The Ambiguous Effect of Constitutional Preferences
To recap, to say that parties have federal or intergovernmental constitutional preferences is not the same as to call them pro- and anti-European integration. The chapters so far have operationalized constitutional preferences through partisan support for the EU only because the relevant parliamentary parties across Europe continue to cluster around the top of a measure of how much they favour integration, so that it can reasonably be assumed that the variation between them captures to a large extent inclinations towards intergo- vernmentalism and federalism. Intergovernmentally oriented parties will be slightly more critical of the EU because, as a matter of empirical fact, integration has progressively moved towards more federal institutions. Majority voting has expanded at the cost of unanimity voting. Its competences have grown far beyond market-making and technical regulation (Genschel and Jachtenfuchs 2014). And, above all, a European-level parliament has acquired ever more competences over legislation, the budget, and the appointment of the European Commission in every treaty reform since the 1980s (e.g. Rittberger 2005; Crombez and Hix 2011). Because of these developments, intergovernmentalists have also led demands for strengthening EU-related national parliamentary rights and capacities, in contrast to federalists that have seen their preferred way of creating parliamentary competences in the EU (that is, by empowering the EP) progressively realized.
While treaty reforms of the past have progressively strengthened federal elements in the EU's constitutional design, the ESM is different. It is explicitly designed as an intergovernmental institution. The powers of the EP are marginal, confined to selected consultation and information rights (e.g. Fasone 2014). Decision-making takes place by unanimity in all but highly exceptional cases. While the European Commission is involved in the work of the ESM, particularly when it comes to monitoring whether countries fulfil reform obligations that they have accepted in exchange for loans (Bauer and Becker 2014), it enjoys none of its treaty-based prerogatives such as a right of legislative initiative or judicial enforcement powers. Indeed, supporters of federal models of the EU's constitutional design, above all the EP itself, have been highly critical of the intergovernmental set-up of the ESM. The EP (European
Parliament 2012, see Recommendation 2.7; see also Rittberger 2014: 1177-9) has demanded that:
The ESM should evolve towards Community-method management and be made
accountable to the European Parliament. Key decisions, such as the granting of
financial assistance to a Member State and the conclusion of memorandums,
should be subject to proper scrutiny by the European Parliament.
As a consequence of its institutional design, the ESM is an institution that parties with intergovernmental constitutional preferences can support more readily than if it had been part of the EU treaties and subject to majority voting and co-decision by the EP. To be sure, the very creation of the ESM has been controversial throughout the EU. It goes back not towards a shared interest of the member states to reap economic or other benefits from integration but rather to the need to prevent a disorderly break-up of the Eurozone with uncertain and, in all likelihood, high costs (e.g. Schimmelfennig 2014). Yet, within the range of choices that the imperatives of the Eurozone crisis imposed on policy-makers, the design of the ESM clearly corresponds to intergovernmental preferences.
The intergovernmental design of the ESM has important implications for the impact of constitutional preferences on parliamentary adaptation. On the one hand, it is likely to attenuate reform demands of intergovernmentalists. Let it be underlined that parties with intergovernmental constitutional preferences do perceive a need for national parliamentary oversight of government participation in ESM decision-making. Opponents of the EP's demands, as Rittberger (2014: 1177-9) makes clear, explicitly pointed out the need to ensure accountability at the national level. With decisions of potentially profound budgetary importance taken by governments at the European level, parliamentary rights at the domestic level come under pressure, creating a case for intergovernmentalists to seek reforms in response. However, unlike previous treaty reforms, the creation of the ESM does not entail more majority voting or more powers for the EP and other supranational institutions. The adaptation pressure perceived by intergovernmentally oriented parties should, therefore, be lower than in previous reform opportunities.
Parties with federal inclinations, in turn, are bound to be highly sceptical of the ESM. They oppose its intergovernmental design, the fact that it is situated outside of the EU treaty framework, and the lack of powers of the EP. The intergovernmental characteristics put federalists in a difficult position. Their main priority is the empowerment of the EP, rather than the strengthening of national parliaments in EU affairs. However, they have not reached their goal in the case of the ESM, and the governments of the member states as well as the leaders of other EU institutions have made clear their resistance to changing this state of affairs (Rittberger 2014: 1177-9). Shifting support towards national parliaments, however, bears the risk that domestic achievements in terms of strengthening parliamentary rights distract from the federalist goal of bringing the ESM under the EP's authority. For instance, in the negotiations over the design of the Article-13 conference, discussed further below, the EP and its allies among the member state parliaments advocated a vision of parliamentary involvement in economic and monetary union building predominantly on centralized oversight by the EP, while considering national parliaments at most of secondary importance (cf. Cooper 2014). On the other hand, as Chapter 3 explained, federalist parties, as well as intergovernmental- ists, consider it necessary that EU decision-making meets democratic norms including, amongst other things, respect for parliamentary rights. In the absence of EP authority, they may, thus, perceive the need to call for stronger national parliamentary rights as a second-best, yet, feasible alternative. In line with this view, Chapter 5 showed that even federally inclined Dutch parties supported the introduction of 'approval rights' in the area of justice and home affairs for as long as the EP did not enjoy co-decision powers.
Partisan constitutional preferences matter most when they make clear and unambiguous prescriptions for the reform opportunities that parties encounter. Yet, the unusually intergovernmental nature of the ESM treaty makes it more difficult for intergovernmentally inclined as well as federally oriented parties to decide whether they support strengthening the EU-related competences of national parliaments. Intergovernmentalists still support strengthening national parliaments, but they perceive less of a need for doing so compared to earlier treaty revisions. Federalists still prioritize empowering the EP, but their failure to reach this goal may motivate them to make the case for national parliaments instead. On balance, therefore, the intergovernmental character of the ESM dilutes the differences between intergovernmentally and federally inclined parties. Therefore, no clear effect of constitutional preferences on parliamentary adaptation to ESM decision-making should be expected.
As in the past, party leaders are expected to seek inclusive parliamentary positions to avoid that intra-party diversity turns into public conflict. Indeed, in the case of the ESM treaty, the risk is particularly acute because many parties across the EU member states struggled to maintain internal unity, for instance, in votes on the ratification of the treaty (e.g. Maatsch 2013). If party leaders were to adopt controversial positions on parliamentary rights and capacities, they would add fuel to intra-party conflicts already being fought over the very desirability and substantive goals of the ESM treaty.
The second question that parliamentary parties face is whether to support a strong or a weak Article-13 conference. This conference is an example of interparliamentary cooperation. It would feature joint meetings of members of national parliaments as well as of the EP, similar to the existing Conference of European Affairs Committees (COSAC) and the inter-parliamentary conference on foreign and security policy. Chapter 6 discussed the effect that constitutional preferences have on support or opposition towards inter-parliamentary cooperation within parliaments. From the perspective of intergovernmentalists, such a conference is a distraction from national parliaments' supposed focus on domestic oversight. It not only places national parliaments in a position that they are not meant to occupy in the intergovernmental constitutional vision of the EU, that is, in the role of institutional actors at the European level alongside national governments; inter-parliamentary cooperation also risks occupying parliamentarians' time and resources that could otherwise be devoted to domestic oversight of national governments. Parties with federal constitutional preferences in fact agree with intergovernmentalists, albeit for different reasons. For them, the key question is whether giving parliaments direct rights at the European level threatens their main goal, the empowerment of the EP. Federalists see the EP as the main and only source of parliamentary authority at the European level, and regard the elevation of national parliaments to European-level actors as a threat to the EP's exclusive status. Accordingly, Cooper (2014) illustrates that the EP itself as well as EP-friendly national parliamentary parties opposed a broad mandate for the Article-13 conference. To reiterate the argument formulated in Chapter 6, because parties with intergovernmental or federal constitutional preferences both regard the Article-13 conference with scepticism, even if for different reasons, no effect of constitutional preferences on parliamentary reform goals regarding this conference should be expected.