Mapping Parliamentary Adaptation to European Integration

It is evident that European integration creates challenges for the relevance of national parliaments. Yet, the literature also shows that the EU-related competences, capacities, and rights of national parliaments have evolved over the past decades. Since the early 1990s, numerous studies have surveyed the patterns of parliamentary adaptation across the member states and over time (e.g. Norton 1996a; Bergman 1997; Maurer and Wessels 2001; O'Brennan and Raunio 2007; Winzen 2012; Karlas 2012). These studies show that institutional reforms at the national and the European level have established EU-related parliamentary rights and competences. In particular, several of the member states' parliaments now have far-reaching oversight competences over national governments' conduct in EU affairs. To a lesser extent, there are also opportunities for parliaments to participate directly, rather than through national governments, in EU policy-making. The chapters that follow will turn to the question of why parliamentarians and parties might seek EU-related parliamentary rights. The following, however, first shows the patterns of parliamentary adaptation to integration.

A 'Direct' European Role: Rights and Opportunities to Participate Directly in EU Policy-Making

To some extent, national parliaments now have a 'direct' European role. That is, they have rights and competences that envisage their participation as institutional actors in EU policy-making. However, the nature and extent of this direct role has long been controversial. Scholars such as Raunio (2009: 322) see it as an 'unfulfilled promise', considering the direct parliamentary rights that really exist as unambitious and of limited relevance for how EU and national parliamentary politics work. Grand reform designs for the EU, as for instance the former German foreign minister once advocated (Fischer 2000: 7-8), envisaged a bicameral EP, one chamber being 'for elected members who are also members of their national parliaments'. In practice, proposals such as this never enjoyed significant support among policy-makers at the European and national levels. The direct rights that the representative institutions of the member states now actually have in EU affairs are more modest, counting on voluntary engagement and staying well clear of imposing obligations on national parliaments and their constituting parties and parliamentarians.

The development of national parliaments' direct European role that is known best is the emergence of a Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union (known by its French acronym COSAC), a modest form of inter-parliamentary cooperation. COSAC meets biannually and primarily helps delegates from national EU committees to exchange information on how best to organize oversight of their governments in European affairs. Specific policies, in contrast, are rarely discussed and common inter-parliamentary policy positions are even rarer (Raunio 2011; Bengtson 2007). COSAC meetings are not particularly well attended. Kreilinger (2013: 5) shows that, on average, between one and six parliamentarians per country participate. In fact, as we will see in more detail in later chapters, delegations from the member parliaments have been explicitly opposed to the idea that COSAC could be reinforced, for instance, through more regular meetings or by adopting positions that would bind national parliaments to certain policies.

There are two additional inter-parliamentary conferences. The first, set up in 2012, is the Interparliamentary Conference for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Common Security and Defence Policy. The speakers of the member state parliaments and of the EP agreed on the creation of this conference after the expiration of the West European Union (WEU) and its parliamentary assembly, on the one hand, and in the context of the EU's growing competences and engagement in international and defence policies. As with COSAC, this conference meets on a six-monthly basis. Likewise, its purpose is limited to the exchange of information, and it lacks significant bureaucratic resources and decision-making capacities. Recent studies express scepticism regarding the benefit and relevance of this new inter-parliamentary conference, in particular in comparison to the former WEU parliamentary assembly. According to Herranz-Surralles (2014: 959; see also Wouters and Raube 2012):

NPs have lost a permanent assembly for the exchange of views and dialogue with EU officials, organised into transnational parliamentary groups and specialised committees, and gained a parliamentary conference organised into national delegations, with no specialised secretariat and little interaction with EU decision-makers.

The characteristics of the third inter-parliamentary conference are currently under discussion by representatives of the EP and national parliaments (e.g. Kreilinger 2013; Cooper 2014). The so-called 'Article-13 inter-parliamentary conference' goes back to article 13 of the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance (TSCG) in the Economic and Monetary Union, which the member states concluded with the intention to enhance EU-level budgetary and economic policy coordination, and domestic compliance with the Union's budgetary requirements. Article 13 of the TSCG invites national parliaments and the EP to set up a joint conference 'to discuss budgetary policies and other issues covered by this Treaty'. While the final design of the conference still remains to be decided, it has already become apparent during the negotiations that the delegates of the various national parliaments and the EP will settle on a similar design as in the case of COSAC and the inter-parliamentary conference on foreign and defence policy. As Kreilinger (2013: 19) points out:

To sum up, the inter-parliamentary conference for economic and financial governance is an old solution for a new problem (budgetary and economic policy coordination) and largely follows the characteristics of the "standard" interparliamentary conference. The Speakers' decision did not have the ambition to be innovative, but rather to duplicate a model that worked in the past...

All three existing inter-parliamentary conferences are, thus, similar in that member state parliaments and their parties and parliamentarians are willing to exchange information in a loosely structured context without, however, being able or willing to agree collectively on a direct European role that would commit them to certain policies or oblige them to invest significant time or resources.

In addition to the three inter-parliamentary conferences, a number of additional procedures and practices exist that bring national parliaments into direct contact with EU policy-making. To begin with, in 2006, then under the leadership of Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission initiated what has become known as a 'political dialogue' with national parliaments. The Commission (2006: 9) explains its motivation as follows:

In particular, national parliaments must be more closely involved with the development and execution of European policy. The increased involvement of national parliaments can help make European policies more attuned to diverse circumstances and more effectively implemented.

The political dialogue invites national parliaments to submit opinions on any Commission document, chiefly planning papers (Communications, Green and White Papers) and legislative proposals. Since the Treaty of Lisbon, the Commission also treats parliamentary objections that a legislative proposal infringes the principle of subsidiarity as contributions to the political dialogue. After a very slow start, parliaments have gradually begun to submit more statements. Nevertheless, as Figure 2.2 shows, in many countries, the number of parliamentary submissions to the Commission over the last six years has remained modest. In some places, notably Portugal but also Sweden, Italy, and Denmark, parliaments make their observations known to the Commission more regularly. The numbers have to be read in the context of the opportunities parliaments have had to submit opinions—namely, each of the around one hundred directives and regulations that the EU adopts annually as well as a larger amount of decisions and non-legislative documents. Against this background, one cannot speak of a very active political dialogue. Focusing only on those opinions that comment on infringements of the subsidiarity principle (see the following paragraph), for instance,

National parliaments' political dialogue with the European Commission, 2006-2011

Figure 2.2 National parliaments' political dialogue with the European Commission, 2006-2011

Note: The counts also include opinions co-authored with thes respective upper houses (relevant for the Dutch, Irish, Romanian, and Spanish parliaments). The bars show the total number of opinions per parliament over the period 2006-2011. Altogether parliaments submitted 976 opinions. Source: Data assembled from European Commission (2012).

Gattermann and Hefftler (2015: 311) highlight, that parliaments made use of only 1.5 per cent of all their opportunities to communicate their concerns to the Commission. What is more, except for specific circumstances discussed in the following paragraph, the political dialogue does not bind the European Commission in any significant way, and there is no systematic follow-up as to the impact of parliamentary opinions.

As the most recent addition to the set of parliamentary opportunities to participate directly in EU policy-making, the Treaty of Lisbon created a subsidiarity control procedure. If a certain number of national parliaments raise formal objections, the European Commission has to consider whether to amend or withdraw its legislative proposal. Yet, it may also decide and justify why to refuse to do this (in fact, the actual control procedure is slightly more complex involving 'Yellow' and 'Orange cards' (for a detailed discussion, see Kiiver 2012; Cooper 2006). Some observers regard the subsidiarity control procedure not only as a modest opportunity for direct participation but also as a significant incentive for transnational deliberation and cooperation. Cooper (2012), for instance, contends that the procedure creates a 'virtual third chamber' as parliaments have to deliberate and cooperate to make a difference. Others are significantly more sceptical (Raunio 2009). After all, past experience does not provide reason to believe that the EU regularly infringes the subsidiarity principle in obvious ways, or that parliaments agree on whether and when this happens, and on whether it is desirable to raise objections. Even if parliamentary preferences converge, they would still have to overcome the coordination challenges to muster a collective position.

Against this background, it may be both easier and more effective simply to instruct the national government to vote against a proposal in the Council. In this sense, a closer look indicates that the subsidiarity control procedure, instead of being a form of direct participation or transnational cooperation, might actually reinforce the domestic oversight strategy of national parliaments. Kiiver (2007: 66) tellingly speaks of ‘individual efforts in the collective interest' (my emphasis).

While this debate remains unsettled, it is certainly the case, as also the numbers of Gattermann and Hefftler (2015: 311) highlight, that parliaments are free to participate in the subsidiarity control procedure or, indeed, to decide to invest their time and resources otherwise. Moreover, each parliament makes its own internal decisions as to whether they deem EU legislative proposals to be in conflict with the principle of subsidiarity, rather than being bound in any way by a collective inter-parliamentary policy choice. In this sense, the subsidiarity control procedure, the political dialogue, and the three interparliamentary conferences are similar. They create possibilities for member state parliaments and their constituting parties and deputies, but they all stay clear of imposing obligations or constraining parliamentary policy choices.

While the manifestations of national parliaments' direct European role discussed so far are all, at least to some extent, formalized in EU rules and procedures, there are also informal practices of inter-parliamentary interaction. Throughout the year, the EP and national parliaments hold a variety of joint meetings at the level of presidents, committee chairs, and committees, as well as with less well-defined sets of participants (details on these meetings can be found in the EP's yearbook on inter-parliamentary cooperation; see also Neunreither 2005). The meetings typically focus on broad policy themes with long-term relevance, as Table 2.2 illustrates with an overview of 2011's inter-parliamentary committee meetings. The goal of inter-parliamentary

Table 2.2 Inter-parliamentary committee meetings in 2011



  • 3 March 2011
  • 14 March 2011
  • 15 March 2011 13 April 2011 19 April 2011 12 July 2011
  • 5-6 October 2011
  • 6 October 2011 11 October 2011

Women in politics in the European Union

Investing in the Real Economy: A tool-kit for growth, innovation and cohesion First Debate on the European Semester for Economic Co-ordination European Semester 2011: How to co-ordinate EU and national budgets A Debate with national Parliaments on Climate Change The Common Agricultural Policy Towards 2020

Democratic Accountability of the Internal Security Strategy and the Role of Europol, Eurojust, and Frontex

Future Cohesion Policy in the Light of New Legislative Proposals Human Rights Conditionality in Development Policy

Source: EP (2011).

cooperation is to promote discussion, rather than to achieve a collective parliamentary impact on decision-making. As the EP (2011: 13) states:

The main purpose of holding JPMs [Joint Parliamentary Meetings] is to engage national Parliaments in the European policy issues ahead of decisions taken at EU level rather than trying to come to a general conclusion upon which everyone would agree.

In sum, there now are a number of arenas and procedures that bring national parliaments into direct contact with EU policy-making. All of these procedures give parliaments, as institutional entities, rights that are not tied to domestic interaction with the government. So far, however, all manifestations of this 'direct' European role share certain characteristics. Parliamentary engagement, by committing time, resources, and parliamentarians, is voluntary, and decisions that could constrain the domestic choices available to parliaments, parties, and parliamentarians have remained 'off the table'.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >