European integration poses national political parties with quite a challenge. As the European integration project advances, ever more competences are transferred from the national political level to the EU institutions. This means that much of the policy-making in Europe "now lay outside the control of national governments, and thus outside the control of the parties that occupied those governments" (Katz & Mair, 2009, p. 754). Consequently, parties are faced with increased irrelevance as European integration substantially undermines their traditional influence over policy making. Overall, it is argued that parties face "a diminishing capability to alter existing macro-economic policies and a shrinking scope of issues for which resolution can be promised in election campaigns" (Ladrech, 2002, p. 394). Moreover, in light of the recent debate on the democratic deficit of the EU, it becomes apparent that parties face increasing difficulty fulfilling their traditional role of connecting the people with policymakers. Yet little is known about whether and how parties respond to these challenges. How do parties react to this loss of relevance, and to what extent do they alter their internal organisation in response? These are the basic questions this paper aims to address. As a pilot study to a wider research project, it looks specifically at the Flemish case.
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