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Why cross-European TA?

What this book substantiates is the claim that going forward, the issue is not whether cross-European TA is possible. The book shows that the needed professional approaches exist, the national capacities can be built – often on the shoulders of existing ones – and collaboration between institutions distributed across Europe can be brought to work. Rather, the question is whether and why European policy makers and parliamentarians at national and transnational levels ought to support a vision of the development of cross-European TA capacities. The remainder of this introduction is dedicated to providing a frame in which to answer this question.

To begin with, we should try to get at the overall question whether there is in fact a need to strengthen national level capacities for policy analysis and public deliberation. The standard counterargument is that with global challenges we need global solutions and a strengthening of transnational decision-making capacities. For many, a 'return' to the nation state is unrealistic and represents in any case a step backwards. We are, however, not arguing for a 'return' to the nation state and a purely intergovernmental mode of European collaboration. On the contrary, our argument is that national democracies need strengthening in order to take their proper place in European – or global – multilevel governance.

The cornerstone of European collaboration remains the subsidiarity principle. And while the future will tell whether European collaboration will grow into federation, the sign of the times do not point in that direction. A realistic approach to drawing on Europe's collective strengths to efficiently address grand challenges must therefore take seriously the continuing role of national member states as a crucial level of policy adaption to local contexts. By the same token, with the process of European integration halted somewhere between inter-governmentalism and federated statehood, European institutions remain systematically under-democratized. Consequently, the national parliaments will remain privileged as fora for maintaining true European democracy.

What remains true logically, however, is challenged in real life. At the national level, the capacities of parliaments to act as counterweight to national executives have been systematically weakened by European integration. Parliaments have less formal access to providing input to common European policy processes than do governments. Parliaments therefore end up on the receiving end of the policy process, and the diversity of input that they represent is narrowed significantly. A similar effect of narrowing democratic diversity can be traced in the representative function of political parties. Here, the process of European integration has led the major centre parties in each member state to crowd around common middle positions compatible enough with the European mainstream to be strategically viable.

This process of consensus-building that centres on 'necessary' rather than 'wished' policies is amplified by the national economic strategic idea of the 'competition state' – the conception that international competition forces nations to act as if they were large companies. This conception has had highly detrimental effects on the range of futures and policies being imagined, and politically, it has inhibited the agility of centre parties, thus weakening parliamentary collaboration across parties.

The need for strengthening national parliaments is not about strengthening individual nations against the European community, nor is it a call for dis-integration. Rather, it is a call for strengthening precisely the part of the European system, which must be strong if Europe is to become legitimate

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