What Should We Expect To Observe in a Study of Parliamentary Reform Debates?

What kind of party behaviour in Dutch reform debates should we be looking for in order to be able to conclude in favour or against the theoretical argument? Chapter 4 investigated the macro-level connection between constitutional preferences, reflected in party ideology and existing institutions, and parliamentary reform outcomes. At the micro-level, the underlying theoretical argument entails expectations regarding (1) the actors and coalitions in parliament that demand, support, or oppose reforms of EU-related parliamentary competences, and (2) the substantive reasons these actors have for their support of or opposition to reforms. The following clarifies these theoretical expectations. I focus on expectations regarding the effect of ideologically motivated constitutional preferences—that is, parties' federal or intergovernmental views of the EU—rather than the impact of existing institutions. The greater variation in ideologically motivated constitutional preferences across parties and over time gives us more leverage to assess the validity of the mechanisms envisaged in the theoretical argument. The case evidence might also shed further light on the impact of constitutional preferences on the magnitude of reforms. Chapter 4 showed an effect in the expected direction, albeit one that was not statistically significant.

Before turning to the differences between parties, the theoretical argument also highlights common ground between federally and intergovernmentally oriented parties. The reason that they contemplate the creation of parliamentary rights in EU affairs lies in their commitment to democratic policy-making procedures. Parties observe that the deepening of EU authority weakens the rights of national parliaments and, consequently, consider whether and in what way it is necessary to introduce institutional reforms in response (e.g. Rittberger 2005; Rittberger and Schimmelfennig 2006). Therefore, various parties should raise the question of parliamentary reforms regardless of their different constitutional preferences, and motivate doing so on the basis of democratic shortcomings that they perceive to exist in EU policy-making procedures.

Moreover, according to several authors, parties with diverse constitutional preferences all react strongly to the democratic implications of the introduction of majority voting in EU decisions (Rittberger 2005; see also Rittberger and Schimmelfennig 2006; Schimmelfennig 2010). Under unanimity a plausible argument could be constructed that formal delegation chains from parliaments to governments to EU decisions remain intact, allowing each country's government and parliament to veto decisions. As discussed in Chapter 2, formal breaks of the delegation chain are not the only problems for national parliaments in European integration but, according to the literature, parties respond to these breaks strongly. Thus, one would expect that majority voting at the EU level triggers interest in diverse parties in reforms of parliamentary competences in EU policy-making.

However, the responses to perceived democratic deficits of different parties vary, and so will the arguments that they put forward. Adherents of federal designs for the EU support the empowerment of the EP as a way to address democratic deficits. They object to majority voting only to the extent that it is introduced without the co-decision procedure that gives co-legislative powers to the EP. They demand national parliamentary rights in areas without EP authority, especially if these areas are additionally governed by majority voting. Intergovernmentalists also oppose the introduction of majority voting. However, in contrast to federalists, EP empowerment does not address the mismatch they perceive between the EU's design and their constitutional preferences, which envisage a strong role for national parliaments and not for the EP. In the case of unanimous EU decision-making without EP involvement, federalists and intergovernmentalists are likely to agree that a need for national parliamentary involvement exists, but less so than under majority voting (without the EP, in the case of federalists). Thus, the reform demands and the arguments federally and intergovernmentally oriented parties advance should express their different views of EP empowerment and majority voting.

In contrast to the quantitative analysis, this chapter also takes into account which of the EU's many competences attracts parliamentary party attention. At the aggregate, treaty-level, majority voting and co-decision-making rights of the EP have grown together with every new treaty, making it difficult to disentangle whether parties with different constitutional preferences object to particular elements of a given treaty. In practice, the empowerment of the EP progressed faster in the single-market domain whereas it lagged behind in particular in the area of justice and home affairs and foreign and security policy. These areas have also maintained the unanimity voting rule among governments for a longer time and to a greater extent. To the extent that the argument put forward here holds, parties with federal inclinations are expected to underline the lack of EP authority in these areas and use this as a justification for demanding national parliamentary rights. Intergovernmen- talists, on the other hand, will agree on the need for national parliamentary rights but not on the federalist view that the empowerment of the EP would alleviate democratic deficits.

Notwithstanding the existence of cross-party differences, the theoretical argument in Chapter 3 also highlighted two properties of the intraparliamentary decision-making process on institutional reform. It pointed out, first, that the constitutional preferences of the main parties in a country will be relatively similar and, therefore, amenable to the formation of compromises. In addition, party leaders have reason to seek cross-party agreement in order to avoid salient conflicts erupting on the basis of internal divisions in their parties over the desirable organization of the EU polity and the role of national parliaments therein. While a qualitative study of parliamentary debates does not allow us to observe directly the motivations and behaviour of party leaders, it makes it possible to examine the willingness of parties to enter into compromises and their ability to actually adopt solutions with broad parliamentary support.

 
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