The role of the European Parliament

5021 words (20 pages) Essay in Politics

27/04/17 Politics Reference this

Disclaimer: This work has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work produced by our Essay Writing Service. You can view samples of our professional work here.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UK Essays.

INTRODUCTION

The division of powers among an executive, a legislature and a judiciary (Montesquieu’s tripartite system, ‘The Spirit of Laws’, 1748) is the common feature of the national democratic systems. The Parliament/National Assembly as a ‘voice of the people’ can be considered as the institution that legitimizes system as a whole. Every country has its own parliamentary system, recognized and identified by the citizens. The European Parliament as the EU level legislature was created on the model of its counterparts. However its perception is significantly different. One can compare the internal organization of both, national and European Parliament, status of their members or party system but what undermines all the comparisons is the context in which these bodies are placed. The role of the European Parliament is determined by the nature of the EU and its sui generis character – ‘a political system on its own right’. It decides on the role of the institutions, division of competences and inter-institutional relations that differ from those at the national level. Lack of traditional government has a significant impact on the position of the European political parties within the system. There is no executive to identify with nor to oppose to. The European party system is based on ‘two competing principals that posses different resources to shape behavior of ‘their’ MEPs [agents]’- national parties and the European political parties.

Get Help With Your Essay

If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!

Find out more

EU is very often contested because of the lack of the legitimacy. The importance of the European elections is diminished because of the lack of electoral connection with the public and dominance of the national issues (‘second order elections’). The internal procedures as well as decision making process are too complex to be entirely understood by an average citizen. As a consequence there is a different environment for the parties to operate in at the national and the EU level. It generates diverse level of cohesiveness, abilities to control, sanctions and rewards. All these factors decide on the way political parties organize at each level – collectively or individually and what are the incentives that determine their choice. Are they in fact weaker in the European Parliament if compares to those in the domestic parliaments in Europe? If it is the case what are the main reasons that make them weaker? Which of the ‘lsquo;principals’ has more influence?

I will argue that due to the different constitutional structure of the EU – lack of government – performance of the European parties is less apparent than those at the national level. As a consequence the incentives for collective party organization can be indeed considered weaker than it is a case for the domestic parliaments. However evaluation of these incentives cannot be oversimplified. These two levels are interlinked and mutually dependent. Growing cohesiveness within the political groups can be a merit of both: national and European party levels. Importance of the EP (especially after the Lisbon Treaty) draws more and more attention to what does happen in the EP. Its growing power provides national parties with additional incentives to organize collectively at the supra-domestic level in order to maximize effectiveness of their actions.

Firstly I will emphasize the main features of the European party system, its structure, mechanisms and levels of collective organization. The first part will be divided in two sections: brief presentation of the nomenclature used in the context of the European parliamentary system and theory of two principals the system is based on. Secondly I will present common incentives for collective party organization, that can be found at both levels. In the third part, I will focus on European dimension of these incentives. Forth part will contain a comparative analysis of two levels: national and European presenting the main differences. Given to the information, presented in the prior chapters, in the fifth one, I will answer what determines voting behavior of the MEPs and internal-party cohesiveness. In the last, sixth part, I will come to concluding statements.

I. EUROPEAN PARTY SYSTEM – STRUCTURE AND MECHANISMS

Structure of the party system in the European Parliament is characterized by its multiplicity of organization levels and actors involved. First of all there are national party delegations which join the European political parties (transnational parties or Europarties) which then create European political groups. These two first levels may result in third although less official one at which political groups cooperate together in order to minimize the influence of other political groups or to build a common front against the other EU institutions such as the Council or the European Commission. Thus one could describe internal organization of the European Parliament as ‘two and a half’ or ‘three – level’ transnational party system (see Figure 1.1).

I.1. DEFINITIONS

The European party system is characterized by the complexity of nomenclature which needs to be clarified in order to understand the party organization. Starting from the first component of the structure. National party delegations can be defined as ‘entities within the transnational parties in the EP consisting of MEPs from the same national party’. Transnational parties are the ‘group [s] of representatives within a given institution that typically come from the same party family’. According to Lindberg et al., ‘in the EP, these transnational parties are also commonly referred to as (transnational) party groups’. However, it has to be mentioned that these transnational parties, albeit they create transnational political groups, they are not the equivalent of the latter. In most cases political groups are composed of more than one political party. Not every MEPs belongs to the party that creates the group – unaffiliated members. Political groups are not allowed to take part in the campaign for the European elections and cannot be established if the proposed membership consists of MEPs from only one member state’. Functioning and organization of the European parties has its legal basis in the Regulation (EC) No 2004/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 November 2003 on the regulations governing political parties at European level and the rules regarding their funding.

I.2. TWO PRINCIPALS THEORY

The ‘principal-agent’ theory is frequently used by the scholars to describe the relations among the actors involved in the EU policy-making process, namely: institutions and members states. ‘The central problem analyzed [in this theory] is that one actor (the principal) needs to delegate tasks and resources to another actor (the agent) who will take action on behalf of the principal but who has interests and objectives of his or her own’. Agent cannot observe the actions of its principal, thus its control abilities are very limited. It creates ‘a serious incentive problem’ and a necessity of the sanction mechanism to ensure expected outcomes.

Principal-agent interaction applies also to the European Parliament. There are ‘two party principals that possess specific resources to shape the behavior of ‘their’ MEPs’. Quality of these resources determines the influence and efficiency of the principals. National parties (principal 1) ‘can use their control of candidate reselection and their control of the process of European elections to influence whether an MEP is elected to the parliament in the first place’. European parties (principal 2), in turn, can use their ‘control of resources and power inside the parliament to influence whether an MEP is able to secure his or her policy and career goals once elected’. What does the two-principal theory mean for the effectiveness of the European party system? What does it say about the interactions within the system?

According to David Marquand, European party system, in order to be fully democratic and effective has to be based on ‘Europe des partis where politics is structured through a party system’, and not on ‘Europe des patries where politics is structured around national identities and governments’. It would guarantee a higher level of internal cohesiveness and secure the policy objectives. In the European Parliament, there is however a significant pressure from the national parties which may have a strong impact on the final decisions of one MEP or another. ‘When the power of the EP is at stake, MEPs have strong incentive to vote together to acquire more power relative to other EU institutions’ , to ensure a counterbalance. However, the national parties may be encouraged to exert more influence over their MEPs because of the growing legislative power of the EP. Hence, it can be argued that ‘there will be an increased intervention by national parties to control the activities of their European representatives’.

The functioning of the EP depends to a great extent on the interactions between two principals and the influence of one or/and the other. These interactions are, in turn, determined by a lot of factors. Among the others one can mention: issue covered, circumstances, institutional context and strategies applied by the particular groups. Different incentives offered by them evoke different behavior. Incentives for collective party organization can be common for both levels: national and European, separate or may create a sort of  ‘toolbox’ of the incentives that are taken out of the box, when there is such a need.

II. COMMON INCENTIVES FOR COLLECTIVE ORGANIZATION

Collective organization is one of the concept which can be applied to a lot of spheres of political and social science. It refers to ‘the logic of collective action’ of Mancur Olson and its theory of groups. The main purpose of the collective organization is to reduce transaction costs of what can be achieved by joining the group whose members share the same interests. The most evident form of collective organization in political parties context is the coalition-building. According to John H. Aldrich, ‘political parties are institutional solutions created by rational utility-maximizing legislators to reduce the transaction costs of collective decision-making and solve the internal collective action problems they face in the legislature’. There are two main common incentives for collective organization: reduction of transaction costs and solution for collective action problem. Building a coalition is a very time-consuming and demanding process that includes ‘the costs of putting together a proposal, identifying coalition partners and forging a compromise acceptable to a sufficient majority’. Going through all these stages every time a party looks for an ally is too risky and does not guarantee sufficient level of influence after all. ‘The existence of political parties reduces these costs’ by allowing the actors concerned to ‘pre-pack like-minded legislators’ and form more stable coalition patterns.

Coalition-building solves also the problem of collective action in decision making process. ‘Through organizing themselves into a majority party, legislators can receive a higher pay-off in terms of policy then they could achieve as individual legislators’. Being a part of a majoritarian coalition is the only way to have enough influence in order to pass a legislation that would secure the policy objectives. Every coalition, once built, has to be cohesive, otherwise it will not play its expected role. Voting behavior of the coalition members determines its power and effectiveness.

Transnational character of the political groups, however, can easily impede the internal cohesiveness. There two groups of the reasons that can be mentioned. First one, having its sources in systemic differences as to the political culture, traditions, habits, mentalities, political scene stability (bi- or multipolar), level of dependence on national authorities, attachment to domestic parties, importance of national issues etc. Second one concerning individual features such as personality, knowledge about the issues concerned, language barrier which can hinder the access to informal source of information as well as the informal inter-MEPs relations. The list of the reasons is not exhaustive one. It shows, however, the importance and influence of the national system on the behavior of the MEPs who have been brought up by each particular system.

The question arises what can be done in order to ensure a satisfactory level of cohesiveness? What are the instruments that can be used to control voting behavior? The EU party system does not have such an advanced sanction mechanism as it is the case in the domestic parliaments in Europe. Therefore, establishing party leadership seems to be the most effective, if not the only one, solution to compensate this ‘deficiency’. There are two possible scenarios that can be applied by the parties. According to the first one, ‘parties can establish a transnational party together with like-minded legislators in order to reduce transaction costs of legislative decision-making’. There is no ‘centralized party group leadership’ and ‘collective action problem of maintaining party unity can be solved through repeated actions’. Alternative option assumes the establishment of ‘party group leadership with monitoring capabilities and disciplinary power’. These two scenarios give the legislators ‘incentives to form transnational parties at the European level in order to increase their influence over policy outcomes’.

Apart from having influence on policy-making – ‘policy seeking’ incentive, scholars distinguish two others: ‘re-election’ and ‘office-seeking’. Together, they form a sort of the incentives triangle which defines the collective party organization (see Figure 2.1). It depends on the particular system which incentive is more likely to be used. In the domestic parliamentary system ‘re-election’ is particularly important one due to a great impact of national parties on future career of their MEPs. It has to be born in mind, that this incentives triangle is characterized by mutual dependence on the one hand and inequality on the other. According Thorsten Faas, their relations can be described ‘clear lexicographic order’. He underlines importance of re-election goal as the one that decide on the existence of the two others. ‘Without re-election, there is neither office, nor policy’. It confirms the importance of the domestic parliamentary system and preliminary incentive it offers. Once, however, re-election is achieved, it creates further incentives that can be applied at the EU level.

III. INCENTIVES FOR COLLECTIVE PARTY ORGANIZATION AT THE EU LEVEL

‘Transnational parties are (…) a product of national parties, who created and sustain the transnational parties to serve their own policy goals in the European Parliament’. Thus, it is in the national parties’ interest to ensure the cohesiveness in once created supranational platform. ‘Each national party is unlikely to obtain its policy objectives by acting alone’. They need an access to transnational level which would open a ‘window of opportunity’ through which they could pass their goals. Transnational parties ‘help national parties and MEPs, structure their behavior’. These two levels of party organization are characterized by interdependence based on mutuality of interests and benefits. National party as an essential subcomponent of transnational party on the one hand. Transnational party as a useful platform and a source of behavior structure on the other.

Apart from these inter-related incentives, falling partially in Principal 1 and Principal 2 resources, one can mention other, reserved only for MEPs once they have been elected (See: II.2. Two principal theory; Principal 2). The most important one is allocation of leadership position within the EP. Party groups ‘control important assets within the EP such as committee positions, rapporteurships for writing legislative reports, and plenary speaking time’. ‘The most salient reports are allocated to the most loyal MEPs’. Another incentive, however less important, is the control of the parliamentary agenda by the MEPs. They do have an influence on what can be included in the agenda, but they cannot decide on whether one issue or another can be kept of the agenda. The larger party group is, the greater influence on allocation of leadership position and agenda control it has. Using the allocation position power as well as (limited) agenda control one can argue that European political groups are able to ‘enforce party line’ and mobilize its members to unified voting.

While analyzing incentives for collective party organization at the EU level, institutional context has to be mentioned. Behavior of the institutions and their members is to a great extent determined by inter-institutional competition. Each of them seeks to preserve its position on the institutional arena and ensure its influence on the issues concerned. In other words, the inter-institutional competition system is based on counterbalance mechanisms that help the institutions prevent the dominant position of one of them. This is the case also for the European Parliament, whose power has been systematically enforcing by the treaties, moving the EP form its position of purely consultative body (Treaty of Rome) and to the one of an active player the decision-making process (veto power). The ordinary legislative procedure introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, entered into a force in 2009, makes the role of the EP even more significant. Collective organization within the EP as well as voting cohesiveness help the EP to reduce the importance of two other institutions, namely the Council and the Commission.

Another level of the competition which is very present in the EP concern party groups. Inter-party group competition determines voting behavior within the groups increasing cohesiveness. It is in the interest of the political groups to ensure a strong position vis à vis other groups. Following the general rule bigger can more, creating bigger and more influential platform enables the groups to be more competitive and to constitute a counterbalance to the others. As S. Hix et al. argue, ‘the incentive to form and maintain powerful transnational party organization is fundamentally related to political competition inside the European Parliament (…) It pays to be cohesive because this increases a party’s chance of being on the winning side of a vote and thus to influence its final outcome’.

IV. DIFFERENCES BETWEEN INCENTIVES IN DOMESTIC PARLIAMENTS IN EUROPE

AND IN THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT – COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS

Among the consequences of the distinct nature of the nation state on the one hand and the European Union on the other (see: Introduction, pp. 1-2) one can find differences between incentives for collective party organization accessible at both levels. The reasons maybe divided into groups which touch upon different aspects: nature of the European election, re-election capabilities, sanction instruments, constitutional structure and general perception of political parties performance at both levels.

Domestic parliaments are perceived as the ones that offer their deputies more incentives than it is the case of the European Parliament, where ‘the role of the political parties is much less apparent’.Reif and Schmitt coined the term of ‘second-order national elections’ to underline the importance of the national issues in the election campaigns in Europe. One can also mention very low turnout, ‘weak electoral connection between citizens and European legislators’, no ‘brand name’ at the EU level ‘since candidates do not use a common European label, but the label of their national party’. Taking into account these factors, ‘the nature of elections does not [seem to] provide an incentive to act within a cohesive party group that is as strong as in genuine national election’.

Internal functioning of the EP shows an important role played by the national electoral systems as well as strong a ‘connection between the MEPs and their national parties’. The national parties constitute ‘the main aggregate actors in the European Parliament’. There are lots of aspects justifying this statement. These are the national parties that nominate the candidates to the European elections. They decide also ‘which of their MEPs will be returned to the European Parliament’. ‘National party leaderships have a dominant influence on the future career prospects of the MEPs, both within and beyond the EP. National parties decide which of their MEPs they will support for key committee position and offices inside the parliament and also whether MEPs will be chosen as candidates for national legislative and executive office.’ There is a clear list of incentives and goal that may be achieved. The most important one is ‘re-election’. The lack of this particular incentive to offer at the EU level weakens significantly the position of transnational parties in comparison to their national counterparts.

Level of the voting cohesiveness determines the effectiveness of the transnational groups once they are established. It decides if they are able or not to ‘ensure political accountability and consistent decision-making’.Domestic parliamentary systems have at their disposal greater sanctions for the behavior contradictory to the party lines. Taking into account what national parties can offer, there is too much to lose if one decide not follow their instructions (cost and benefits analysis). One of the relevant instruments available at the domestic level is the confidence vote attached to a legislative proposal. It can be used by the governmental party or coalition in order to ensure (party) voting cohesion.On top of that, ‘the cabinet, with its prerogatives in the legislative process, is formed along partisan lines and the portfolios are distributed by party leaders’. It shows that political parties ‘are crucial at all stages of the making of public policy’.

The sanctions mechanism within the European Parliament is developed enough to exert an effective influence on voting behavior of the MEPs. There are two instruments which has to be mentioned. Political groups can control their members through ‘whips’ or by ‘group coordinators’ in case of the committees. The second one at the disposal of the political groups is ‘the ultimate sanction of expelling an individual MEP or national party delegation from the group’. However, political groups make use of this possibility only in extreme cases.Decision of the expulsion ‘has to be supported by a majority of all MEPs in the group and is only credible if expelling the party would not weaken the political group compared with its opponents in the parliament’.Importance of the available instruments is limited by their rather theoretical dimension. If we assume that the transnational parties are responsible for the growing cohesiveness within the political groups, the threat of use of the sanction itself should be sufficient in order to ensure an obedience of the MEPs. However, if these are the national parties which determine the voting behavior, these sanction instruments lose their raison d’être and should be regarded as rather simple provision.

Differences between two levels concern to a large extent the constitutional structure. The one of the EU ‘does not (…) resemble the structure of a parliamentary system’.First of all, there is no traditional government to support, discredit, refer to: identify with or oppose to. No executive ‘which can enforce party unity via a vote of confidence’.Only possibility at the EP’s disposal is ‘the power to vote the European executive (the Commission) through vote of no confidence’. However, the necessary majority (two-thirds majority of the votes cast, representing a majority of the component MEPs, art. 234 TFEU) is very difficult to achieve. Furthermore, the Commission ‘[is not] recruited from a majority coalition within the EP’.It has no power to dissolve the Parliament, even for the budget’s rejection which would normally have happened in the national systems. One can say that both positive and negative incentives from the part of the ‘executive’ are very limited. Nothing to be afraid of and nothing to strive for.

Performance of European political groups is weakened by limited abilities of agenda control (in comparison to the domestic parliaments). ‘No transnational party can use agenda control powers in order to keep policy issues which divide the party from arising in the legislative decision-making process (…) even if [this particular party holds] a sufficient majority of votes'(see Section III, p. 7). It is the European Commission that has an exclusive right to initiative. The European Parliament can only submit the proposal for legislative act, which then is considered by the Commission. The same applies to the transnational parties in the Council. Thus, Lindberg et al., argue that ‘partisan control of the legislative agenda is only possible if a political camp dominates all three legislative bodies in the EU’, namely: the Commission, the Council and the Parliament.

Table 1 Party effects on legislative decision-making

National parties

Transnational parties

Electoral arena Selection of representatives

European Parliament

Yes

No

Council

Yes

No

Commission

Yes

No

Legislative arena Legislative organization

European Parliament

Mixed

Mixed

Council

No

No

Commission

No

No

Intra-institutional decision-making

European Parliament

Yes

Yes

Council

Mixed

Mixed

Commission

No

No

Intra-institutional decision-making

Mixed

Yes (preliminary evidence)

Source: B. Lindberg, A. Rasmussen, A. Warntjen, ‘Party politics as usual? The role of political parties in EU legislative decision-making’, Journal of European Public Policy, Volume 15, Issue 8, 2008, p. 1114.

V. DETERMINANTS OF THE VOTING COHESIVENESS INSIDE THE EP

Different factors that determine the voting behavior inside the EP refer us to the theory of two principals mentioned in the second part (see pages 3-4). Which of them has a greater impact on how the MEPs vote: national parties of transnational groups? What does prevail: national loyalty or partisan alignments? Do they necessarily oppose to each other? One can assume that MEPs take their decision being well informed and fully aware of the context of the decisions, their content as well as their consequences. However, a significant part of them are being taken without this knowledge and rationally based analysis. Instead of it, other factors influence the MEPs and their final decision. Three of them seem to be the most important.

Find out how UKEssays.com can help you!

Our academic experts are ready and waiting to assist with any writing project you may have. From simple essay plans, through to full dissertations, you can guarantee we have a service perfectly matched to your needs.

View our services

First, personal relations among the MEPs established as a result of socialization. It concerns especially those first-time elected deputies who are not very familiar with organizational structure of the EP. They are often forced to rely on somebody else while taking the decision. Somebody who, for different reasons, they decide to trust while taking decision. Second, content of the issue discussed and its impact on a vote. If the outcome of the decision is particularly important from a country’s perspective, one could expect that MEP to be well informed about the issue. Then probability that he or she will vote in accordance to the national party line is higher, either. Third, time the decision is taken. One can argue that MEPs are more likely to vote in line with their European party/political group when the leadership positions have not been allocated yet. In other words, it is difficult to apply the well know rule of ‘stick and carrot’ if the carrot does no longer exist.

‘Despite frequent criticism of the lack of strength of the EP party groups, it is shown that they achieve relatively high and rising levels of cohesion’.However, there is no clear answer on ‘whether it is mainly the transnational or the national parties that act as the principals of the MEPs’.At least three observations can be made to show the relations between them. First, ‘national political parties make up the European parties strategically choose to vote together and impose discipline on their MEPs even when their preferences diverge’. Doing so, they want to secure their ‘long term collective policy goal’and not necessarily ‘the immediate outcome of particular vote’.Second, MEPs rarely vote against the European party line. Mostly because a ‘high level of consensus between European political groups and national parties’ rarely forces them to make that choice. Third however, if the conflict between two principals appears they will chose the national one. One can say that ‘MEPs are ultimately controlled by their national parties rather than European political groups’.

Importance of the national actors in determining the cohesion of the European parties depends on ‘how closely [nation parties] follow Parliamentary debates and how often the offer guidance to their own members’. The national parties are more likely to be directly involved ‘when they are opposed to the group vote or when the issue is of particular national concern’.Voting against the majority within the political group does not simply pay if the rate is not high enough. The same applies for the roll-call voting where votes (Yes, No, Abstain) are published in the parliament’s official minutes.Votes that are usually taken by roll call concerns decision of rather political nature (not technical one). It gives an extra incentive to ‘show’ loyalty to the European political groups.

Existing studies of roll-call voting confirm this statement showing that ‘MEPs are likely to vote along transnational party lines than national lines’when such a method is applied.

‘Though the Parliament is organized

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have the essay published on the UK Essays website then please:

Related Lectures

Study for free with our range of university lectures!