Comparative European Politics

, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 344–366 | Cite as

The French debate over the Bolkestein directive

  • Emiliano Grossman
  • Cornelia Woll
Original Article


Why did the services directive proposed by Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein lead to such virulent reactions in France? This article examines several potential explanations focusing on political economy, public opinion and the timing of events. While all of these elements contribute to the difficult political context, they are insufficient to explain the importance of the backlash against the directive in France. We therefore focus on party politics and argue that political elites had an interest in exploiting the directive in the context of a leadership crisis within the French socialist party. The case study bears lessons about the domestic potency of European policy issues: they can pose a real challenge to centrist parties, which have insufficiently addressed them in their party platforms.


service liberalization France Euroscepticism constitutional treaty EU referendum Europeanization of party systems 



This article has benefited from the discussion during a joint workshop between Sciences Po and the London School of Economics on Eastern and Western perspectives on enlargement in May 2008 and a panel at the PSA Annual Conference in Manchester in April 2009. We thank the participants, in particular Damian Chalmers, Ben Clift, Kevin Featherstone and Christian Lequesne, for their thoughtful comments, Vincent Tiberj for his advice on Eurobarometer data, and Amandine Crespy, Nicolas Sauger and the anonymous reviewers for their detailed feedback on the article.


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emiliano Grossman
    • 1
  • Cornelia Woll
    • 2
  1. 1.Sciences Po/CEEParisFrance
  2. 2.Sciences Po/CERI & Max-Planck Institute for the Study of SocietiesParisFrance

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