Research Questions: One Voice or Forked Tongue?

Should we expect voting unity of party members in EU decision-making? Relying on theories on parties and experiences from party behavior within European nation states, one would expect that there is cohesion in the voting behavior of ministers and MEPs who belong to the same national party, based on three strands of argumentation. First of all, it is likely that members of the same party generally share the same policy preferences. If they vote according to these preferences, they should automatically vote cohesively. Second, one of the main functions of parties in the decision-making process is to ensure cohesive voting behavior, even if perceptions over an issue diverge. Decision-making would be complicated with every representative holding a different stance on a proposal. It is easier to calculate beforehand which kind of legislation might pass if an agreement only has to be reached between some parties and not between numerous single representatives. Hence, through exerting some kind of pressure in order to integrate even deviant opinions into a unitary position, parties make legislation more efficient (cf. Lindberg et al. 2008; Muller 2000). Third, it is part of the self-interest of national parties to present a unified image, because the citizens need a clear picture of what they are voting for. If a party is not able to present such an image of itself, people will challenge the legitimacy of the party and will prefer voting for individual representatives whose position is more obvious (Hix and Lord 1997, 8; Whitaker 2011, 17f).

For these reasons, parties within nation states generally behave cohesively. Party leaders issue voting instructions for their party members in national parliaments, and it is very uncommon for these instructions not to be adhered to (Gallagher et al. 2001, 82). Even across different chambers of bicameral systems, voting behavior normally follows party lines (Heller 2001). Hence, if party behavior at the national level translates to party behavior at the EU level, voting unity among national parties can be expected.

However, there are reasons to doubt that knowledge on party behavior within nation states holds true for party behavior in the EU. Besides, the different structures in the Council and the EP might lead to divergent voting behavior. So far, it needs to be confirmed that national parties fulfill similar functions in the legislative process of the EU as in the member states. Incentives to exert power and to ensure cohesive voting behavior in the EU could be weaker than within nation states because elections (even elections to the EP) take part within national issue contexts; in other words, the behavior of national parties in the EU does not affect the outcome on election days to a great extent (cf. Raunio 2000). Additionally, voting behavior in the Council and the EP is constrained by circumstances other than party positions and, moreover, by different circumstances in the respective institution, a situation that could lead to divergent voting behavior between ministers and MEPs of the same national party. This refers to what is called “institutional constraints” throughout the book, namely, the “culture of consensus” (Heisenberg 2005) in the Council and the strong role of transnational groups in the EP (Raunio 2006). These constraints might lead to divergence in the voting behavior of ministers and MEPs. For example, if the transnational group differs from the Council consensus, a minister who has to seek compromise within the Council and an MEP who is acting as a loyal member of his transnational EPG will be tempted to diverge from each other.

As a consequence, there are good reasons for and good reasons against voting unity. These contrasting views of voting behavior shape the puzzle for the present study: Do representatives of the same national party vote cohesively in EU decision-making? For example, if a German minister in the Council who belongs to the CDU votes against a proposal, do his fellow CDU members in the EP vote the same way? The answer to this question is completely open, as arguments for or against voting unity between ministers and MEPs could prove true. Furthermore, it is neither likely that voting unity occurs every time nor that it never occurs. Thus, there will not be a clear and definitive answer to this question in terms of “yes” or “no”. Rather, national parties will display cohesive voting behavior in some cases and divergent voting behavior in others. It is therefore interesting to find out whether cohesive or divergent voting behavior is more likely. However, it is even more interesting to find out under which circumstances ministers and MEPs vote cohesively or differently and which factors lead to voting unity (or a lack thereof). This is thus the overarching question that will guide the research presented in this book.

Overarching Research Question: Which factors lead to united or divergent voting behavior of ministers in the Council and MEPs of the same national party in bicameral EU decision-making?

The question can be divided into several subquestions. This division facilitates straightening the focus and also allows for a step-by-step analysis that will not only provide the answer to the main research question, but will also help to identify potential implications. First, we need to know which factors affect voting behavior within the individual EU institutions. This enables us to identify a range of independent variables, because these factors will also explain voting unity between ministers and MEPs. As the general interest behind this study concerns the role of national parties in bicameral decisionmaking, a particular emphasis lies on the effect of national party affiliation on voting behavior in the EU. While national parties theoretically have an incentive to influence ministers and MEPs, their actual power to do so is not clear. Furthermore, it is not clear whether parties actively try to control their representatives in the EU. If they do, the question of how they do so remains to be answered. The first subquestion is thus meant to cover these aspects.

Q1: How do national parties try to influence the voting behavior of their ministers and MEPs?

Furthermore, as already mentioned, ministers and MEPs are affected by constraints within their respective institution. The second subquestion therefore specifically considers these “institutional constraints”:

Q2: How do “institutional constraints” shape the voting behavior of ministers and MEPs?

Knowing which factors generally affect voting behavior within the Council and the EP (the independent variables), we can turn to the dependent variable of our study, “voting unity” between ministers and MEPs of the same national party. Although our main goal is to explain voting unity (or the lack thereof), the first step in this direction has to be a descriptive analysis which asks:

Q3: How often do ministers and MEPs of the same national party vote the same way?

Drawing on the descriptive analysis of voting unity and on the findings concerning the factors that affect the voting behavior of ministers and MEPs in general, we can start analyzing which of these factors explain whether ministers and MEPs of the same national party vote the same way or not. In short, building on the answers of subquestions 1-3, we can address the main research question:

Q4: Which factors affect voting unity between ministers and MEPs of the same national party?

However, we will not stop at this point, but will also try to assess which factors are more important in shaping the voting behavior of ministers and MEPs: party-related factors or institutional factors? Hence, we turn to the final subquestion, particularly related to the role of national parties in comparison to the institutional constraints within the Council and the EP:

Q5: Are national parties able to ensure cohesive voting behavior of their representatives despite divergent institutional constraints?

The sequence of the subquestions corresponds to the stepwise execution of the study. We will first conduct an in-depth analysis of the independent variables, then a descriptive analysis of the dependent variable, followed by an analysis of the relationship between the dependent and independent variables, and completed by a comparison of the effects of the different variables. This modus operandi will not only enable us to identify the different factors affecting voting unity between ministers and MEPs but will also allow us to assess the role of national parties in bicameral EU decision-making.

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