Constitutional Preferences in Dutch Parliamentary Reform Debates, 1985-2010


The comparative analysis in Chapter 4 has supported the view that the constitutional preferences of political parties shape EU-related parliamentary reforms. The confidence one should have in these findings could be strengthened further by qualitative evidence showing that parties actually talk and act in the parliamentary arena in the manner that the theoretical argument envisages. Providing such qualitative evidence is the task for this chapter.

This chapter's focus is on the internal validity of the argument. Do the assumptions and mechanisms underlying the theory play out as expected in the parliamentary arena? If we argue that parties adopt positions on parliamentary reform on the basis of their constitutional preferences, we should expect that they put forward corresponding arguments to justify their positions. For example, federally oriented parties should advocate the empowerment of the EP and, if they get their way, should place less emphasis on national parliamentary rights. Furthermore, if one maintains theoretically that parliamentary parties will seek mutually acceptable reform choices, one would be puzzled to find salient government-opposition conflicts or frequent examples of reforms imposed (or prevented) by majority votes. Expectations such as these, which the following section spells out more extensively, can be usefully examined in a case-oriented analysis.

The empirical approach here is to trace EU-related reform debates in the Dutch parliament from the mid-1980s to today. One may ask why it is useful to study the Dutch case given that other mechanisms could exist in another country. The point of this chapter is not, though, to ascertain the external validity of the theoretical argument. The comparative analysis in Chapter 4 is a more appropriate basis for drawing conclusions about external validity. The goal for this chapter is to examine internal validity.

The Dutch case is helpful because it poses three interesting challenges for the theoretical argument's internal validity. First, the Tweede Kamer, as the parliament is called, allows us to consider debates around a number of reforms in the context of the Single European Act, the Maastricht and Amsterdam Treaties, and the Lisbon Treaty, covering the entire time span of the data used in the quantitative analysis. Second, unlike many other parliaments, the Dutch representatives created a sector-specific oversight arrangement in justice and home affairs during the Maastricht Treaty ratification. Interestingly, they abolished this arrangement almost entirely with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. Third, there is noteworthy longitudinal variation in the constitutional preferences of Dutch parties. A slight, yet relevant, shift away from strongly federal orientations towards intergovernmental constitutional preferences can be observed from the late 1990s onwards, fuelled by scepticism regarding the country's contribution to the EU budget, the loss of a referendum over the EU's constitutional treaty, and the emergence of successful populist right parties. An argument based on constitutional preferences should successfully capture the mechanisms underlying the several reforms, including the introduction and abolishment of the sector-specific oversight rules in justice and home affairs. The mechanisms at play should, moreover, vary over time parallel to the constitutional preferences of Dutch parliamentary parties.

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