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Who is to Blame? Political Mistrust and the Great Recession in Southern Europe

Diego-Ruiz Muro, Guillem Vidal

The Southern periphery of the European Union has experienced a profound transformation since 2008. The rapid economic deterioration of Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain was accompanied by a substantial increase in citizens' mistrust towards national and European political institutions. This paper will combine existing models about the relationship between citizens and government in democracies to provide an explanation for the increasing mistrust in Southern Europe. On the basis of the responsibility-responsiveness dilemma we argue that the governments of these countries were unable to reconcile public demands (responsiveness) with a set of pressures from international actors and past policy choices (responsibility) during the Great Recession. These growingly irreconcilable constraints on the supply-side of politics are reflected in the political parties' growing detachment from society and in the creation of new opportunities for 'challenger parties' to capitalise on the new political space. At the same time, we argue that the multi-level governance structure of the EU has blurred responsibility for policy outputs thus preventing citizens to reward or punish incumbent governments accordingly. The perception that accountability mechanisms were rendered ineffective, in addition to the widening gap between public demands and institutional and structural constraints, thus resulted in high levels of political mistrust.

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