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Constitutional Preferences and Parliamentary Adaptation to European Integration

Constitutional preferences are key to understanding the variable adaptation of national parliaments to European integration. They do not matter so much in the initial choice of member states to enhance the authority of the EU in a given set of policy domains. However, constitutional preferences among parties and other important European policy-makers subsequently play an important role in decisions over the distribution of competences among the different institutional entities in the European multi-level polity, that is to say, in the constitutional politics arising from steps to deepen European integration.

Countries typically decide that the EU should receive new competences in response to substantive policy problems and opportunities arising from international interdependence (Moravcsik 1998). The range of problems could encompass issues such as securing economic gains from a common market, addressing common environmental challenges such as cross-border pollution, or securing peaceful inter-state relations. Even strong advocates in favour of a causal role of ideas such as the constitutional preferences discussed so far acknowledge that member states initially support or oppose decision-making at the European level as a result of being confronted in variables ways with problems or opportunities of international interdependence (Parsons 2002).

Decisions to integrate and give the EU additional policy competences do not, however, automatically translate into tangible institutional choices. It is true, as functionalist theories of institutional design point out (e.g. Moravcsik 1998; Pollack 2003), that a range of institutional decisions reflects the need to make substantive policy bargains viable over the long-term. Member states might, for instance, be tempted to deviate from environmental commitments or their agreement to play by the rules of the single market. Countries may also fear that persistent disagreement under unanimity rules will gridlock the decision-making process. In response to problems such as these, they may create or strengthen international compliance procedures, such as the European Court of Justice and the European Commission's monitoring competences, and introduce majority voting.

At the same time, however, the transfer of competences to the EU generates follow-up struggles over the distribution of competences between the various institutional entities in the EU's political system (Farrell and Heritier 2003; Heritier 2007; Schimmelfennig 2010). These conflicts are evident not only during intergovernmental conferences when different negotiation delegations and observers of the negotiations put alternative institutional design proposals on the table; they are also visible at the national level when policymakers there discuss how the involvement of national institutions in the European policy process should be designed. And they are apparent in the aftermath of new treaties when actors such as the EP or the Commission try to gain control over the interpretation of ambiguous details of agreed-upon rules to further their goals (Stacey and Rittberger 2003; Farrell and Heritier 2003).

Relevant policy-makers, including political parties from the member states, participate in discussions of the distribution of institutional authority with the aim to further their subsequent influence and to realize their constitutional preferences (see Jachtenfuchs etal. 1998; Rittberger 2005; Schimmelfennig

2010). As discussed above, the relative importance that they attribute to meeting tangible goals such as subsequent electoral success or policy influence compared to putting their constitutional ideals into practice depends on whether the institutional choice in question is salient for the former or the latter or both types of concerns. Parties will generally advocate institutional choices that enhance their subsequent electoral and policy prospects. However, where such tangible interests are not strongly at stake, they will focus on the compatibility of institutional designs that are on the table with their constitutional preferences, with democratic norms, and with the design principles enshrined in their domestic institutions.

When member states agree that a strengthening of the policy competences of the EU is necessary or desirable to solve international problems or benefit from international opportunities, they also, by implication, decide on a re-distribution of authority from the member states to the European level and away from member state parliaments (see Chapter 2). Political parties evaluate the extant loss of parliamentary authority in light of their electoral and policy interests as well as their constitutional preferences. Taking measures to strengthen the parliament's institutional authority, or avoiding such measures, is not essential for electoral reasons or, for instance, to secure the viability of coalition and minority governments. However, against the background of the constitutional preferences and democratic norms and national institutions that parties are committed to, the loss of authority of the national parliament generates a mismatch—a lack of fit between the political order to result from enhancing the EU's competences and one that would meet partisan constitutional expectations. As existing studies point out, parties perceive this existing mismatch in particular because they believe that the exercise of public authority has to be embedded in democratic procedures (Rittberger 2005; Schimmelfennig 2010). Amongst other requirements that are entailed in this belief, parties associate democratic governance with parliamentary competences over policy choices. Where such competences are in question, parties perceive a need for institutional adjustments so as to close the imminent democratic gap that European integration threatens to produce.

Yet, while parties from different countries may share a commitment to embed new EU competences in democratic procedures, including parliamentary competences, they disagree over the appropriate reforms. Policy-makers have to resolve competing reform demands within countries and between countries. As pointed out earlier, the relative inter-party homogeneity and intra-party diversity of constitutional preferences within different member states encourages, and facilitates, finding inclusive compromises. Between the member states, however, differences reign between countries in which parties predominantly subscribe to intergovernmental conceptions of the EU and those more inclined towards federal 'polity ideas' (Jachtenfuchs etal.

1998; Rittberger 2005). More specifically, whereas parliamentarians and parties from some countries demand to enhance the powers of the EP, they seek enhanced oversight competences for national representative institutions elsewhere (Hooghe etal. 2002; Winzen etal. 2015; Wessels 2005).

Differences in the configuration of parliamentary rights and capacities in the member states reinforce international disagreement. As a result of past constitutional battles and compromises at home, EU countries feature difference institutional distributions of authority, for instance, between the government and the parliament, and between public institutions more general. Existing institutions, thus, do not merely create tangible constraints and incentives for actors (e.g. Benz 2004), they rather express constitutional preferences that have become widely shared among domestic political actors, including parliamentary parties (Marcussen etal. 1999; see also Schmidt 1999). Parties from countries with historically strong institutional rights and competences for the parliament will, thus, evaluate steps to deepen European integration without the creation of parliamentary oversight over EU affairs particularly sceptically. They will accordingly object and seek reforms that strengthen the parliament's institutional standing. Parties from countries in which the parliament has historically been marginalized, on the other hand, will not see strong democratic shortcomings in institutional designs for the EU that do not involve national parliamentary authority. As no EU member state has a parliament that lacks institutional competences in domestic politics entirely, selected EU-related reforms should be expected everywhere, but they are likely to be incremental and marginal in countries where parliaments have never had significant rights (Dimitrakopoulos 2001).

These arguments suggest two expectations about national parliamentary reactions to European integration. The first is that parliamentary reactions to integration become more likely, the stronger the institutional competences of parliaments in national policy-making. The emphasis on existing institutional competences reflects the view that such institutions express now consensual constitutional preferences that have emerged from past constitutional conflict. These consensual constitutional preferences continue to shape policymakers' preferred means of organizing the exercise of public authority (Marcussen etal. 1999; see also Schmidt 1999). The second expectations is that parliamentary reactions to European integration become more likely, the more parliamentary parties tend towards intergovernmental, rather than federal, preferences for the constitutional design ofthe EU.

While the second of the two expectations corresponds to the theoretical argument, it has to be formulated in more operational terms so as to be suitable for comparative analysis. Unlike in comparisons of a small number of parties (e.g. Jachtenfuchs et al. 1998; Rittberger 2005), it is otherwise not possible to measure which parties tend towards intergovernmental or federal preferences. The closest, empirically feasible, formulation would focus on parliamentary party support for, or opposition to, the empowerment of the EP (Winzen et al. 2015). As the discussion so far has highlighted, a strong EP is a cornerstone of federal conceptions of the EU polity, while intergovernmen- talists will regard it with suspicion, instead seeking to meet their demands for parliamentary authority by giving competences to national parliaments. Unfortunately, however, as Chapter 4 explains, we can operationalize parliamentary support for the EP only for a limited number of years.

A second possibility is to focus on parliamentary party support for the EU more generally. The empirical information needed to cover the most important part of the history of European integration—the mid-1980s to the present day, during which parliamentary oversight institutions have changed and developed most strongly—is available. We have noted further above that whether parties favour or oppose the EU is only an imperfect approximation of their constitutional preferences. Parties that tend towards intergovernmental views of how the EU should be designed may support integration as much as their federally inclined counterparts, albeit disagreeing on the right constitutional structure. At the same time, it is hard to imagine federalists that oppose integration, while it is likely that intergovernmentalists will be somewhat more sceptical. They have to deal with the fact that the EU does have strong central institutions and, therefore, they are likely to perceive a mismatch between what exists and what they prefer constitutionally. This will depress their support for integration. As discussed, parliamentary party support for the EU varies, albeit not between extreme opposition and support. There are rather more and less integration-friendly parliaments. Consequently, it seems a reasonable assumption that such variation reflects to a significant extent whether the party composition of a parliament tends towards intergovernmental or federal constitutional preferences. Against this background, the analysis will focus on the following argument: parliamentary reactions to European integration become more likely, the more parliamentary parties oppose the EU. One should, of course, examine empirically, whether the results obtained regarding this expectation coincide with results from analysing the more accurate measure, namely parliamentary support for the EP, albeit for a shorter period of time.

 
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