Building Parliamentary Authority on Constitutional Preferences

The argument put forward in this book entails implications for our evaluation of the democratic consequences of European integration, as well as for the possible impact of parliamentary oversight institutions and their direct European role on day-to-day EU policy-making. On the one hand, parliamentary adaptation and its origins in constitutional preferences implies that the representative democratic costs arising from European integration depend, at least in part, on the parliamentary and party political elites of the member states, and their views as to what kind of institutions are appropriate for the

EU and their countries. On the other hand, however, recognizing that national parliamentary rights are built on constitutional preferences, rather than, for instance, strategic incentives arising from party competition, warrants asking whether 'reality bites'. That is, the impact of parliamentary adaptation to the EU, at home and at the European level, could be undermined by a lack of partisan incentives, although no final conclusions should be drawn yet, against the background of only limited available evidence.

Agency and Accountability

On the one hand, the results underline the existence of a measure of agency, but also of accountability, of domestic policy-makers for the democratic consequences of European integration. These consequences are, of course, diverse and what there is to say about them depends on the focus of any particular analysis. At least when it comes to the impact of the EU on the rights of the parliaments of the member states, however, it would be too simple to say that parties and parliamentarians have fallen victim to the structural constraints flowing from ever more closely integrated international policy-making. The emergence of EU-related oversight institutions and, if tentatively, of a direct European role for national parliaments in EU politics, shows that national decision-makers are able to take measures to reinforce parliamentary rights and capacities that have come under pressure from European integration. Indeed, in several member states parliamentary parties have made significant use of this possibility. Elsewhere, however, they have failed to implement similar reforms.

Differences between parliaments are not a matter of accident or structural constraints. They result from political elites' ideas about what kind of democratic institutions and procedures the EU needs. Weaknesses in the rights national parliaments of some countries have in EU affairs reflect cross-country variation in democratic thinking. Where intergovernmentalist perspectives on the EU's constitutional design prevail among parliamentary parties and parliamentarians, national parliaments obtain more extensive EU-related institutional competences compared to countries where federalist views are predominant. While we have seen that existing domestic institutions also shape parliamentary adaptation to integration, this should not be interpreted to mean that policy-makers' actions are strongly constrained by contemporaneous incentives such as a desire of individual, influence-seeking legislators to compensate for lost authority. On the contrary, the argument made here envisages existing institutions as reflecting domestically consensual constitutional preferences and, in this sense, policy-makers' shared views as to the EU-related parliamentary rights that are appropriate for the EU and their member states.

It would, nonetheless, be misleading to attribute weaknesses (or strengths) in national parliamentary rights to shortcomings in political elites' democratic thinking. There is no consensus among policy-makers or academics on what the right model of democratic institutions for the EU is. This is not to say that evaluations of whether politicians' ideas of EU democracy are right or wrong entirely lies in the eye of the beholder, but it certainly depends on any given observers' implicit or explicit normative theories of democracy beyond the national level (Majone 1998). In this sense, connecting national parliaments' adaptation to integration to policy-makers' constitutional preferences does not say that some of them are right or wrong, but it puts us in a position to understand that their choices are the result of theories of how the EU should be designed, and to require justification for why they hold these theories.

The argument put forward here, therefore, places parties and parliamentarians at the heart of debates about the impact of integration on parliamentary rights. It highlights the agency that these actors have in deciding on what kind of institutional responses they deem necessary in the face of growing EU authority; and it highlights that they can be held accountable for the choices they make, or fail to make.

 
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