OPAL - Observatory of Parliaments after the Lisbon Treaty

The Focus of the Research Team at Sciences Po Paris PDF Print E-mail

Parliamentary scrutiny of governments in EU decision-making processes

The research team based at Sciences Po in Paris focuses on the domestic watchdog functions of national parliaments vis-à-vis their governments.

Although we know a lot about formal competences of parliaments and procedures enshrined in legal texts and statues both at the domestic and the European level, we still lack detailed comparative knowledge about a) the use parliamentary actors actually make of their formal rights and the various existing forms of parliamentary activity in EU affairs, as well as b) about the type and degree of influence parliaments exert on their governments in practice.

The aim is to carve out factors explaining differences of activity of MPs regarding the scrutiny of their governments in EU decision-making processes. Therefore, we have a look at both, formal instruments MPs may use to exercise scrutiny and at the informal communication channels established with the government at different stages of the EU policy cycle. Starting from an educated inductive approach, the basic working hypothesis is that long-established patterns of parliament-government interaction can best explain forms and scope of parliamentary scrutiny activity in EU affairs.

To investigate parliamentary activities in EU affairs, the project employs a mix of quantitative and qualitative research strategies. In connection with the other OPAL partners, the project collects quantitative data on formal parliamentary scrutiny activity in all 27 Member States. Qualitative interviews with Members of Parliament, clerks and assistants in parliaments in eight Member States, as well as three more detailed case studies (Seasonal Workers Directive, Atalanta and the Financial and Dept Crisis) complement this picture.

However, the project goes beyond the purely parliamentary perspective that has so far dominated studies on the relation between legislatures and governments in EU. Instead of focusing only on the activities of parliaments, the Paris team will break with this logic by broadening the perspective to include executive-legislative relations in EU affairs more generally. From a conceptual point of view, we assume that the type and style of parliamentary control and influence cannot only be defined on the basis of parliamentary activities but also of executive-legislative patterns. Therefore, we aim at connecting the specialised literature on national parliaments in the EU into the broader framework of comparative politics by integrating general features like the type of parliamentary majority, the existence of veto points, the policy-making style within member states and the electoral cycle. Methodologically, we will also conduct interviews with governmental high civil servants, in national capitals (mostly Paris and Rome) and in Brussels, and with former ministers. In particular, a survey and in-depth interviews with Members of the Permanent Representations and the coordinating bodies of governments in selected capitals are carried out to triangulate the information gathered in the parliaments and to get a step closer to answering the question of the concrete impact of parliamentary scrutiny on government positions, as well as on the government’s perception of parliamentary activity more generally. The focus on specific case studies will help to identify if and how Parliaments were influential.

Ultimately, the “detour” via national governments in the study of national parliaments’ role in the EU follows a simple quest: to investigate if parliaments are indeed able to exert influence on their governments in EU affairs, to identify how they exert this influence and, if they don’t , to analyse whether their activities have other types of impact on their governments.


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