The Western Balkans countries first expressed their wish to be part of the European Union in the early 2000s. To accomplish this goal, national executives were strengthened and additional resources were allocated to deal with complex EU accession negotiations.
However, such a realignment of powers and resources at national level did not include national parliaments. They have tried to emulate the parliaments of EU Member States by establishing EU integration committees to oversee the work of their governments during the EU accession process. In many cases, parliaments have been reduced to rubber-stamping institutions for government decisions.
Most of the existing related academic literature focuses on the institutional adaptation of EU Member State parliaments. It considers the various scrutiny arrangements (e.g. European affairs committees) and assesses their effectiveness.
However, it has largely neglected the involvement of other standing committees on EU affairs, differential empowerment of parliamentary actors/bodies, inter-parliamentary cooperation and the role of parliamentary staffers during the EU accession process and subsequently. Moreover, scholars disagree on how to measure or operationalise the impact of the EU integration process on national parliaments.
One unexplored aspect is the impact of the EU integration process on the parliaments of EU potential candidate countries (PCCs). My research seeks to explain changes to the way parliaments of EU PCCs – namely, Kosovo and Macedonia – conduct their business during their country’s bid to become an EU member. I intend to trace the impact of EU accession as a process, rather than an outcome, in two main parliamentary functions: law-making and oversight.
Given the relatively new nature of democracy in the Western Balkans and the lack of historical experience with parliamentarism (in comparison to older EU Member States), I expect to find that the EU accession process is a crucial opportunity to shape institutional structures and procedures in parliaments, including their relationship with the government.
Having said that, it is prudent to also expect that parliaments in EU PCCs, faced with a loss of legislative influence during the EU accession process, react through institutional adaptation and increasing parliamentary oversight.
The impact of the EU accession process on the functioning of parliaments in my research is operationalised through review of formal and informal instruments. On the formal spectrum, this includes the EU’s conditionality and monitoring, based on the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and the European Commission’s annual progress reports; and the political dialogue with the EU institutions, such as the Joint Parliamentary Committees and European Parliaments reports. On the informal spectrum, this includes the EU’s technical assistance to parliaments – mainly through twinning projects with EU member states parliaments.
The institutional change of national parliaments that can be looked at on three levels. The first is through reviewing changes to parliaments’ rules of procedure based on amendments related to the EU accession process.
The second is through detailing institutional adaptations in parliaments that led to new processes (e.g. new oversight mechanisms or changes to law-making procedures), the establishment of new parliamentary bodies specifically tasked with overseeing the government work and performance on EU accession issues (such as committees and councils) and the creation of new professional support units in parliaments’ secretariats.
The third, following the above, is by observing any change in the nature and volume of parliamentary activities. This can be based on the number of amendments to draft laws, parliamentary questions and successful motions related to EU accession issues.
I aim to test whether the number of veto players constrains parliament’s institutional adaptation. Parliaments are highly formalistic institutions, often requiring procedural and structural changes to be instituted through amending its rules of procedure. In the cases of Kosovo and Macedonia, this requires a two-thirds majority of all MPs.
As such, attaining this majority is subject to the number of veto players involved and the type of political system (consensual or conflictual). Lower numbers of veto players and consensual politics enable the adoption of such amendments. Likewise, the actual implementation of new procedures in parliament is subject to meeting certain thresholds in terms of number of MPs supporting such initiatives and the ability to put items on the agenda.
Additionally, I will test whether free and vibrant media and civil society organisations have an enabling effect on institutional adaptation and level of parliamentary activity during the EU accession process. This proposition assumes that these media and civil society organisations can create motivating factors for both opposition and government MPs to introduce reforms.
Lastly, I predict that executive dominance over the legislature constrains institutional adaptation and the level of oversight. In cases of coherent governing majorities and party discipline in voting, one can expect that opposition parties will have a limited impact in introducing oversight initiatives. However, if the governing coalition is composed of many political parties and party discipline is weaker, the chances are higher that oversight initiatives will come about.
Publication resulting from the UACES 2017 PhD and ECR Conference
The impact of an EU membership perspective on the national parliament of potential candidate countries is an important yet underexplored subject, writes Blerim Vela. Outlining some of the elements of his research, he suggests that the executive-legislature relationship and strength of the media and civil society are connecting factors in parliamentary development.
Blerim Vela is PhD Candidate in Politics at the University of Sussex. His research focuses on the impact of Europeanisation on the functioning of potential EU candidate countries’ national parliaments. He previously worked for the UNDP and OSCE in a number of countries.