Skip to main content Accessibility help

Party Competition and the Resilience of Corporatism

  • Mette Anthonsen and Johannes Lindvall


This article argues that after the Golden Age of capitalism, corporatist methods of policy-making have come to depend on specific modes of party competition. In contrast to previous studies of corporatism, which have argued that corporatism depends on strong social democratic parties, this article suggests that the competition between well-defined left-wing and right-wing ‘blocs’ has become detrimental to corporatism. In countries with mixed governments or traditions of power-sharing, on the other hand, corporatism thrives. These conclusions are based on a comparison of four traditionally corporatist countries – Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland – from the early 1970s to the late 1990s.



Hide All

2 Peter J. Katzenstein, Small States in World Markets, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1985, pp. 150–6. For recent studies of the link between the electoral system and corporatism – or more generally ‘coordination’– see Martin, Cathie Jo and Swank, Duane, ‘The Political Origins of Coordinated Capitalism’, American Political Science Review, 102: 2 (2008), pp. 181–98, and Torben Iversen and David Soskice, ‘Distribution and Redistribution’, unpublished manuscript, Harvard University.

3 Lehmbruch, Gerhard, ‘Concertation and the Structure of Corporatist Networks’, in Goldthorpe, John H. (ed.), Order and Conflict in Contemporary Capitalism, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1984, p. 74 ; Schmitter, Philippe C., ‘Interest Intermediation and Regime Governability in Contemporary Western Europe and North America’, in Berger, Suzanne (ed.), Organizing Interests in Western Europe, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1981, pp. 313–18; Williamson, Peter J., Corporatism in Perspective, London, Sage, 1989, p. 151.

4 One important exception is Lijphart, Arend and Crepaz, Markus M. L., ‘Corporatism and Consensus Democracy in Eighteen Countries’, British Journal of Political Science, 21: 1 (1991), pp. 235–46. See also Kerstin Hamann and John Kelly, ‘Party Politics and the Reemergence of Social Pacts in Western Europe’, Comparative Political Studies, 40: 8 (2007), pp. 971–94.

5 Traxler, Franz, Blaschke, Sabine and Kittel, Bernhard, National Labour Relations in Internationalized Markets, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 302.

6 This study is likely to tell us something about the conditions for the survival of established corporatist institutions and practices; we do not claim to be able to generalize about the ‘social pacts’ that have recently emerged in countries with no previous history of corporatism; see Sabina Avdagic, Martin Rhodes and Jelle Visser, ‘The Emergence and Evolution of Social Pacts’, European Governance Papers, N–05–01, EUROGOV, 2005.

7 Cf. Kenworthy, Lane, ‘Quantitative Indicators of Corporatism’, International Journal of Sociology, 33: 3 (2003), p. 11.

8 Katzenstein, Small States in World Markets, pp. 87–9.

9 Oscar Molina and Martin Rhodes, ‘Corporatism: The Past, Present, and Future of a Concept’, Annual Review of Political Science, 5, 2002, p. 318.

10 Gerhard Lehmbruch, ‘Concertation’, pp. 62–8.

11 Korpi, Walter, The Democratic Class Struggle, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983, pp. 170–1.

12 Colin Crouch and Alessandro Pizzorno (eds), The Resurgence of Class Conflict in Western Europe since 1968, 2 vols, Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1978. One sign of the resurgence of class conflict was the increase in strike rates in the 1970s; see Andrew Glyn, Capitalism Unleashed, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 6.

13 David Rueda and Jonas Pontusson, ‘Wage Inequality and Varieties of Capitalism’, World Politics, 52 (April 2000), pp. 353–6; Jonas Pontusson, Inequality and Prosperity, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 2005, p. 36; Hyeok Yong Kwon and Jonas Pontusson, ‘The Rise and Fall of Government Partisanship. Dynamics of Social Spending in OECD Countries, 1962–2000’, unpublished manuscript, Princeton University, 2005.

14 Mair, Peter, ‘Party Systems and Structures of Competition’, in Le Duc, Lawrence, Niemi, Richard G. and Norris, Pippa (eds), Comparing Democracies, London, Sage, 1996, pp. 90–3.

15 On the ‘bloc’ mode of party competition, see Christoffer Green-Pedersen, The Politics of Justification, Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press, 2002, p. 37.

16 ‘Consensus democracy’ and ‘consociational democracy’ have been associated with corporatism in previous studies, either conceptually or empirically. See for example Lijphart and Crepaz, ‘Corporatism and Consensus Democracy’.

17 In a system with transient coalitions, corporatist policy-making may be especially desirable for governments since the absence of stable party-political majorities might lead to ungovernability if interest organizations were not involved; see Blom-Hansen, Jens, ‘Organized Interests and the State: A Disintegrating Relationship? Evidence From Denmark’, European Journal of Political Research, 39 (2001), pp. 408–12. Although established corporatism is different from ‘social pacts’, this point is clearly related to the argument that governments facing electoral pressures are more likely to support ‘social pacts’ in order to share responsibility for unpopular policy choices with interest organizations; see Hamann and Kelly, ‘Party Politics’.

18 Baccaro, Lucio, ‘What is Alive and What is Dead in the Theory of Corporatism?’, British Journal of Industrial Relations, 41: 4 (2003), pp. 683706; Molina and Rhodes, ‘Corporatism’, pp. 316–17.

19 The decisive centre party in Denmark has traditionally been the social liberal Radikale Venstre; in the Netherlands, it is the Christian Democratic CDA. On this difference between the two countries, see Green-Pedersen, The Politics of Justification.

20 The data collected by Franz Traxler, Sabine Blaschke and Bernahrd Kittel – see their National Labour Relations in Internationalized Markets – confirm that corporatism has declined in Sweden, but do not register any significant changes in corporatist institutions in the other countries considered in this article.

21 The interviewees, who represent political parties, government agencies and interest organizations, were selected to allow for both ideological and sectoral variation (blue-collar/white-collar, private/public). The interviews were carried out by four different research teams in the spring of 2004. The Danish results are reported in Ulrich Schmidt-Hansen and Lars Bo Kaspersen, ‘Consensus and Conflict: The Preliminary Results from Studies of the Political Decision-Making Process in Employment, Pension and Integration Politics in Denmark’, unpublished manuscript, University of Copenhagen, 2004. The Dutch results are reported in Corina Hendriks, ‘Who Meets Whom in the Dutch Polder?’, unpublished manuscript, University of Amsterdam, 2004. The Swedish results are reported in Lindvall, Johannes and Sebring, Joakim, ‘Policy Reform and the Decline of Corporatism in Sweden’, West European Politics, 28: 5 (2005), pp. 1057–74. The Swiss results are reported in Nora Natchkova and Adrian Zimmermann, ‘Switzerland. Report to the Smallcons Project’, unpublished manuscript, University of Lausanne, 2004.

22 Rueda, David, ‘Social Democracy and Active Labour-Market Policies’, British Journal of Political Science, 36 (2006 July), p. 385.

23 Jörgen Hermansson, Anna Lund, Torsten Svensson and Per-Ola Öberg, Avkorporatisering och lobbyism, Stockholm, Fritzes, 1999; Bo Rothstein and Jonas Bergström, Korporatismens fall och den svenska modellens kris, Stockholm, SNS Förlag, 1999; Lindvall and Sebring, ‘Policy Reform and the Decline of Corporatism in Sweden’. Swedish corporatism outside the area of public policy-making has not disintegrated to the same extent. For example, although nationwide coordinated wage bargaining was abolished in the early 1980s, wage bargaining has been coordinated at the industry level since the mid-1990s; see Peter Swenson and Jonas Pontusson, ‘The Swedish Employer Offensive against Centralized Bargaining’, in Torben Iversen, Jonas Pontusson and David Soskice (eds), Unions, Employers and Central Banks, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 77–106; and Elvander, Nils, ‘The New Swedish Regime for Collective Bargaining and Conflict Resolution’, European Journal of Industrial Relations, 8: 2 (2002), pp. 197216.

24 Svensson, Torsten and Öberg, Per-Ola, ‘Labour Market Organisations’ Participation in Swedish Public Policy-Making’, Scandinavian Political Studies, 25: 4 (2002), pp. 295315.

25 Urban Lundberg, Juvelen i kronan, Stockholm, Hjalmarson & Högberg, 2003.

26 Torbjörn Bergman, ‘Sweden: When Minority Cabinets Are the Rule and Majority Coalitions the Exception’, in Wolfgang C. Müller and Kaare Strøm (eds), Coalition Governments in Western Europe, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 192.

27 Swenson, Peter, Capitalists Against Markets, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002.

28 On the opinion polls in 1991, see Mikael Gilljam and Sören Holmberg, Väljarna inför 90-talet, Stockholm, Norstedts Juridik, 1993, pp. 14–17 and 234.

29 Interview with Ole Krog, head of department at the Danish Employers' Confederation.

30 Peter Munk Christiansen, Asbjørn Sonne Nørgaard and Niels Christian Sidenius, Hvem skriver lovene? Interesseorganisationer og politiske beslutninger, Århus, Århus Universitetsforlag, 2004, p. 300.

31 Interview with Torben M. Pedersen, director of the pension fund Pension Danmark, cited in Schmidt-Hansen and Kaspersen, ‘Consensus and Conflict’.

32 Zeuthenudvalget, Rapport fra udredningsudvalget om arbejdsmarkedets strukturproblemer, Copenhagen, Udredningsudvalget, Sekretariatet, 1992, pp. 2–3.

33 Ken Gladdish, Governing from the Centre. Politics and Policy-Making in the Netherlands, London, Hurst, 1991, p. 146. Gladdish said that the evidence was mixed but suggested that, on balance, there was evidence of general decline of corporatism. See also Paulette Kurzer, Business and Banking, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1993, pp. 68–9. On the decline of Dutch corporatism in the 1970s and early 1980s, see Anton Hemerijck, ‘The Netherlands in Historical Perspective: The Rise and Fall of Dutch Policy Concertation’, in Stefan Berger and Hugh Compston (eds), Policy Concertation and Social Partnership in Western Europe, Oxford, Berghahn Books, 2002, pp. 230–2, and, for a more detailed analysis, Anton Hemerijck, ‘The Historical Contingencies of Dutch Corporatism’, DPhil thesis, Oxford University, 1992, ch. 8.

34 Visser, Jelle and Hemerick, Anton, A Dutch Miracle, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1997.

35 Hans Slomp, ‘The Netherlands in the 1990s. Towards “Flexible Corporatism” in the Polder Model’, in Berger and Compston, Policy Concertation and Social Partnership in Western Europe, p. 235. See also Rudy B. Andeweg and Galen A. Irwin, Governance and Politics of the Netherlands, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, pp. 144–6; and Steven B. Wolinetz, ‘Modell Nederland’, in Nancy Bermeo (ed.), Unemployment in the New Europe, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 262.

36 Karen Anderson, ‘The Netherlands: Political Competition in a Proportional System’, in Ellen M. Immergut, Karen M. Anderson and Isabelle Schulze (eds), The Handbook of West European Pension Politics, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 751.

37 Interview with Gerard Verheij, secretary for pension policy in the largest employer organization (VNO–NCW) and a member of the Pension Commission in the Social and Economic Council (SER). Cited in Hendriks, ‘Who Meets Whom’.

38 Interview with Agnes Jongerius, coordinator of Collective Labour Agreements at the Dutch Federation of Trade Unions (FNV). Cited in Hendriks, ‘Who Meets Whom’.

39 See, for example, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, Vokseværk, Copenhagen, Lindhardt og Ringhof, 2005, pp. 148–57.

40 On ‘bloc-oriented’ minority parliamentarianism, see Palle Svensson, Demokratiets krise?, Copenhagen, Politica, 1996.

41 Andeweg and Irwin, Governance and Politics of the Netherlands, p. 101.

42 Lijphart, Arend, The Politics of Accommodation, 2nd edn, Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1975, ch. 10.

43 Wolinetz, ‘Modell Nederland’, pp. 257–8.

44 Andeweg and Irwin, Governance and Politics of the Netherlands, p. 41.

45 André Mach, ‘Interest Groups’, in Ulrich Klöti, Peter Knoepfel, Hanspeter Kriesi, Wolf Linder and Yannis Papadopoulos (eds), Handbook of Swiss Politics, Zurich, Neue Züricher Zeitung Verlag, 2004, pp. 279–313.

46 Interviews with Peter Hasler, director of the Employers' Association, and Serge Gaillard, managing central-secretary of the Trade Union Federation.

47 Federal Social Insurance Office, Overview of Swiss Social Security, Berne, Federal Social Insurance Office, 2006. On the Swiss pension system, see also Matthieu Leimgruber, Solidarity Without the State?, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2008.

48 In their paper From Corporatism to Partisan Politics’, Swiss Political Science Review, 10: 2 (2004), pp. 3359, Silja Häusermann, André Mach and Yannis Papadopoulos describe the ‘weakening’ of the ‘neo-corporatist arena of decision-making’ in Switzerland. We maintain that when compared to Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, it is reasonable to characterize Swiss corporatism as stable in spite of the evidence presented in Häusermann et al.'s article.

49 Andreas Ladner, ‘The Political Parties and the Party System’, in Klöti et al., Handbook of Swiss Politics, p. 213.

50 In 2004, the SVP was given one of the CVP's seats.

51 Ornston, Darius, ‘Reorganising Adjustment: Finland's Emergence as a High Technology Leader’, West European Politics, 29: 4 (2006), pp. 784801.

52 Jungar, Ann-Cathrine, Surplus Majority Government. A Comparative Study of Italy and Finland, Uppsala, Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2000, pp. 92102 ; Pesonen, Pertti and Riihinen, Olavi, Dynamic Finland. The Political System and the Welfare State, Helsinki, Finnish Literature Society, 2002, p. 178 ; Paloheimo, Heikki, ‘Divided Government in Finland. From a Semi-Presidential to a Parliamentary Democracy’, in Elgie, Robert (ed.), Divided Government in Comparative Perspective, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 88.

1 The authors would like to thank Christopher Anderson, Hanna Bäck, Carl Dahlström, Peter Esaiasson, Mikael Gilljam, Bo Rothstein, David Rueda and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on previous versions of this paper. We are also grateful to Corina Hendriks, Lars Bo Kaspersen, Nora Natchkova, Ulrich Schmidt-Hansen and Adrian Zimmermann – our collaborators within the Smallcons project, which was funded by the European Union's Fifth Framework Programme – for sharing empirical data on the Danish, Dutch and Swiss cases. Finally, we are grateful to Joakim Sebring for invaluable research assistance.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Party Competition and the Resilience of Corporatism

  • Mette Anthonsen and Johannes Lindvall


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.