OPAL - Observatory of Parliaments after the Lisbon Treaty

National Parliaments in the EU: The Performance of Multilevel Democracy in Europe PDF Print E-mail

Special Issue of West European Politics, forthcoming 2014
Edited by Katrin Auel (IHS Vienna/Sciences Po Paris) and Thomas Christiansen (Maastricht University)

The role of national parliaments in EU matters has become an important subject in the debate over the democratic legitimacy of EU decision-making in academia and political and other decision- making circles. Strengthening parliamentary scrutiny and participation rights both at the domestic and at the European level is often seen as an effective measure to address the perceived ‘democratic deficit’ in EU decision-making – the reason for affording them a prominent place in the newly introduced ‘Provisions on Democratic Principles’ of the Union (in particular Art.12 TEU). Whether this aim can be met, however, depends crucially on the degree and the manner in which national parliaments actually make use of these provisions. National parliaments will contribute little to the democratic legitimacy of EU policy-making if they do not use them – or if the new powers lead to even less transparent decision-making in the future. Moreover, rather than enhance the democratic quality of EU politics, establishing national parliaments as autonomous players at the European level may even lead to a loss of legitimacy and accountability if these contacts are based on informal and private cooperation with actors from within the EU institutions, or if they give rise to new bureaucratic networks channelling information and opinion.

The aim of this special issue is therefore to provide comprehensive and comparative empirical data on the way in which national parliaments make use of their new powers and intervene in EU affairs. In the context of the OPAL project, the contributors to this special issue will have developed a unique empirical database consisting of detailed quantitative data on parliamentary activities in EU affairs across all 40 national chambers of the EU as well as an in-depth qualitative data concerning the parliaments of eight member states. Furthermore, individual contributors to the special issue are conducting case study research on additional member states, so that the special issue will contact qualitative data eleven countries (The Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden and the United Kingdom).

This special issue will focus on the following key themes:

  • The exercise of legislative and non-legislative scrutiny of EU affairs,
  • the role of parliamentary administrations -with respect to European issues,
  • horizontal as well as vertical inter-parliamentary cooperation in the EU,
  • and the conceptualization of the role and the behaviour of national parliaments within the Euro-polity.

By investigating their activities in practice, the special issue therefore addresses a fundamental gap in the literature on the role of national parliaments in EU affairs and contributes to a better understanding of the conditions under which national parliaments can indeed provide the added value in terms of democratic legitimacy in EU policy-making. In this endeavour it goes beyond the classic focus on the formal powers of parliamentary scrutiny by presenting insights into the actual practice of parliamentary involvement. In addition, individual contributions to the special issue look at the attention national parliaments pay to EU foreign policy-making, the nature of inter-parliamentary relations and the – so far completely under-researched – role of the parliamentary administration in scrutiny processes. In addition, one contribution addresses the important question of the way in which the EU’s response to the sovereign debt crisis in the Eurozone involves and affects the parliaments in the member states.


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