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Existing Institutions, Parliamentary Adaptation, and Reform Preferences

The institutions prevailing in the member states shape parliamentary reform choices in EU affairs because they are the outcomes of past constitutional struggles and stand for constitutional preferences that have become widely shared among national policy-makers. Prevailing institutions tell us about what kind of reforms parties and other domestic actors will consider acceptable for their country and for the EU, and what reforms they will reject as inappropriate (Marcussen etal. 1999; Dimitrakopoulos 2001; Schmidt 2006). Where parliaments have far-reaching rights and capacities in domestic policymaking, parties consider strong EU-related oversight institutions as the appropriate way of organizing EU affairs, whereas extensive institutional adaptation to integration appears out of touch with domestic institutional standards elsewhere (Dimitrakopoulos 2001). Moreover, where significant parliamentary rights and capacities in domestic policy-making and in EU affairs indicate that parties value domestic oversight of the government, the idea of a direct European role will trigger opposition. It puts the parliament into a position—as an international, institutional actor alongside national governments—that is incompatible with a focus on domestic legislative-executive interaction. What is more, a direct European role threatens to distract resources from parties' domestic orientation in EU affairs.

Whereas the chapters so far have investigated the impact of European treaties and proposals for a direct European role without focusing on one particular issue-area, and have accordingly put emphasis on general measures of parliamentary rights such as the state of the committee system or agenda rights, the ESM poses a more specific challenge to parliamentary authority in budgetary decision-making. Accordingly, it should be expected that the adaptations parties deem necessary in response to the ESM will be shaped by the budgetary competences parliaments enjoy in the domestic realm. Where these rights are extensive, parties will regard the loss of decision-making powers to the ESM as a threat to what they conceive of as the appropriate set of rights the national parliaments should hold. Where parliaments are already marginal in the budget process, further losses of institutional competences to the ESM should raise little criticism from national policy-makers, including parliamentary parties.

In the debate over the threat that the ESM poses to parliamentary authority, policy-makers and scholars commonly assume that the parliamentary arena plays a crucial role in budgetary decision-making in all European countries. The reality, however, is that the institutional rights and competences member states afford to their parliaments vary widely (Wehner 2006). While far-reaching in places such as Austria, Germany and the Netherlands, the entitlements of elected representatives are meagre, for instance, in France, Greece, and Ireland. Consequently, partisan resistance to the withering away of authority from the national domain to decision-making arenas in the ESM should be particularly pronounced where the parliament would otherwise enjoy strong budget rights. In countries where this is the case, parliamentarians and parties will respond with the creation of information and participation rights in ESM decision-making. Where parliaments are weak domestically, the pressure to react to the creation of the ESM is weaker.

In a similar vein, parliamentary parties will oppose a strong Article-13 conference where strong domestic and EU-related institutions exist at home. However, as the empirical analysis of Chapter 6 indicates, existing EU-related oversight institutions are likely to impose the most severe constraints on parliamentary demands for a direct European role. The reason, I suggested, is that past adaptation efforts in EU affairs themselves indirectly reflect constitutional preferences and domestic institutions. They best indicate that parties conceive of the parliament's role in EU affairs as focusing on domestic oversight of the government. What is more, instrumental considerations reinforce the constraining effect of oversight institutions on demand for a direct European role. Where means and rights to engage with EU policy-making already exist, proposals such as creating extensive inter-parliamentary cooperation will appear an unnecessary and undesirable drain on parliamentary resources. One would expect, therefore, that parliamentary support for a broad mandate of the Article-13 conference declines with the strength of existing budgetary rights in the domestic arena and, more importantly, of existing EU-related oversight institutions.

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