7 Conclusions

Have national parliaments been reduced to mere talking shops or are they truly deliberative bodies involved in the reform of European economic governance? In other words, are national parliaments nothing more than venues for superficial discussion? Have MPs become devoid of formal powers and motivation to perform their constitutional roles? Or, on the contrary, have they successfully carried out their legislative, control and representative functions? Finally, does the reform period with which we are concerned constitute only a brief interruption in the Lisbon Process or is it something new? In order to answer these questions we evaluated the performance of national parliaments during the European financial crisis in terms of the three major functions of national parliaments, namely, law-making competences – ratification of international agreements – government scrutiny and representation.

The core of the empirical analysis presented in this book concern national parliaments’ activities during the reform of European economic governance. It focusses on parliaments’ involvement in the approval (or ratification) of the following measures: the European Financial Stability Facility (a temporary bailout fund) and the increase of its budgetary capacity that followed a few months later, ratification of the European Stability Mechanism (the permanent bailout fund) and ratification of the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, also referred to as the Fiscal Compact. The analysis is embedded in a broader narrative presenting various factors recognized as direct or indirect causes of the eurozone crisis, such as the global financial meltdown in 2008. The empirical analysis closes in mid-2013 when ratification of the Fiscal Compact was completed.

In this book the activities of national parliament are analyzed in a range of dimensions. First, the book provides a comparative analysis of formal procedures employed at the national level in order to approve the anti-crisis measures under analysis (Chapter 3). The analysis examines the states in which the formal competences of national parliaments were limited and in what ways. Second, the book presents results from a comprehensive comparative analysis of parliamentary parties’ voting behaviour on each of the anti-crisis measures analyzed (Chapter 4). The third dimension of the investigation is a comparative qualitative discourse analysis of national parliamentary parties’ discourses justifying their voting (Chapter 5). Fourth, the study analyzes parliamentary parties’ preferences with respect to ‘Keynesian’ or neoliberal macroeconomic measures (Chapter 6).

Given the book’s multi-dimensional analytical perspective, the study employs a variety of research methods: comparative legal analysis (formal approval procedures) (Chapter 3); statistical analysis of voting outcomes (Chapter 4); qualitative discourse analysis (Chapter 5); and Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) to study macroeconomic preferences (Chapter 6). Whereas the analysis of formal procedures and voting behaviour covered all member states of the eurozone, discourse analysis was limited to the following states: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.

Approval of anti-crisis measures

The empirical analysis demonstrates that national parliaments’ formal powers with regard to the approval of anti-crisis measures were affected by three different types of asymmetry: application of fast-track procedures and mergers, national supreme or constitutional court activities and an international asymmetry concerning the substantive equality of national parliaments.

First, at the domestic level, governments of debtor states restricted parliaments’ powers through fast-track procedures and mergers, which curtailed not only parliamentary control but also deliberation (see Chapter 3 for more details). For instance, in some states emergency legislation made it possible to eliminate plenary debates entirely, leaving only voting, while in other states the usual number of plenary debates was reduced. There were also ‘mergers’, whereby two or more legislative acts were combined and presented for parliamentary debate and voting as one package.

Fast-track procedures are not inherently undemocratic. In general, emergency legislation is envisaged for situations in which it is justifiable to shorten the usual legislative procedures, such as natural disasters. In order to control the use of fast-track procedures, states stipulate the circumstances in which emergency legislation can be applied. Given the lack of harmonization of these practices, there is a lot of variation among European states. For instance, some states restrict national parliaments’ powers only to a minor extent, for instance, limiting the usual number of plenary debates. However, there are states in which the emergency legislation makes it possible to circumvent national parliaments entirely. Furthermore, in some states emergency legislation can be extended to a broader range of policies than in other states. As a result, due to different national constitutional orders, national parliaments do not enjoy equally generous democratic arrangements in each EU member state (De Witte, 2010).

Empirical analysis of anti-crisis measures’ approval procedures in each member state of the eurozone demonstrates that the impact of national parliaments was limited and highly asymmetrical. Southern European parliaments’ powers were more constrained than their northern European counterparts. The states that approved anti-crisis measures without employing any fast-track procedure or merger were: Belgium, Austria, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Slovakia and Slovenia. With the exception of Ireland, all the states belong to the group of so-called ‘creditors’. States that approved European anti-crisis measures either with fast-track procedures or mergers were: Spain, France, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, Netherlands and Portugal. In the second group the outliers are France and the Netherlands.

The ratification procedures of the Fiscal Compact varied significantly across states. The observed practices differed with regard to the degree of national parliaments’ involvement or influence. In a number of states, voting on particular anti-crisis measures was dispensed with: in Cyprus (EFSF-2 and the Fiscal Compact), Greece (EFSF-1), Italy (EFSF-1 and EFSF-2), the Netherlands (EFSF-1) and Portugal (EFSF-2). Plenary debate was eschewed entirely in the following states: Spain (EFSF-1 and EFSF-2, Fiscal Compact), Cyprus (EFSF-2, Fiscal Compact), Greece (EFSF-1) and the Netherlands (EFSF-2). In France the usual number of plenary debates was reduced from three to one (the EFSF-1, EFSF-2, ESM and the Fiscal Compact).

Mergers took place in the following states: Spain (ESM and Article 136 TFEU), France (EFSF-1 was merged with the budget bill and the ESM Treaty was merged with Article 136 TFEU), Greece (EFSF-2 was merged with the law on property tax and bank supervision, the ESM Treaty was merged with Article 136 TFEU and the Fiscal Compact), Italy (Article 136 TFEU, ESM, Fiscal Compact), Malta (ESM merged with Article 136 TFEU), the Netherlands (EFSF-2 with the budgetary law, ESM with Article 136 TFEU) and Portugal (ESM and Article 136 TFEU).

An extreme merger that severely constrained the national parliament’s powers occurred in Greece, where ratification of the ESM Treaty was merged with the revision of Article 136(3), as well as ratification of the Fiscal Compact and the budgetary balanced rule. Parliamentarians had only one plenary debate and one vote at their disposal to approve – or reject – the whole legislative package. A further concern relates to the time available for discussion. As a consequence, the analysis demonstrates that governments of bailout states used their available prerogatives in order to accelerate the legislative process and increase the likelihood of anti-crisis measures’ being approved by limiting national parliaments’ involvement.

The second asymmetry that influenced parliamentary competences in the approval of anti-crisis measures concerned national supreme or constitutional courts. Application of fast-track procedures depends to a large extent on constitutional courts that, in case of uncertainty, declare whether a particular application is constitutional. During the period of the reform, only the German Constitutional Court (BVG) clearly confirmed the powers of the German parliament (Bundestag). However, constitutional and supreme courts in bailout states, in which fast-track procedures were applied the most, did not declare their extensive application to be unconstitutional (see Chapter 3 for more details). In Spain the rulings of the Constitutional Court, which, for example, recognized the application of a fast-track procedure to labour law reform, met with severe criticism from constitutional lawyers.

Finally, the third asymmetry concerns substantive inequalities. According to the law all national parliaments of the EU member states are formally equal; however, for various reasons parliaments can become constrained in the exercise of their competences. During the reform of European economic governance the national parliaments of bailout states were afflicted by a loss of substantive equality. In that process, the award of bailout loans was conditioned on ratification of the Fiscal Compact and introduction of the balanced budget rule into domestic legislation. That condition constrained national parliaments in exercising their powers: practically speaking, parliaments in bailout states could neither reject the Fiscal Compact nor delay the ratification process. Otherwise they risked losing financial aid.

In sum, the analysis of asymmetries affecting national parliaments’ formal powers in approving anti-crisis measures demonstrates a gap between creditor and bailout states. In particular, in contrast to creditor states, parliaments of bailout states were restricted in their formal competences through extensive application of fast-track procedures and mergers, constitutional or supreme court positions and the lack of substantive equality.

Control and representative functions

How did national parliaments carry out their control and representative functions? Were MPs well-prepared to debate the subsequent anti-crisis measures? How diverse were their arguments and evaluations? Did parliamentary parties manage to debate and provide various policy options to their voters? Did parliamentary parties represent their constituencies’ preferences in their voting behaviour and plenary debates?

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