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Article

Parliaments in Foreign Policy  

Wolfgang Wagner

Parliaments differ enormously in their foreign policy competences. This is best documented in the area of “war powers,” understood as decision-making on the use of force. In other issue areas, such as treaty-making, defense budgets, sanctions, or arms exports, differences across countries are far less researched. The available data, however, suggest that differences in those areas are no smaller than in the area of war powers. What is more, the data also show that parliamentary competences across issue areas within particular countries also differ a lot. Parliaments are not strong or weak across the full spectrum of foreign policy competences. Instead, parliamentary competences are country-specific as well as issue-specific. A general trend toward a parliamentarization or deparliamentarization of foreign affairs is not discernible. Partly inspired by institutionalist versions of Democratic Peace Theory, numerous studies have examined whether parliamentary powers have any effect on countries’ propensity to use armed force. Case-study research tends to find that variation in parliamentary powers affects decision-making on the use of force but also emphasizes that the effects of institutional constraints need to be understood in conjunction with the preferences of the public, parliament, and government. Statistical studies have found some evidence for a “parliamentary peace,” but because of problematic indicators and a lack of controls, doubts remain about the robustness and significance of this effect. In any case, theories of legislative–executive relations in parliamentary systems suggest that open confrontations between parliament and government are exceptional. Instead of an institutional constraint in a system of checks and balances, parliamentary war powers can be understood as an additional reassurance against unpopular decisions to use force. Most studies of parliaments in foreign affairs are characterized by “methodological nationalism”—that is, the assumption that nation-states are the natural units of analysis. However, parliaments’ activities in foreign affairs are not exhausted by their monitoring and scrutiny of national executives. In addition, there is a long tradition of “parliamentary diplomacy” and engagement in interparliamentary institutions. The most powerful parliamentary actor beyond the nation-state is the European Parliament. Although its formal competences are limited, it has been very effective in using its powers to influence European foreign policy.

Article

Parliaments  

Roger D. Congleton

Research on the origin, evolution, and effects of parliaments on public policies is presented. Progress has been made, but unresolved questions remain. Both historical and contemporary rational choice–based research are discussed, although more attention is given to the latter than to the former.

Article

Intergovernmental Conference: Three Case Studies of EC/EU Institution Building  

Běla Plechanovová

Intergovernmental conference (IGC) within the European integration context is a vehicle for institutional change. Based on the majority decision in the Council, the representatives of member states’ governments convene to debate proposals for amendments to the founding treaties of the European Union (EU) and make decisions on the agreed changes, which are then subject to the ratification process in the member countries according to their constitutional requirements. This procedure was used for almost all treaty revisions until the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007 changed the rules. An ordinary revision procedure was introduced that assumes a role for the Convention to draft changes to the treaties, while keeping the IGC as a next step in the process. A simplified revision procedure was introduced for making adjustments to the internal policies and actions of the EU according to the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, thus replacing the IGC by a unanimous decision of the European Council. The Merger Treaty of 1965, the Single European Act in 1986, and the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997 represent distinct steps in shaping the perception of the role of the IGC as an institution in the political process within the European Communities and the EU.

Article

Voting in European Union Politics  

Monika Mühlböck

Together, the European Parliament (EP) and the Council of the European Union form the bicameral legislature of the European Union (EU). However, as the analysis of voting behavior shows, decision-making is structured differently in the two institutions. In the EP, competition takes place between European party groups along a left-right and a rising pro-anti EU integration dimension. In the Council, ideology and party politics play a minor role. Voting behavior of ministers is determined by different national interests on an issue-by-issue basis. Furthermore, voting in the Council is dominated by the so-called culture of consensus. Despite the extension of qualified majority voting (QMV) to most areas of EU decision-making, many legislative proposals are adopted unanimously. Even if there is dissent, it is usually only one or two member states voting against the proposal. This makes it difficult to discover patterns of conflict and coalition formation through Council voting data. At the same time, consensus-seeking is something the Council and the EP have in common. In the EP, voting cohesion is high not only within groups but also in the EP plenary as a whole, with a grand coalition between Social Democrats and Conservatives forming frequently, often including the Liberals as well as parties on the left side of the political spectrum. Notwithstanding signs of a decline in consensual decision-making in the wake of the financial and the migration crisis, voting cohesion dominates within the Council and the EP, as well as across institutions in bicameral decision-making.

Article

Gender-Sensitive Parliaments  

Sonia Palmieri

While women have succeeded in promoting a feminist agenda in some parliaments, the international research shows that this is not always possible, and accordingly, not a realistic expectation for women. Parliaments, like any institution, have specific cultural norms and practices, some of which actively work against the advancement of gender equality. Understanding the conditions under which female—and male—parliamentarians might succeed in promoting gender equality outcomes has become an important avenue for research and development practice. The focus on gender-sensitive parliaments allows for a framework to identify, and encourage the development of, those conditions. There are four key elements of a gender-sensitive parliament. First, it accepts that the responsibility to achieve gender equality, both as a policy outcome and as a process, rests with the parliament as a whole (its male and female members and staff) and with the organizations that drive substantial policy, procedural, and normative development (political parties). Second, a gender-sensitive parliament is guided by institutional policies and legal frameworks, which allow the parliament to monitor its achievements toward gender equality and allow follow-up and review. Third, a gender-sensitive parliament institutionalizes a gender mainstreaming approach through its representational, legislative, and oversight work to ensure that all the parliament’s outputs consider, and counteract, any potential discrimination against women or men, girls or boys. This element requires a reconsideration of the process and structures of the parliament, including the respective roles and capacities of members and parliamentary staff. Fourth, a gender-sensitive parliament constantly strives to eliminate institutional cultures that sanction and perpetuate discriminatory, prejudicial norms and attitudes in the workplace against women members and staff.

Article

Italy and the European Union  

Federiga Bindi

Italy is a founding member state of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and, subsequently, the European Economic Community (EEC). At the time, membership meant anchoring the newborn Italian democracy, regaining international respectability after the Fascist period renewed vest internationally , and securing much-needed economic support to boost development. While in the 1950s the left side of the political spectrum vehemently opposed ECSC/EEC membership, starting with the late 1980s, European integration became the most important pillar of Italian foreign policy, an issue of shared consensus among different partiesa. The golden period for Italy – that is the phase when Italy was at the peak of its influence in the Communities - was the decade ranging from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s,. At the time, Italian politicians such as Giulio Andreotti played fundamental roles in key moments of EEC/EU history: enlargement to the south, the single market, the Treaty of the European Union, and especially the creation of the euro are all key events in the history of the European Union which is safe to say would have never happened without the skillful contribution of Italy’s key government actors of the time. As European integration started again to be a contentious issue in domestic politics, so declined Italy’s influence. In more recent years: despite Italy’s formal status as a “big” member of the EU, Rome became less relevant than Madrid in EU decision making procedures. The parochial attitude of Italian elites, the incapacity of long-term programming, and relative government instability are all factors that have contributed to reducing the role of Italy in the EU.

Article

National Parliaments and the European Union  

Katrin Auel

The role and position of national parliaments in European Union (EU) affairs have undergone a long, slow, and sometimes rocky, but overall rather remarkable, development. Long regarded as the victims of the integration process, they have continuously strengthened their institutional prerogatives and have become more actively involved in EU affairs. Since the Lisbon Treaty, national parliaments even have a formal and direct role in the European legislative process, namely, as guardians of the EU’s subsidiarity principle via the so-called early warning system. To what extent institutional provisions at the national or the European level provide national parliaments with effective means of influencing EU politics is still a largely open question. On the one hand, national parliaments still differ with regard to their institutional prerogatives and actual engagement in EU politics. On the other hand, the complex decision-making system of the EU, with its multitude of actors involved, makes it difficult to trace outcomes back to the influence of specific actors. Yet it is precisely this opacity of the EU policymaking process that has led to an emphasis on the parliamentary communication function and the way national parliaments can contribute to the democratic legitimacy of the EU by making EU political decisions and processes more accessible and transparent for the citizens. This deliberative aspect is also often emphasized in approaches to the role of national parliaments in the EU that challenge the territorially defined, standard account of parliamentary representation. Taking the multilevel character of the EU as well as the high degree of political and economic interdependence between the member states into account, parliamentary representation is conceptualized as extending beyond the nation-state and as shared across the EU, with a strong emphasis on the links between parliaments through inter-parliamentary cooperation and communication as well as on the representation of other member states’ citizens interests and concerns in parliamentary debates. Empirical research is still scarce, but existing studies provide evidence for the development of an increasingly dense web of formal and informal interactions between parliaments and for changes in the way national parliamentarians represent citizens in EU affairs.