Parliamentary Reactions to Reforms of Economic and Monetary Union

Co-written with Berthold Rittberger


Soon after the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2010, the crisis- driven reforms of the EU's Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) confronted domestic policy-makers again with the question of whether to adapt parliamentary rights and to reinforce inter-parliamentary cooperation. Whereas numerous scholars have already pointed out that the parliamentary arena had been marginalized by executive-dominated decision-making during the crisis (e.g. Benz 2013; Crum 2013; Auel and Hoing 2014), this chapter, as with the previous ones, places the emphasis on the use of reform opportunities. It investigates how and why parliaments respond to the crisis-driven reforms of EMU and to opportunities to strengthen inter-parliamentary cooperation.[1]

In response to the problems of several member states to finance their public debt, the EU member states created a permanent rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), which helps countries in financial difficulties, albeit only on the condition of the implementation of a strict reform programme. Furthermore, the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance (TSCG) reinforced procedures for EU surveillance of the member states' budgetary and economic policies. The ESM treaty and the TSCG generate opportunities for the creation of parliamentary rights at home and for inter-parliamentary cooperation. Being a new decision-making body at the European level, in which national governments decide on salient matters such as whether to lend money to other countries and what reforms to demand in return, the ESM requires policy-makers to consider whether national parliamentary rights and competences require adaptation. Article 13 of the TSCG explicitly invites national parliaments and the EP to establish a joint conference monitoring the process of European-level economic and budgetary policy-making, the so-called 'Article-13 conference'. In the process of negotiating the design of this conference, member parliaments necessarily have to form and articulate collective institutional reform preferences regarding their direct European role.

This chapter argues that the explanation of parliamentary adaptation to integration and of parliamentary preferences regarding a direct European role also accounts for how and why parliamentary parties make use of their new reform opportunities. The emphasis, however, is on the impact of institutions and the domestically consensual views of the right constitutional design of the EU and the member states that they reflect (Marcussen etal. 1999; Dimitrakopoulos 2001; Schmidt 2006). Most importantly, in countries in which parliaments enjoy significant rights in the national budgetary process, parties deem reforms necessary in order to secure parliamentary privileges in ESM decision-making. Moreover, where parliaments already have significant EU-related oversight institutions, parliamentarians reject far-reaching interparliamentary cooperation, which is incompatible with their focus in EU affairs on domestic oversight. On the other hand, whether parliamentary parties tend towards federal or intergovernmental views of the EU is less relevant for reasons already discussed in Chapter 6. The ESM's strongly intergovernmental nature finds favour with intergovernmentalists, while encouraging federalists to look for other sources of parliamentary authority than the empowerment of the EP. Second, federally oriented and intergovernmentally inclined parties are both sceptical of inter-parliamentary cooperation so that no net effect of constitutional preferences tending in one or the other direction is to be expected.

More generally, the chapter also shows that the impact of constitutional preferences and institutions depends on the properties of the reform challenges parliamentary parties face. Chapter 6 already made this point in the analysis of the direct European role of national parliaments, and the analyses of the Dutch parliament's 'approval rights' suggested a similar argument about domestic oversight institutions (see Chapter 5). In contrast to past treaty reforms that have always been packages of changes in the EU's competences and decision-making procedures, and that have consistently strengthened the federal traits of the EU, the ESM treaty allows the examination of a reform with strongly intergovernmental properties in isolation.

  • [1] This chapter was written in cooperation with Berthold Rittberger. The first three sections andthe data described therein, as well as the sub-section on alternative explanations build on an articlein German (Rittberger and Winzen 2015a).
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