system and apply this to the EU Member States. The lectures will be divided in the following manner:

- The Political Landscape of Europe: a brief overview of European history and the factors which make European integration possible.

- A Patchwork of States: an analysis of the different types of state-systems to be found in Europe from federal states to unitary states. The latter will be analysed further to show how unitary states can resemble federations but can differ from them in important ways. Ultimately, the question can be raised as to whether we are witnessing the fragmentation of Europe into self-governing regions.

- The Policy Making Process in a Democracy: this lecture will introduce some basic definitions in politics before looking at the principal occupation of politicians, namely the policy-making process around which political systems operate.

- The Running of the State, the Executive: often seen locally as the power-house of politics due to the fact that Malta has long had single-party government, European executives are much more complex and can often be subject to continual interference from their parliaments. This lecture will analyse the difference between heads of state and government and see how single-party government, long cherished in Malta, is actually an exception to the rule at a European level.

- The Running of the State, the Legislative: in a two-party system, Parliament can appear as an irrelevance but in most European states it is the principal venue of political power. This lecture will analyse the different types of parliament, its role and key role in maintaining accountability in democratic political systems.

- Representation, Elections and Voting: electoral systems differ heavily across Europe and can determine the power of governments and parliaments.

- Representation and Political Parties: Europe has a long tradition of political families. However, this does not mean that parties from the same family but different countries always get along, as can be seen in the EP. This lecture will analyse the different party systems across Europe and their similarities and differences.

- Participation and the Role of Interest Groups: key to the functioning of a democracy, Interest Groups act as intermediaries between the citizen and the executive. However, their effectiveness depends on many factors which will be analysed in this lecture.

- The Glue of Democracy, the Role of Information: a primary player in any political system is the media as a purveyor of information. Freedom to access information is key to a functioning democracy and in Europe the role of the media remains central.

- The EU Institutions: Once a country joins the EU it effectively becomes part of a wider political system and the member states have to then participate in the political structures which form the EU. This topic will serve as an introduction to the EU institutions and the link between those institutions and the domestic political systems discussed throughout this study-unit.

- The Union as a Force of Change in Domestic Politics, Europeanization: one of the most exciting new areas of European Studies, Europeanization looks at how EU membership forces countries to change their domestic political systems. An example of this is the changed role and status of Green groups in Malta since 2004. This lecture will allow us to understand what Europeanization is and to highlight some of the changes the EU has caused in its Member States with especial emphasis on Malta.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Main Texts:

- Bale, Tim (2017), European Politics: a comparative introduction, 3rd edition, Palgrave, UK.
- Cini, Michelle (2013), European Union Politics.4th edition, Oxford, UK.

Supplementary Readings:

- Heywood, Paul; Jones, Erik; Rhodes, Martin; and Sedelmeier, Ulrich (2006), Developments in European Politics. Palgrave, UK.
- Hogwood, Patricia and Roberts, Geoffrey (2003), European Politics Today, 2nd edition, Manchester University Press, UK.
- Keating, M. (1999), The Politics of Modern Europe, 2nd edition, Edward Elgar, UK.
- Magone, J. (2011), Contemporary European Politics: a comparative introduction. Routledge, UK.

It should also be stated that at the end of each chapter in Bale a list of internet sources are provided which will allow the student to access more detailed information should they so wish.

ADDITIONAL NOTES Students are required to register for Level 1 Units if they are in Year 1, for Level 2 Units if they are in Year 2, and for Level 3 Units if they are in Year 3 or 4 of their course.


Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Resit Availability Weighting
Examination (2 Hours) SEM1 Yes 100%

LECTURER/S Mark Harwood

The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2021/2. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.