The EU and political attention at the Council for European Studies conference 2013

maandag 22 juli 2013, 15:45

At the annual conference of the Council for European Studies, held this year in Amsterdam, the Montesquieu Institute in close collaboration with an international group of scholars organized a minisymposium with five panels on the evolution of political agendas in the EU and North America. The panels attracted an audience of some 120 scholars from a range of countries.

The goal of the minisymposium was to provide a state of the art of research on how democratic institutions in the EU, member states and in other countries address major policy problems. One panel chaired by Laura Chaquès from the University of Barcelona highlighted the role of the media in political agenda setting, another panel chaired by MI-fellow Marcello Carammia from the University of Malta dealt with migration as a multilevel governance issue, with a comparative analysis of styles of mulitilevel agenda setting in different countries presented by MI-fellow Peter Scholten. Frank Baumgartner from the University of North Carolina chaired a panel on the evolution of policy problems over time, in which MI-PhD researchers Petya Alexandrova and Leticia Elias gave presentations on the dynamics of attention in Europe to such diverse matters as budgetary policy and organized crime. MI-fellowSebastiaan Princen from the University of Utrecht brought together a group of experts on the way in which institutions in the EU facilitate or hinder policy change and responsiveness to demands in society.

A fifth panel addressed effects of Europeanization on the national parliamentary agenda in member states. This panel was chaired by Lars Mäder from the University of Mannheim and MI-research director Arco Timmermans. In his presentation, Lars Mäder showed how the German Bundestag tries to contain ministerial drift away from its control sphere on European issues by intensely scrutinizing the activities and bills submitted by these ministers. This finding provides some counterevidence against the widespread assumption that Europeanization involves an information advantage for governments with their large administrative apparatus over parliaments which usually have far less staffing and internal expertise to consider a wide range of issues. While this may be in part because the Bundestag is a large parliament and well equipped for its scrutinizing tasks, a presentation of Astrid Spreitzer from the University of Luxembourg showed how the Chamber of Representatives in Luxembourg, the smallest parliament of the EU, similarly engages in scrutinizing activities when governmental proposals have European content. In particular directives that must be transposed receive more attention from the 60 members of the parliament in Luxembourg than many domestic proposals.

A different case presents the parliament in Spain, a country were political parties not only have been generous in their support of European integration but also stay away from confronting ministers about EU-related matters. Anna Palau from the University of Barcelona pointed to the relative neglect of EU issues in the questions posed to ministers by members of the Spanish Cortes Generales. The exception is regionalist parties who use a strategy of linking their claims to broader European issues, and in this way they are changing the politics of attention in this country, which is hit hard by the economic crisis in the EU.

Finally, Frank Wendler from the University of Washington showed how the British, French, German and Austrian parliament perform very differently in communicating about European matters to their national publics. While all parliaments show a rise in frequency and intensity of debates on the EU, the communicative styles are contrasting: the French Assemblée Nationale is mostly the recipient of information transferred top down by the national executive, while a more antagonistic style between the government and the opposition is visible in the British House of Commons and the Nationalrat in Austria. The predominant style in the German Bundestag is one of cooperation between the executive and parliamentary parties. Given that in Germany ministerial proposals with European content are subjected to parliamentary scrutiny, the case of the Bundestag may provide an example for other parliamentary chambers such as the Dutch Tweede Kamer to balance scrutiny and control with cooperation on European affairs.