The Conditional Impact of Constitutional Preferences

Parliamentarians with intergovernmental constitutional preferences regard national parliamentary reform, as opposed to empowering the EP, as the right way to strengthen parliamentary authority in EU policy-making. This is why parties in some countries have promoted more extensive institutional adaptation than their federally oriented counterparts in other member states. The intergovernmental view of how the EU should be designed goes further, however, than only stressing the need for national parliamentary oversight. For intergovernmentalists, national governments act on the European level on behalf of the member states. They draw their legitimacy from being accountable and responsive to the parliaments of the member states (Moravcsik 2002). The institutions and procedures of the multi-level system should be designed in a way that makes national representation through governments, themselves accountable and responsive to parliaments, possible. The core role of national parliaments, from the intergovernmental perspective, is to interact with the national government, which then represents the country in Brussels. As Jachtenfuchs and colleagues put it, 'this is not to say that legitimation does not play a role at all in [intergovernmental cooperation], but legitimacy is needed only within the state for the conduct of foreign policy' (1998:420). Intergovernmentalists see the domestic realm as the place for democratic institutions and processes, including for parliamentary oversight competences.

Intergovernmentalists regard with suspicion all proposals that are incompatible with a domestic orientation of EU-related rights and capacities. Because they understand the parliament as the body that lends legitimacy to governmental action at the European level, they consider it constitutionally inappropriate for the latter to act in its own right in Europe alongside their own governments. New parliamentary rights and capacities also absorb time and resources of parliamentarians that, in turn, distract them from domestic oversight. The only proposals for a direct role of national parliaments in EU affairs that parliamentarians with intergovernmental preferences can accept are those that fit well with domestic oversight activities. For example, interparliamentary cooperation in arenas such as the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union (COSAC) forces parliaments to operate as institutional entities in European-level arenas, devoting time and resources to forming and representing collective positions. Intergovernmentalists will be opposed. On the other hand, organizing hearings in national committees with the country's member of the European Commission, effectively an appointee of the national government and typically a (former) party politician, is similar to other domestic oversight activities and should raise no opposition from intergovernmentalist parliamentarians.

Parliamentarians with federal constitutional preferences have a different concern than the intergovernmentalists who focus on the 'domestic compatibility' of a direct parliamentary role in EU affairs. The priority of federally inclined representatives is the empowerment of the EP (Jachtenfuchs etal.

1998; Rittberger 2005). They have mixed views on proposals to strengthen the direct role of national parliaments in EU affairs. On the one hand, they may be wary of the prospect of establishing national parliaments as an alternative mechanism to address democratic shortcomings of the EU. On the other hand, they might see opportunities to strengthen parliamentary authority at the European level or to enhance the competence and capacities of the EP. Parliamentarians with federal constitutional preferences can, thus, be expected to evaluate institutional reform proposals for a direct role of national parliaments in EU affairs primarily in light of the opportunities or threats it creates for their own constitutional goal, the empowerment of the EP. If reforms promise to strengthen the EP, they will be supportive—and opposed otherwise.

Parliamentarians with federal and intergovernmental views of the political order of the EU, thus, have distinct priorities when it comes to reforms of national parliaments' direct European role: EP empowerment on the one hand, and 'domestic compatibility' on the other. Bringing these priorities together in Table 6.1 shows the ensuing patterns of opposition and support to reforms with different domestic and European-level implications. The next section discusses the institutional constraint shown in Table 6.1. Let us first focus on constitutional preferences. Interestingly, federalists and intergovern- mentalists do not necessarily disagree. They both oppose institutional changes that threaten to undermine the role of the EP and are incompatible with domestic oversight. Against this background, it is not surprising that the idea of a 'third chamber' of national parliaments in the EU has met widespread resistance in the parliaments of the member states and in the EP, both from deputies with intergovernmental and federal constitutional preferences. Federalists understand the third chamber as a threat to the powers of the EP; intergovernmentalists as a cumbersome distraction from the domestic role of national parliaments (e.g. Rittberger 2005: 177-96; see also Raunio 2009:

Table 6.1 Parliamentarians' views of reform proposals of their direct role in EU affairs

Reform proposal

Compatible with domestic oversight

Yes

No

Could weaken EP

Intergovernmentalists: + Federalists: -

Intergovernmentalists: - Federalists: -

Institutional constraint: No

Institutional constraint: Yes

Positive effect of intergovernmentalism No effect of institutions

No effect of intergovernmentalism Negative effect of institutions

Could

strengthen EP

Intergovernmentalists: + Federalists: +

Institutional constraint: No

Intergovernmentalists: - Federalists: +

Institutional constraint: Yes

No effect of intergovernmentalism No effect of institutions

Negative effect of intergovernmentalism Negative effect of institutions

322-5; Bengtson 2007). Reforms that are compatible with domestic oversight and that promise to strengthen the EP might well find widespread support among parliamentarians. It is, however, difficult to think of obvious examples of such reforms. In these two constellations, we should not expect to find an effect of constitutional preferences because the main opposing camps in EU constitutional politics agree on the desirability, or lack thereof, of the proposed reforms. A clear effect of constitutional preferences should, nevertheless, exist whenever reforms are compatible (or incompatible) with domestic oversight, while potentially weakening (or strengthening) the EP. In these cases the extent to which parliamentarians tend towards intergovernmental, rather than federal, constitutional preferences shapes levels of support. In the case of reforms that are domestically compatible and could weaken the EP: the more parliamentarians tend towards intergovernmental, rather than federal, constitutional preferences, the more supportive they are of the reform proposal. In the case of reforms that are domestically incompatible and promise to strengthen the EP, the effect is the opposite: the more parliamentarians tend towards intergovernmental, rather than federal, constitutional preferences, the less supportive they are of the reform proposal.

 
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