Patterns of Parliamentary Oversight Institutions

Figure 4.1 describes the bivariate relationships between the explanatory variables and the strength of parliamentary oversight institutions that existed at the end of each reform opportunity since the 1980s. Countries appear repeatedly in the plots, once for each of their reform opportunity. Figure 4.1 thus offers an impression of the political conditions that prevail in countries where parliaments have strong or weak EU-related competences, but it does not take into account the interdependence between observations within one country over time. The models of the strength of oversight and the likelihood of reform presented in the following three sections are more suitable for taking this interdependence into account.

In line with expectations, panel (a) of Figure 4.1 shows that parliaments tend to have strong competences in EU affairs where parties are sceptical of integration, while their competences are weaker where supporters of the EU are more numerous. Panel (b) indicates that domestic institutions also shape parliamentary adaptation to the EU (Dimitrakopoulos 2001; Raunio 2005; Karlas 2012). Strong committee competences in domestic policy-making are associated with far-reaching reforms. Where such competences are lacking, EU-related oversight institutions are weak. The impressions from Figure 4.1 support the argument that the constitutional preferences of parliamentary parties—that is, their inclinations towards intergovernmental or federal visions of the EU's constitutional design—and existing national institutions shape reform efforts in the member states.

Panels (c) and (d) highlight the alternative view that EU-related institutional choices in national parliaments result from the difficulties in managing conflict in governing coalitions (Saalfeld 2005). Where coalition partners disagree, they cannot trust the policies pursued by each other's ministers and, thus, might benefit from institutional mechanisms that help parliamentarians participate in mutual monitoring. One source of coalition conflict can be ideological disagreement between opposing parties on the left-right dimension of political competition. Panel (c), however, shows no discernible relationship to EU-related oversight institutions. This is not surprising because, as argued in Chapter 3, adapting to EU policy-making is not really the right solution for these kind of conflicts, not least because EU affairs does not enjoy the electoral

Levels of oversight at the end of each reform opportunity and explanatory variables

Figure 4.1 Levels of oversight at the end of each reform opportunity and explanatory variables

Note: Country labels: Official EU abbreviations. Number: The number of the reform opportunity (see Table 4.1). Number of reform opportunity omitted for display purposes in (b).

Sources: Level of oversight: own data;see also Chapter 2. Explanatory variables: see section 'The Explanatory Variables' in this chapter.

relevance that, according to Martin and Vanberg (2011), encourages intracoalition monitoring in the first place.

Governing parties might also disagree on the EU dimension and, as a result, one side might fear that ministers from the other advocate too EU-friendly (or too Eurosceptic) regulation while participating in Brussels-based policy negotiations. Panel (d) indeed shows a tendency for EU-related oversight institutions to be strong where coalitions disagree internally over the desirability of European integration. However, the panel also underlines Chapter 3's argument, namely that EU affairs are, with few exceptions, too consensual among centrist political parties to give rise to major clashes between the actors we typically find in European cabinets. Recall that partisan EU support is measured on a 1-7 scale. In two-thirds of the cabinets that we observe in the data, the standard deviation from the government parties' average EU support is 0.5 or lower. Only 15 per cent of the observations exceed levels of disagreement of 1. In other words, cabinet conflict is extremely rare and the existing variation could, to a significant degree, reflect random disagreement between expert judgements as much as true policy discrepancies between coalition partners. Having said this, it is nonetheless visible that some of the most divided cabinets tend to exist within countries and years in which we also observe strong EU-related parliamentary competences.

If not from conflict between coalition partners, parliamentary adaptation to the EU may originate from incongruence between the party coalition in government office and the legislative majority, a situation arising under a minority government (e.g. Bergman 1997: 381; Martin 2000: 154; Saalfeld 2005: 357). Yet, the data underlying Figure 4.2 do not support this expectation. The upper part of the figure makes clear that there is no relationship between parliamentary EU competences and the seat share of the cabinet. This, of course, may not be surprising because the question of whether the cabinet exceeds the 50 per cent threshold may matter more than any other variation in legislative strength. Yet, as the lower part of the figure makes clear, there is effectively no difference in EU-related oversight institutions between situations of minority and majority government. The view that minority government should be an important determinant of the adaptation of legislative institutions to European integration appears to be strongly driven by the Danish case that indeed features both strong EU competences and frequent minority rule. However, scholars have overlooked the coexistence of robust majority cabinets and strong oversight institutions in countries such as Austria, Finland, and Germany. They have also downplayed cases of weak cabinets, for instance, in Southern European countries that have not led to noteworthy partisan efforts to strengthen their parliament in EU policy-making.

Examining the patterns of parliamentary oversight institutions in EU affairs descriptively yields initial empirical support for the relevance of constitutional

Minority government and EU oversight institutions

Figure 4.2 Minority government and EU oversight institutions

Note: Country labels: Official EU abbreviations. Number: The number of the reform opportunity (see Table 4.1).

Sources: Level of oversight: own data;see also Chapter 2. Explanatory variables: see section 'The Explanatory Variables' in this chapter.

Analysing Domestic Adaptation to Integration

preferences and domestic institutions, while calling into question the impact of coalition conflict and minority rule. Parliamentary party support for European integration and the strength of the domestic committee system are associated in the expected way with the strength of EU-related oversight institutions. The only other factor showing a similar relationship is disagreement between cabinet parties over the EU.[1] Overall, however, genuine conflict over integration is rare among European governing parties.

  • [1] There also is a positive relationship between the strength of parliamentary oversightinstitutions and the level of popular Euroscepticism (see Figure A4.5).
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