Looking through the federal lens: The
Semi-parliamentary Democracy of the EU
This paper will reconsider the
question of parliamentary democracy in the EU. Yet, it will approach this
already intensely debated problem from a specific perspective: full
understanding of the parliamentary system in the EU, so it argues, is enhanced
if the specific federal structure of the EU is taken into account. This
structure, named and described here as executive federalism, renders the EU a
system of intensive executive cooperation and of consensual decision-making.
With regard to the national
parliaments (NP), this system has dramatic consequences. Even after
considerable changes in the scrutiny systems of the NP as seen in the 1990s in
most member states, the present paper argues that understanding the federal
conditions of parliamentary democracy in the EU basically rules out
intergovernmentalist approaches to European democracy, or proposals like a
second chamber of the EP composed of NP.
In the center of this paper will
therefore stand the analysis of the EP. It proposes to reconsider its structure
as legislature in a setting of separated institutions sharing powers, dwelling
again on the consequences of the executive federalism and on a comparison with
the US system. The EP and its main functions will be analyzed along two ideal
types of legislatures: the working parliament, on one side, as a legislature
separated from the executive and centered around strong committees (exemplified
in the US Congress), and the debating parliament, on the other side, as a
legislature characterized by a fusion of parliamentary majority and government
as well as a mainly debating, not policy-making plenary (exemplified in the
British House of Commons). Comparing the EP step by step, or function by
function with these two types, the EP can be identified basically as working
parliament, more specifically as a 'controlling parliament'. The present paper
thus suggests to re-think our understanding of the EP, beyond the typically
European model of debating parliaments and closer to the American example.
These parliamentary aspects of the
EU are, so it will finally be proposed, sufficiently prominent and distinct to
characterize the EU system generally as a semi-parliamentary system.
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