Montesquieu Institute: from science to society

A glass half-full or half empty? Parliamentary scrutiny of EU affairs in the aftermath of the Lisbon Treaty.

The Lisbon Treaty has provided the national parliaments with a potential to play a greater role at EU-level politics. Nevertheless, it is yet to be seen how the national legislatures will in practice adapt to the new provisions and translate them into tangible influence.

Regardless of the growing body of academic literature on national parliaments and EU integration, it is still unclear how the domestic legislatures deal with the EU issues at a “micro-level”, e.g. in their committee or support services daily work.

Drawing on the experience of the Swedish, Czech and Romanian parliaments this research assesses whether and how the national parliaments can become more active and effective vis-à-vis their respective governments and EU institutions.

It seems that the Lisbon Treaty has not had such an “emancipating” effect on the national parliaments as once believed. There is arguably much more continuity than change, a certain “lock-in” in the varying national parliamentary practices of dealing with the EU. Involvement of standing committees as well as the role of parties are the crucial mechanisms of effective scrutiny of EU affairs. The role of parties doesn’t imply their Eurosceptic or a Europhile stance but covers primarily the mode of interaction between the parliamentary majority and opposition.

In none of the policy cases addresses, namely pension reform and seasonal labour migration, has parliamentary scrutiny deeply addressed the content of the proposals. Although the EU proposals can affect the domestic left-right cleavage, they are scrutinized primarily within the framework of the division of competences and not their impact on the national policies. It is argued that the involvement of national parliaments in the EU decision-making has remained “shallow”, dealing primarily with Treaty change, division of competence and “constitutional issues” but not with the content of proposals.

The results are drawn from a series of interviews conducted with MPs, parliamentary clerks, domestic experts and stakeholders in Sweden, Czech Republic and Romania as well as representatives of EU institutions between September 2011 and May 2012. A further round of fieldwork is planned for 2013. The results of the research have been presented at a number of seminar and events. Two working papers have been written within the framework of this research, while further peer-reviewed publications are being prepared.

This Ph.D. project, launched in October 2010 and funded by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, is carried out by Alexander Strelkov.