Alternative Explanations: Partisan Policy Conflict and Case-Specific Political-Economic Salience

As with national parliamentary adaptation to integration in the past, there is an alternative to an explanation based on constitutional preferences. The institutional reforms we observe, or do not find, in parliaments may result from strategic partisan exigencies arising in the context of minority government and conflicts within governing coalitions (Martin 2000; Bergman 2000; Saalfeld 2005). Under minority government, the office coalition is not the same as the legislative coalition, creating potential for mistrust between the majority supporting the government in parliamentary votes, and the personnel in ministerial positions. The creation of rights and capacities to strengthen those actors in parliament but not in government could be a way to make minority government work. Under coalition government, parties have to put trust into each other's ministers. To the extent that the policy disagreement between the partners, either on the left-right or the pro-anti integration dimension, is large, they might also seek to bring in their parliamentary groups so as to be better able to monitor each other (Martin and Vanberg 2011). Chapter 3 discussed the objections to these arguments in detail. To reiterate some of those: major disagreements over the desirability of European integration in contemporary governing coalitions in Europe is very rare; minority governments are more likely to be the result of, rather than the consequence, of the existence of strong legislative institutions (Strom 1990); and, first and foremost, creating EU-related institutions in order to solve problems of minority and coalition government is likely to miss the point. As Martin and Vanberg (2011), for instance, argue, these disagreements matter to parties in particular because there is a risk of electoral backlash if voters come to think that leaders are failing to defend their partisan policy priorities. EU affairs, however, have not had sufficiently important electoral implications so far (e.g. de Vries 2007). This may, of course, have changed with the salience of the ESM treaty. In this case, however, the electoral 'backlash' did not focus on the details of the policies individual parties pursued, which could perhaps have been amended or corrected through legislative oversight institutions, but rather on the desirability of the ESM and the EU's treaty-based economic policy regime. The benefactors have not been centrist parties but rather challengers from the left and right margins of the political space.

Finally, the analysis to follow will consider two case-specific control variables that capture the political-economic salience of EU economic and budgetary policy-making. First, the budgetary implications of EU membership have been particularly salient in the past in countries that make net contributions to the EU budget compared to countries that benefit from significant financial transfers. Net contributors, furthermore, are wealthier than net receivers and, therefore, have to expect to shoulder a large share of the financial burden of bail-out decisions in the context of the ESM. Thus, parliamentarians will be particularly interested in monitoring ESM decision-making. They will also want to observe EU economic and budgetary policy-making more generally as it is a way to influence the policies of other member states and, thus, the prospects of future economic and financial difficulties. Consequently, it is possible that policy-makers of states that contribute to the EU budget will be inclined to create ESM rights for their parliaments and to participate in the Article-13 conference which is intended to monitor EU economic and budgetary policy-making.

The second political-economic factor to be considered is the level of public debt. The EU's Stability and Growth Pact prescribes a level of public debt of 60 per cent of GDP. The crisis-driven reforms of the EMU, for instance in the form of the TSCG, have reinforced the instruments of the EU to enforce compliance with this rule. Indeed, to the extent that member states meet the budgetary requirements and, therefore, do not constitute a potential threat to the economic stability of the Eurozone, they are unlikely to be subject to stringent country-specific recommendations or enforcement proceedings if they decide not to follow such recommendations. In other words, for compliant states, economic and budgetary policy-making at the European level amounts to little more than participation in a coordination process without hard legal outcomes. The salience of EU level policy-making is higher for countries that fail to meet the requirements of the Stability and Growth Pact and could become subject to country-specific recommendations and sanctions for noncompliance. In these countries, parliamentary parties may be more interested in monitoring EU affairs than elsewhere. Thus, they should take a stronger interest than their counterparts in other countries in the Article-13 conference.

 
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