1 Introduction

National parliaments in the reform of European economic governance: talking shops or deliberative bodies?

Parliament is a deliberative assembly… . government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion; in which one set of men deliberate, and another decide; and where those who form the conclusion are perhaps three hundred miles distant from those who hear the arguments? To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men … But authoritative instructions … which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience – these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.

(Burke, 1774: 446–448)

Edmund Burke’s ‘Speech to the Electors of Bristol’ reads as a contemporary opinion picturing the weakness of democratic control in European economic governance. Indeed, in the eurozone, those who deliberate became decoupled from those who decide, decision-making has not been preceded by deliberation and decision-makers’ autonomy has been constrained by external pressures. As a consequence, it has been widely acknowledged that the intergovernmental nature of economic reforms has deeply eroded the principle of representative democracy in the European Union (EU; Crum, 2013; Rittberger, 2014).

The reform process of European economic governance constrained the role of national parliaments and the European Parliament. In particular, the ordinary legislative procedure has not been used in the approval of most anti-crisis measures. Governments, under pressure of time, have frequently opted to ratify anti-crisis measures with fast-track procedures that accelerated the legislative process but severely limited national parliaments’ role. As a consequence, the marginalization of parliaments in the process of reforming European economic governance called into question the Lisbon process that is supposed to promote stronger involvement of parliaments in European policy-making.

This book analyzes how national parliaments contribute to European economic governance. By the same token, the book speaks to the broader literature focussing on the government and the European Union (Foret and Rittelmeyer, 2015; Jullien and Smith, 2016; Norman, 2016). Recent studies analyzing how the EU is actually governed have rightly observed that the government of the EU is not exclusively composed of either national or supranational actors. Rather, European public policies are shaped by different political, technocratic or private actors. The variety of actors involved in tailoring European public policies poses a profound challenge to the legitimacy of decision-making in the EU. This book addresses these concerns by investigating the contribution of national representative institutions to the reform process of European economic governance.

This book is also a contribution to the lively debate on the impact of the European financial crisis on national parliaments’ oversight powers. It focusses on national parliaments with a view to providing a comprehensive account of their role in the reform process of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). In the contemporary literature we find two contrasting opinions. According to the first, national parliaments have become a ‘talking shop’, institutions in which discussion is all that happens – neither decisions nor actions arise from such debates. In light of that opinion, national parliaments have become de facto devoid of power to tailor institutional reforms. According to the second position, it is premature to herald the disempowerment of national parliaments because their major task in European policy-making is to control rather than to legislate. In particular, national parliaments are first and foremost supposed to scrutinize their governments’ actions at the EU level and to domesticate EU policy-making by bringing it closer to national constituencies.

While the first position evaluates national parliaments’ performance from the perspective of their law-making competences, the second focusses on representation and scrutiny. Furthermore, while the first position does not assign any significant importance to deliberation, the second recognizes it as central to the fulfilment of representative and supervisory functions. As a consequence, our evaluation of national parliaments’ role in European economic governance – but also in EU policy-making in general – depends on which functions of national parliaments are prioritized.

This book examines national parliaments’ performance in the reform of European economic governance without discriminating between the three parliamentary functions. The empirical analysis is guided by the following question: how have national parliaments and, more specifically, parliamentary parties performed their representative, scrutiny and law-making functions during the process of reforming European economic governance?

The empirical analysis presented in this book concerns the period of the institutional reform of European economic governance from 2008 to 2012. The analysis covers all member states of the eurozone. The analysis was conducted at the level of national parliaments and national parliamentary parties; hence, there is not one theoretical framework but two. This is because hypotheses that help to explain phenomena at the level of parliaments are not applicable at the level of parliamentary parties. However, only an approach combining the two levels of analysis can help us to establish retrospectively what role national parliaments have performed during the reform of European economic governance. As a result, each chapter of the book can be read separately.

The book investigates the following aspects of national parliaments’ involvement in the reform of European economic governance: (1) Were national parliaments formally empowered or disempowered? What procedures were adopted at the national level in order to approve subsequent anti-crisis measures (EFSF, ESM, Fiscal Compact)? Were anti-crisis measures adopted with fast-track procedures – limiting parliaments’ involvement – or standard procedures? Have national supreme and constitutional courts empowered or disempowered particular national parliaments with their rulings? (2) Which national parliamentary parties voted in favour and which voted against the analyzed anti-crisis measures? (3) What were the dominant arguments of supporters and opponents of particular anti-crisis measures? How can we explain the differences in supporters’ and opponents’ arguments? (4) What were the macroeconomic preferences of national parliamentary parties? In particular, which parties advocated neoliberal policies and which were in favour of Keynesian ones?

By focussing on representative institutions, namely, parliamentary parties and national parliaments, the book does not investigate the individual dimension. In particular, the book does not analyze how individual members of the parliament engaged with the financial crisis. This is not to say that the individual dimension is less important: on the contrary, the internal dynamic within each political party is crucial for its voting behaviour and positions on most important policies. However, the analysis of internal party dynamics requires an in-depth, case-oriented approach. This book, on the contrary, aims at establishing the dominant patterns at the level of the whole eurozone.

Finally, this book employs a broad variety of research methods. In particular, Chapter 3 draws on comparative legal analysis. Chapter 4 presents a statistical analysis of parliamentary parties’ votes on anti-crisis measures (binary logit model). Chapter 5 employs comparative qualitative discourse analysis in order to analyze which arguments were voiced by supporters and opponents of particular anti-crisis measures. Finally, Chapter 6, investigating the macroeconomic preferences of parliamentary parties, combines qualitative comparative discourse analysis with the Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) developed by Charles Ragin.

National parliaments in the European Union: from de-parliamentarization to re-parliamentarization

National parliaments and the European Parliament could not have reacted in a more different way to the process of European integration. In particular, whereas the European Parliament has always claimed a maximum interpretation of its competences, national parliaments accepted the limitation of their law-making and control powers by ratifying subsequent European treaties. Interestingly, until the 1990s national parliaments have not perceived the increase of the Council’s and the Commission’s power as a direct threat to their constitutive competences. National parliaments rather believed that the EU does not intervene in their areas of activity. Furthermore, they chose not to become involved with European matters as these were not perceived as vote-seeking issues; after all, until the 1900s European matters were recognized as policies without politics (Schmidt, 2011). As a result, in the first decades of the European integration process national parliaments were not motivated to develop expertise – or administrative support structures – in European issues.

However, with the deepening of the European integration process, national parliaments realized that both their law-making and control powers became reduced. In particular, not only the number of directives increased over time but also their scope. Furthermore, exercise of control functions became increasingly difficult for national parliaments because the Qualified Majority Vote (QMV) was extended to new policy areas. It has been observed that the two institutional developments generated a dual democratic deficit (Judge, 1995). First, national parliaments were affected by the transfer of authority to the EU level and, second, they could no longer make their governments act according to their preferences.

In the 1990s the process of de-parliamentarization in the EU was interrupted (Maatsch, 2013). On one hand, national parliaments began to adapt incrementally to the new circumstances and engage with EU politics (Maurer and Wessels, 2001). Norton (1995) identified three phases of national parliaments’ adaptation to the European integration. During the first phase (from the 1950s to late 1980s) the involvement of national parliaments with EU matters was minimal. During the second phase (from the mid-1980s to the entry into force of the Treaty of Maastricht in 1993) the scope of EU-related policies increased significantly. As a result, most national parliaments established committees for European integration. Before, European matters usually remained within the responsibility of committees for International Affairs. During that phase national parliaments began to engage systematically with European matters. Finally, during the third phase (from 1993 onwards) the role of national parliaments in EU affairs became recognized for the first time in the treaties. In particular, in the Treaty of Maastricht (1993) the EU member states made a declaration on greater involvement of national parliaments in the activities of the EU. Furthermore, there was also a declaration on a Conference of Parliaments which established new forms of reporting by the Council and the Commission. The Amsterdam Treaty (1999) included a protocol on the role of national parliaments which became incorporated into the main body of the Treaty. The Treaty has also fostered national parliaments’ access to the Commission’s documents. The second element of the protocol concerned the establishment of the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs (COSAC). Furthermore, beginning from the 1990s, political decision-makers became more concerned with the representative character of the European Union and, by the same token, envisaged more pronounced role for the European and national parliaments.

The Treaty of Lisbon constitutes by now the most significant step towards recognition of parliaments’ role in the European Union. Foremost, it emphasized the role of national parliaments and the European Parliament in closing the legitimacy gap in EU politics. The reform comprised fostering the supervisory function of national parliaments and the law-making function of the European Parliament. Extension of the European Parliament’s law-making competences, by means of co-decision and then the ordinary legislative procedure, has fostered the legitimacy of European decision-making. The ordinary legislative procedure guarantees that European legislation is scrutinized and approved (or disapproved) by directly elected representatives of European citizens (and not exclusively by the Council). The Lisbon Treaty has also fostered the control function of national parliaments through control-related activities (scrutiny reserve, Early Warning Mechanism), as well as vertical and horizontal exchange of information between national parliaments and the European Parliament.

Finally, the Lisbon process has also brought about new transnational developments. The Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs (COSAC) established a permanent secretariat that helps to produce reports on parliamentary scrutiny. In order to improve access to information concerning the legislative process, a website IPEX has been established. Furthermore, two interparliamentary conferences have been established: the Interparliamentary Conference for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Common Security and Defence Policy as well as the Interparliamentary Conference on Economic and Financial Governance.

Although the institutional change introduced with the Lisbon Treaty has helped to reduce the legitimacy gap in the European Union, it has by no means been able to eliminate it. This is because, first, the scope of the reform was limited. National parliaments’ control powers were extended only in issues related to subsidiarity. Second, internal institutional limitations generated other obstacles. Namely, it has been observed that not all national parliaments have equally generous democratic arrangements (De Witte et al, 2010). In Europe, practices regarding parliamentary control in general are very diverse. While in some states national legislation equips parliaments with strong supervisory powers, in other states legislators’ powers can be minimal (Fasone, 2014b). Recent comparative study demonstrates (Hefftler et al., 2015) that the adaptation process towards the EU integration contributed to the emergence of different ideal–typical forms of national parliaments’ involvement. Analyzing all national parliaments of the European Union, the study identified the following types of parliaments: policy-shapers (proactive, often equipped with mandating rights), governments’ watchdogs, public forum (actively communicating with voters), EU expert and European player (active directly at the EU level). As a result, we can conclude that national parliaments adapted to the European integration process; however, their institutional responses are far from being unanimous. Furthermore, there is also variation in non-formal practices, for instance, regarding the amount and quality of administrative support (Auel and Christiansen, 2015). As a consequence, not all national parliaments can scrutinize EU policies equally well.

Against that background, there is no agreement in the literature on how to assess national parliaments’ adaptation to the of European integration process. One group of scholars claims that de-parliamentarization is, in fact, a permanent trend (e.g. Weiler, 1999; Maurer and Wessels, 2001; Kaczynski, 2011). These scholars draw their inference from the comparative analysis of institutional formal powers. It has to be admitted that formal law-making, control and representation powers of national parliaments were constrained due to the European integration process. At the same time, domestic and European executive institutions (governments and the Council) experienced an increase of power. Despite various institutional reforms, the dominance of the executive has still not been counter-balanced.

At the same time, there are also studies demonstrating that the analysis of formal powers is not sufficient to account for the role of national parliaments in the European Union. As Auel observed (2007: 53), ‘Effectiveness of parliamentary influence cannot simply be measured by looking at formal parliamentary participation right, but needs to take into account whether and how these formal capabilities translate into parliamentary behaviour.’ According to these studies, national parliaments experienced a period of disempowerment, but eventually they managed to adapt to the new circumstances (Judge, 1995; Bergman, 1997; Raunio and Hix, 2000; Auel and Benz, 2005; O’Brennen and Raunio, 2007). For instance, it has been demonstrated that due to the European integration process national parliaments became active in new policy areas (Duina and Oliver, 2005). Furthermore, the EU fostered interparliamentary processes of communication, knowledge exchange and data-sharing. However, national parliaments are not always interested to engage equally in all EU issues. In fact, the literature demonstrated that national parliaments are deliberately very selective in their approach; hence, sometimes they are interested to delegate or abdicate some powers (Saalfeld, 2005; De Ruiter, 2013). From that perspective, weaker activity or influence in a given policy area is not always something that happens to national parliaments; rather, it can be a deliberately made decision, for instance, if the issue in question lacks domestic salience or it cannot be incorporated into the dominant domestic cleavages (De Ruiter, 2013).

Finally, given the fact that national parliaments’ major role in the EU is to control their governments and to domesticate EU issues at the national level (Bellamy and Kröger, 2016), their influence does not exclusively depend on the strength of formal powers but rather on their willingness to conduct oversight of European issues. According to the classical – by now – typology of Born and Hänggi (2004, 2005), parliamentary oversight depends on three factors: authority (formal competences), ability (administrative resources) and attitude (willingness to perform oversight). The authors claimed that while formal powers constitute a central factor, abilities and attitudes of parliamentarians can effectively modify oversight practices. For instance, there are studies illustrating that the existence of formal powers is not necessary for parliaments in order to conduct oversight. When MPs have strong incentives to engage in oversight, they can do so – by means of written questions or reports – despite the lack of strong formal powers. On the contrary, if formal powers are not accompanied by a certain grade of domestic politicization, parliaments are likely to limit their oversight to mandatory procedures (Galella and Maatsch, 2016). As a result, the existing literature suggests that a proper assessment of national parliaments’ activity in the European Union always has to take into consideration the three factors accounting for parliamentary oversight activity, namely: formal legal powers, administrative support and the willingness to exercise oversight.

The role of parliaments in the European Union after the Lisbon Treaty

Article 10 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) introduced explicit references to democratic principles aimed at reinforcing the representative and participatory dimensions of democracy in the European Union. In particular, in order to improve representation, the Treaty extended the European Parliament’s legislative competences and strengthened national parliaments’ supervisory powers. It has been observed that

National parliaments were not randomly picked for the job. Instead, they were selected in the hope that their review will provide legitimacy to a European political project that faces an increasing gap between a small Europeanised and Europhoric elite, and less convinced European citizens. Thus, national parliaments are perceived as an unexploited reservoir of legitimacy that the Union can use to counter the democratic deficit.

(De Witte et al., 2010: 22)

Only gold members can continue reading. Log In or Register to continue