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Home arrow Political science arrow Constitutional preferences and parliamentary reform: explaining national parliaments adaptation to European integration


This chapter investigated the factors underlying parliamentarians' preferences for a direct European role of 'their' national parliaments. Chapter 2 illustrated that the rights and capacities parliaments have obtained to participate directly in EU policy-making are modest. Existing studies tell the basic story of why this is the case. Widespread disagreement among parliaments and member states as to the kind of direct parliamentary role that would be desirable has prevented significant institutional changes (Rittberger 2005: 177-96; see also Raunio 2009: 322-5; Bengtson 2007). Disagreement, of course, originates in different institutional preferences that arise in the member state parliaments. To understand the conditions underlying the formation of parliamentary positions, this chapter has investigated individual-level views of parliamentarians on different proposals to reform their direct European role. The individual level matters because, as Chapter 3 argued, party leaders will seek to build inclusive parliamentary coalitions in EU affairs to avoid that intra-party diversity turns into publicly visible conflicts.

Emphasizing the importance of constitutional preferences, rooted in individual inclinations towards intergovernmentalism and federalism, and in domestic institutions that circumscribe the range of institutional reforms national policy-makers consider appropriate for the EU and their country, I argued that parliamentarians with intergovernmental views of the EU will oppose a direct European role for national parliaments. However, their views depend on the characteristics of the reform in question. Changes that are compatible with a parliamentary focus on domestic oversight may find the support of intergovernmentalist representatives. Their colleagues with federal visions of European integration, in turn, are most concerned with the question of whether strengthening national parliaments in EU affairs undermines their primary goal: the empowerment of the EP. They object to a direct role of national parliaments in EU affairs to the extent that it threatens to weaken the EP, while they support changes that could strengthen the powers and status of the European-level parliament and its members.

Institutions constrain the range of reform proposals parliamentarians tend to support. Pronounced domestic parliamentary rights and EU-related oversight institutions indicate that the national policy-makers conceive of national parliaments' role as controlling and influencing the national government.

Moreover, in these countries, the added value of a direct European role appears questionable against the background of plentiful domestic opportunities to engage with EU affairs. Consequently, support for a direct role falters. Again, however, the characteristics of reform proposals matter. Reforms that can be brought in line with national parliaments' interests, with a focus on domestic oversight, do not necessarily face institutional constraints. Consequently, institutional constraints typically work in favour of the preferences of intergovernmentally minded parliamentarians, whereas they can exert crosspressures on federalists. Representatives with federal orientations may feel uneasy about reforms that ideologically they might support if the envisaged changes collide with the institutional conditions prevailing in their country.

The empirical analysis of individual-level reform positions largely supports these expectations. Interestingly, institutional constraints turn out to be the most important factor limiting parliamentarians' willingness to contemplate changes in their direct European role. Most importantly, the existence in the member states of strong EU-related oversight institutions depresses the reform enthusiasm of parliamentarians forcefully. This is likely to be the case because EU-related oversight institutions result from past efforts to adapt to the EU and are themselves products of domestic institutions and constitutional preferences. They are the most precise indicator that national policy-makers see the role of the parliament in EU affairs as influencing and controlling the national government. These considerations are, in all likelihood, reinforced by instrumental calculations: with tailor-made EU-specific competences available already, parliamentarians will see only limited added value in a direct European role that threatens to require time and resources, and distracts from their domestic focus.

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