Political Representation and Political Integration in Europe: Is it possible to square the circle?
Findings from Surveys Among the Members of the European Parliament and Members from Eleven National Parliaments(*)
Bernhard Wessels
European Integration online Papers (EIoP) Vol. 3 (1999) N° 9;
Date of Publication in EIoP: 29.9.1999
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1. Introductionto contents list

European integration is progressing at an ever more rapid rate. Accompanying this progress is increasing debate about the institutional shape and legitimacy of this new political order. Positions of the protagonists range from euphoric support for the „European Project“ to strong and deep-seated scepticism. While this debate is driven in part by conflicting values, in part it is driven by uncertainty. There is no historical precedent for the emerging European system, and the institutional imaginations of observers are both limited and imprecise (Schmitter 1996a: 131), leaving room for all kinds of speculation.

This paper analyzes the views and wishes of European parliamentarians both at the national and the European level with regard to the future political order of the European Union. In particular, parliamentary support for shifting policy authority and preferences for certain shapes of the future political order are investigated. Emphasis is put on the question as to which degree tensions occur between nations, i.e. representatives from different countries and how they can be explained. Thus the paper seeks an answer to the question, whether establishing democracy at the European level comes close to squaring of the circle or not.

The European Union already possesses enormous redistributive powers, and in exercising these powers has supremacy over national laws. According to Schmitter, in 1950 competence rested at the national level in all of the 28 policy areas he investigated. Competence shifted to the European level fastest in the economic area. In 1968 competence rested solely with the nation-state in two-thirds of the economic policy areas, in 1992 in roughly 50 percent, and in 2001 the figure will be no more than 7 percent. In the area of welfare state policies, constitutional issues and foreign policy including defence, the process of shifting authority was much slower and did not have its real take-off before the 1990s (Schmitter 1996a, calculated from Table 6.1, p. 125). This development clearly indicates progress in political integration, although it is mainly taking place in the area of economic issues. The institutional setting of the European Union is marked by an astonishing autonomy of its institutions from direct democratic control. As opposed to traditional international organizations and confederal systems, European institutions „which take part in the policy cycle are de jure and to a large degree de facto independent of national governments … this implies that ‘sovereign’ states have to deal with political actors which are outside their immediate control“ (W. Wessels 1996: 21).

This naturally raises the democratic question of how the system of institutions exercising this power is to be controlled and held accountable. The system is still under construction, but that construction has to take account of problems of legitimacy and democracy. Thus, one of the major challenges for the future of the European Union is to solve the problem of democratic decision-making and political representation. The current institutional order is far from sufficient to satisfy the demands. The satisfaction of members of parliament with the existing political order in the European Union is rather low. Neither are they particularly satisfied with the policy performance of the EU or with the working of democracy in general. Representatives at the European and the national level share these views (Table 1). Even if there were not a public debate about the quality and form of democracy in the European Union, this situation would demand institutional change.

Table 1


It is an open debate whether nation-state democracy could serve as an appropriate blueprint for the future political order of the European Union. It is obvious however, that, if the emerging European political order is to qualify as democratic in any meaningful sense, parliaments as representative institutions will have to play a central role. Although major steps to increase the role of the European Parliament have already been taken however, increasing the importance of parliament to political decision-making in the European Union does not mean increasing the importance only of the European Parliament. While this might solve some of the problems of the so-called democratic deficit of the EU, it addresses only one side of the question of European democracy. As Scharpf (1996a) has pointed out, focusing on the European level alone is insufficient, since the increase of powers at the European level has also called into question democratic legitimacy at the level of the nation-state. Thus the role that national parliaments should, can, and want to play in European policy-making is also of central importance to the future of the European order.

The analysis proceeds in two steps. The next section deals with support and constraint of competence shift. In particular, it addresses the question whether the character of policy problems, the globalization of the economy, the strength of nation-state intermediary systems and national parliaments have an impact on MP’s attitudes toward competence shift. Respective hypotheses will be formulated, tested, and combined to an explanatory model of parliamentary support for policy shift in the European Union. Section 3 addresses the question of the views and wishes of parliamentarians regarding institutional improvements in the EU and concerning the future political order. An explanatory model of the preferences for the future political order is tested, taking globalization and institutional factors again into account. In the last section findings are summarized and some preliminary conclusions are drawn.

2. Competence Shift: Positions and Explanationsto contents list

European integration was—for a long time—primarily the integration of markets. This process of economic integration led to positive performance of the national economies and contributed considerably to the economic well-being and relative wealth of the peoples of the member states. The EEC Treaty in 1957 had set out the future rules for trade rather clearly, but only guiding principles were laid down for social and agricultural policy (Nugent 1989: 38). Only with the signing of the Single European Act (SEA) in February 1986 were the first steps formally taken to incorporate constitutional provisions for policy competencies at the European level. The main inclusions were foreign policy cooperation, environment, research, technological and regional development. Since then, the political integration of the European Communities has become more and more relevant, as further decision and policy competencies have been shifted to the European level. But why has economic integration been followed by political integration, including these tremendous shifts of authority from the nation-state to the European level? What have been the driving forces in, and reasons for, this process of shifting competencies and what are the factors of resistance against it?


The explanations considered in the following argue from a rationalistic and institutional perspective rather than from an idealistic one. Right from the beginning, the two camps concerning European integration have been the realists and the idealists. Although idealistic arguments point mainly to the public goods an integrated Europe can provide, it might be doubted that such ideals as community, peace, wealth, and the like are the driving forces motivating political actors in the process of integration. Two features of globalization—an elusive term, but useful in this context—can rather be regarded as the driving force behind political integration. One has to do with the nature of policy problems. The other is regime competition, which is, to a certain extent, self-produced by the process of economic integration. On the other hand, forces of resistance against a further shifting of authority can be found in variations of the national institutional settings. These are closely related to the problem of legitimacy as well as to the problem of being the winner or loser of further political integration.

Answers to these three questions will be sought by setting out specific hypotheses. With respect to differences in support for shifting competencies between policies, it will be argued that the degree to which problems can be regarded as globalized is of crucial importance (globalization of problems hypothesis). With respect to differences between countries, it will be argued that they are on the one hand due to the differences between countries with respect to their embededdness in and dependence on a globalized economy (globalization of the economy hypothesis), and on the other hand on the degree to which vested interests place an institutional constraint on political flexibility (vested interests hypothesis). Thirdly, it will be argued that national institutional settings account for the differences in support for shifting competencies between members of national parliaments (national institutional setting hypothesis). Finally, explanations are combined in an overall model of support for policy shift.

2.1. Competence Shift and the Nature of Problemsto contents list

The process of European integration since the 1980s is often regarded as an answer to and a product of a process of societal and economic globalization starting in the mid-1970s. Some authors even argue that states are steadily dissolving, leaving their societies increasingly exposed to the cultural, economic, and human dynamics of the whole continent (Buzan 1994: 13). In other words, problems are globalizing. One expression of globalization is the convergence of problem agendas across countries. Convergence is discussed as one of the major outcomes of globalization (e.g., Berger and Dore 1996). A second and more direct expression of globalization arises from the nature of some issues, which penetrate or transcend national borders. Sinnott calls them a case for endogenous internationalization of policies (Sinnott 1995: 247f.).

Thus there are two features of globalization:

  1. the convergence of problem loads across countries, i.e., that countries face the same problems to a similar extent, and
  2. the emergence of problems like environmental pollution which by their nature cross borders.


One solution to globalized problems is to increase or to regain the initiative and steering capacity of politics and the state by establishing adequate international and supranational institutions (Zürn 1995). But there is clearly a difference between problem areas where the problem load has converged and those where the problems themselves are of a border-crossing scope. Sinnott (1995: 248) distinguishes supra-national measures taken to cope with the problems as endogenous internationalization of governance in the latter case and exogenous internationalization in the former. The reason is obvious: a converged problem load does not necessarily mean that the nation-state is not able to handle the problem. It might just be more effective to do it in a common effort. A global problem scope by definition means that problem solving within national borders is not possible because the problem itself crosses those borders. There are two reasons for a global problem scope. In the first case, the problem naturally crosses borders, as for example air or water pollution. In the second case, lowering or eliminating point-of-entry barriers to the flow of economic transactions and the encouragement of market forces by governments have inadvertently undermined the efficacy of the nation-state’s standard policy tools (Ruggie 1994: 8), or the internationalization of governance has already been so successful that problems can be handled only at the supranational level (Zürn 1995: 8).

As Sinnott has already noted in his attempt to classify problems and policies as endogenous or exogenous, an operationalization of such concepts is not easy (Sinnott 1995: 262). However, in order to explain why policy competencies should be shifted to the European level or authority should stay with the nation-state, such an approach has a central position at least in theoretical terms. Theoretically, it seems to be quite realistic that the globalization of problems is the main source of the internationalization of governance in the European Union. The following interrelated hypotheses can be drawn from such an approach:

  1. The larger the global problem scope, i.e., the more problems are border-crossing by their nature (or by already achieved levels of internationalized governance), the more likely it is that elected representatives want to shift (even more) authority to the European level.
  2. The more global the problem load, i.e., the more converged across countries, the more likely it is that elected representatives want to shift authority to the European level.
  3. Global problem scope is more conducive to the support of internationalized governance than global problem load.

The classification of 17 policy fields can be seen in Figure 1. It is based on considerations presented in more detail in Wessels and Kielhorn (1999). This a priori classification is based on some empirical grounds but nonetheless a little element of arbitrariness remains.

A first inspection of the empirical results for members of the European Parliament and eight national parliaments does not contradict the general hypotheses that problem load and problem scope have an impact on the support for internationalized governance (Figures 2 and 3).

Figure 1


To explore the hypotheses set out above in more detail, regression analyses have been performed, introducing problem load and problem scope as separate determinants of the average support for shifting authority to the European level. An analysis of the mean preference of the 26 country groups of MEPs or MNPs for each of the 17 policy areas has been performed, i.e., 442 cases. We expect problem scope, and to a lesser extent problem load, to have a positive impact on preferences for shifting authority from the national to the European level.

Figure 2 | Figure 3

The average R2 from these regressions is quite high (.62). It is on average somewhat higher for the groups of MEPs than for the groups of MNPs from eleven countries (see 2). The mean regression coefficient for problem load is about one third of that for problem scope. Scope is somewhat more important in the case of MEPs. Results are quite stable across groups. This is confirmed by individual group regressions .

Table 2

2.2. Competence Shift and Globalization of the Economyto contents list

As already mentioned, European integration started with the liberalization of economic markets, i.e., the integration of the economy. In the context of this discussion particular emphasis lies on the relationship between European integration and economic globalization and the increasing interdependencies between economies. It is argued that the internationalization of the economy was too successful. Nation-states are now feeling that their capacity to handle the impact of economic globalization has decreased on almost all matters of relevance, in particular economic matters but also social and cultural. The only possibility to erect shields against the unintended and disliked consequences of the economic market on all sectors of society, it is argued, is to strengthen the state. That is, the geographic range of state authority should be made a match for the geographic range of the economy (see for example Zürn 1995: 8f). This obviously means the internationalization of governance.

It can be argued, however, that nation-states and their societies are affected by the globalization of the economy to different degrees. Given a nation with a strong domestic market and a range of production in which neither importing nor exporting goods is actually necessary, there would be little impact from globalized markets. On the other hand, a nation which has a very small domestic market and whose range of production is too narrow to meet its demands for goods clearly depends on other economies since it must import the missing goods and pay for them through exports.


There are huge differences between the different schools of economic thought concerning what external economic dependency means (see the contributions in Berger and Dore 1996). It is most common to measure economic interdependence through the external trade rate. However, this is a largely mercantilist understanding of the role of trade. A classical economist like Ricardo or John Stuart Mill would argue that the purpose of trade is imports, not exports. As Krugman has put it, „exports are costs—something we must produce because our import suppliers are crass enough to demand payment. Or to put it differently, an export is an indirect way to produce an import, which is worth doing because it is more efficient than producing our imports ourselves.“ (Krugman 1996: 18).

In this sense, the question of economic interdependence takes its starting point from the question of how much imports are necessary in order to have an efficient and satisfying allocation of goods in a country not able to produce everything by itself. Imports then are a burden to the extent that they must be paid for by exports. Dependency then is the strength of the pressure for exports in order to balance imports. A measure that takes this consideration into account thus must relate imports to exports, asking how good the balance of payments is in respect to the imports, i.e., if the amount of imports is matched by a corresponding export figure. A standardized measure for this is the amount of imports minus the amount of exports as a percentage of the GDP. This measure takes into account the extent to which a country is dependent on the international division of production of goods and whether it is economically able to compensate for such a dependency.

The globalization of the economy hypothesis thus assumes that the higher the dependency on international trade, division of labour, and global competition, the more countries favour shifting policy authority to the European level in order to have the same conditions of market participation with respect to the structure of regulation, incentives, and the like.

Empirical results support the economic dependency hypothesis to a certain degree. Those countries that are exposed to the international economy in a negative way, i.e., their exports do not meet their need for imports, show stronger overall support for greater competencies at the European level. In particular, these are Greece, Belgium, Portugal, Spain and Austria. Countries that profit from the structure of the international division in the production of goods in the sense that the demand for their products exceeds their own needs favour the interna- tionalization of governance to a lesser degree.

Figure 4

However, the correlations are not strong. Thus, other factors have to be taken into account to explain the differences between countries in support for internationalized governance.


2.3. Competence Shift and Vested Intereststo contents list

Organized interests play an important role in policy-making in many national settings. The debate about corporatism in Western democracies is one important indication of this. Research shows many cases in which the integration of organized interests into the policy-making process produces positive outcomes, particularly in the areas of economic performance and social policies, compared with nations where corporatism is not as strong. Corporatist countries seem to manage unemployment better, have on average higher growth rates, and so on. While the integration of organized interests in policy-making plays an important role, the political composition of governments and how this corresponds with the institutionalization of participation of organized interests also plays an important role (Alvarez, Garrett, and Lange 1991). But the structure and integration of organized interests in the policy process is of crucial importance. If interest groups gain some advantage from being embedded in the structure of policy-making, they might hesitate to give up such a setting. In other words, interest groups that benefit from the national setting of interest intermediation are likely to oppose changes to it. Thus, one can assume that the existence of a strong corporatist arena constitutes some institutional constraint on the shift in policy competencies to the European level. However, this general assumption has to be differentiated a little bit more.

Since their particular interests are specifically related to policy areas in the corporatist circuit, one can assume that vested interests put a constraint on these policy areas and are rather indifferent to any competence shift in others. The vested interest hypothesis thus reads as follows:

  1. The more interest intermediation is of a corporatist kind and the stronger organized interests are, the stronger the resistance of a country to change to the national setting of policy- and decision-making.
  2. Resistance exists in particular with respect to the shift of those competencies that directly affect the corporatist arena, namely economic and social/welfare policies.

In order to test these hypotheses, measures are needed for the degree of corporatism and the strength of national interest groups in the corporatist arena. Data on the strength of corporatism are provided by many experts. Lijphart and Crepaz have created a synthetic measure from many expert judgements that is quite reliable (Lijphart and Crepaz 1991). However, it is available for only 11 of the 15 countries under investigation here. Sometimes union density is used as a surrogate measure for corporatism, although this is obviously problematic (see Golden 1993; B. Wessels 1996). Union density is an indicator of the strength only of one party to the corporatist circuit. Another measure, which to a certain extent is a bridge between corporatism and strength of unions, is a measure of the legal regulation and legal privilege of unions developed by Armingeon (1992). These three measures serve as surrogate measures for the degree to which the participation of organized interests in the corporatist arena is institutionalized.

Aggregate correlations between these three measures and the mean overall competence score across countries are all negative, and with respect to union density also significant even with the small number of cases investigated. The strength and embededdness of vested interests in the national policy-making arena indeed make a difference. Vested interests are an institutional constraint on support for shifting authority (Table 3).


Exploring the hypothesis that this constraint exists particularly for policies in the corporatist arena, policy fields have been divided between those related to corporatism and others. The first are policies concerning the social or equality dimension, namely social policy, health, unemployment, taxation, and education (see Roller 1991 for a similar classification of policies). In order to avoid losing too many cases, the corporatism score is dropped. Instead, union density, legal regulation and privileges of unions are included in two regressions, one referring to all non-social non-equality related policies and one to those related to social policy and equality.

Table 3

Results across policy fields and across countries show the following. Firstly, resistance to a shift in authority to the European level covaries much more strongly with the strength of vested interests in social policy and equality areas than in others. The proportion of explained variance is about 50 percent higher, which means 25 percent for social and equality issues and 17 percent for others altogether. Secondly, the effect of legal regulation in the regression is only significant in the case of social policy and equality issues (Table 4).

The results of these analyses clearly support the vested interest hypotheses. In countries where vested interests are strong, this is an institutional barrier against a change in the distribution of policy competencies between the nation-state and the European level. Furthermore, it is in particular in the area of social policy and equality issues where the strength of corporatism constrains the institutional flexibility of the national setting.

Table 4

2.4. Competence Shift and National Parliaments’ Settingsto contents list

Since we are interested in national differences, it is to be expected that factors of resistance and support might be found mainly in the institutional contexts of the national political systems. Do different national institutional settings result in more or less support of the transfer of power to the European level, and why? To address this question, we turn to the role and strength of national parliaments in policy-making.

It has been pointed out recently that „legislatures have been transformed from law-making to ... law-effecting institutions“ (Norton 1996b: 3). The literature reports a substantial shift of legislative power toward executive dominance in the making of public policies (Norton 1996b: 5). While this might be a general trend, in fact, a great variety of interplay and counterplay of parliaments and governments can be found across Europe.


The strength of parliaments in the legislative process thus could be imagined as a continuous variable reaching from exclusive government power to exclusive parliamentary power. From organization theory as well as from the rational actors approach it is known that, if possible, organizations and actors tend to increase their power, scope, and size rather than to give something away. This tendency is stronger when the organizations and actors are already strong. This would suggest that strong parliaments put some constraint on shifting authority. This hypothesis is also plausible from the perspective of democratic theory. Given that the European level still suffers from some institutional deficits with respect to democratic control of government action, it is easy to understand that legislators who have strong democratic control capacities at the national level would not like to exchange this situation for one where democratic control is more doubtful. Thus, one can formulate the following hypothesis:

The more powerful a national parliament is, the more its members resist a shift of policy competencies to the European level.

However, the excellent research of Döring and associates about national parliaments in Europe provides very valuable indicators in this respect. In an exploratory factor analysis, Döring found three dimensions of agenda control to be indicative of the strength of parliament vis-à-vis government (Döring 1995a: 664). The first factor indicates the degree to which the parliament or the government has control over the agenda (plenary timetable, timetable committees, hearings, etc.). The second factor could be interpreted as the strength of committees in the legislative process. The third factor describes the degree to which the plenum has the power to reverse the voting order, which gives it more freedom to determine the policy results. Döring calls the first „Government priorities“, the second „Committee drafting“, and the third „Whips’ power“. Scores for all three factors have been added in this analysis in order to construct an overall measure of plenary power.

The evidence shown in Figure 5 clearly indicates strong support of our hypothesis. Although the data have to be read carefully due to the small number of cases, the correlation is quite high (Pearson’s r = -.52).

As we can see, the more powerful a parliament is vis-à-vis the government, the less MNPs support a transfer of authority to the European level. Without the two outliers, Sweden and Italy, the correlation would be almost perfect (-.94), and there might be some very good reasons why Italy and Sweden differ from the general pattern. The Swedish case could be explained by a general attitude of scepticism toward the ongoing integration process of the European Union. For Italy, a good explanation might be more difficult to find. An ad hoc hypothesis is that Italian MPs are to a great extent unsatisfied with the outcomes of the national political systems. In contradiction of our general hypothesis, this might lead to a strong parliament being strongly in favour of shifting competencies to the EU, i.e., of giving power away in order to produce more satisfactory outcomes.

Figure 5


2.5. A Model of Support for Policy Shift in the European Unionto contents list

In order to combine the factors investigated so far and to determine their relative impact on support for authority shift to the European level, a regression model will be tested, introducing all the factors under consideration so far. From Table 2 we know that problem load and scope account for 34 percent of the variance in support. Introducing the dependency of a country on foreign trade adds about 10 percent. Adding union density and privileges of the union systems adds another 10 percent (Table 5). Unfortunately, it was not possible to include parliamentary power in the same model due to multicolinearity with foreign trade dependency. Instead, we tested the same model in model 4 and 5 except for exchanging foreign trade dependency against power of national parliaments. Obviously, parliamentary power has not such a strong impact on support for authority shift as foreign trade dependency. However, its relevance cannot be neglected, since explained variance increases also considerable 6 percentage points, seen from basic model 1.

Table 5

Due to multicolinearity between “Foreign Trade Dependency” and “Power of National Parliaments” it was not possible to test a model including both variables at the same time.

Summarizing these results, two forces, driving support in opposite directions, can be detected: those having to do with globalization, be it problems or the economy, and those being indicative for particular national settings. The factors of globalization drive higher support, powerful national settings for less support. Strong structures of interest intermediation and parliamentary representation obviously put major constraints on support for competence shift to the European level where they do exist.

3. Institutional Improvements and Future Political Orderto contents list

One of the major problems, if not the most important one problem, is how to arrange democratic control, i.e. representation and accountability, in the face of increasing competencies at the European level and how to link the two levels of policy-making in the European Union. On the one hand, this is a purely technical problem of co-ordination. On the other hand, it is a problem of political order in general. Clearly, the technical co-ordination problems and the problems of political institutional order are interrelated. At the moment, and for day-to-day politics, technical co-ordination problems are of more practical relevance. For the future, the problem of political order is of greater relevance. Who one believes should be co-ordinated in action and who should be controlled clearly depends on the political order one has in mind. Should parliaments or governments play a larger role? Should national parliaments have better means to control their governments’ action at the European level? Should control be organized at the European or national level?

Democracy has to solve the problems both of efficient policy-making and of democratic representation (Shepsle 1988). The first can be regarded as a co-ordination problem; the second is a two-sided problem. It relates to control and accountability on the one hand and to the link between representatives and represented on the other. Judging from the views of parliamentarians with respect to all three aspects, i.e., better co-ordination, better control, and better linkages, institutional improvements can be made.


3.1. Institutional Improvementsto contents list

Coordination and Control

Judging from the demands for institutional improvements, co-ordination between levels seems to be the most central concern of parliamentarians at both levels. At both levels almost two-thirds favour joint committees to debate community proposals and joint committee meetings. There is basically no difference in judgement in this respect between MNPs and MEPs. The proposal to have a cabinet minister in national governments responsible for European affairs is strongly supported by European-level parliamentarians (82 percent), but less strongly by members of national parliaments (63 percent). In contrast, stronger links between European Commissioners and members of national parliaments are more strongly favoured by national parliamentarians. On the one hand, these results clearly indicate that representatives at both levels perceive a major co-ordination problem. On the other hand, they also reveal differences with respect to the latter two proposals, which might stem from different views on the role of the institutions from which they come. A cabinet minister for European affairs clearly would strengthen the European level. A stronger link between commissioners and national parliamentarians would strengthen the national influence on European politics (Figure 6).

Improvement of democratic control and accountability also seems to be of central concern for parliamentarians in Europe. One institutional means would be to make the debates about legislative proposals in the Council of Ministers a matter of public record. This clearly would increase transparency as well as the possibility to hold ministers accountable. Almost 90 percent of the members of the European Parliament favour this proposal; for members of national parliaments the figure is 75 percent, somewhat lower but still very high. Another possibility would be to have „instructed ministers,“ i.e., ministers attending the Council should follow the instructions of their national parliaments. Two-thirds of MNPs and about 57 percent of MEPs favour this proposal. A third aspect of control is the recruitment of the European Commission. More than 60 percent of the members of the European Parliament want the Commission to be elected by the European Parliament, while only 42 percent of the MNPs favour parliamentary election of the Commission. These figures indicate that parliamentarians in Europe see even more need for change of control mechanisms than for co-ordination. But again, differences in strength of demands betweenlevels are visible. They follow the same patterns as for co-ordination: those strengthening European level politics are more favoured by members of the European Parliament; those strengthening control capacities at the national level are more favoured by national parliamentarians (Figure 6).


The last aspect, strengthening the linkages between elected and electorates, is clearly crucial for political representation. In an institutional sense, this relates to elections as the most central means of translating the wishes of the represented into distributions of power (Dahl 1971, 1975; Held 1996: 204). European elections still do not really compare to national elections. The 1999 European elections will be the first in which a proportional system is used in all countries, but European elections still are not equal elections, given that the number of voters per seat differs strongly between countries. This disproportionality exists for a good reason, to provide fair representation of smaller countries in the European Parliament. It is not at all clear whether members of parliament in Europe have this problem in mind when asking for the same electoral system in all member-states, but it is evident that parliamentarians at both the European and the national level regard a common single electoral system as necessary for European elections. More than two-thirds favour this. On the other hand, compulsory voting is regarded as a means of improving the electoral link by only a small number of MPs. Surprisingly, the proportion of parliamentarians supporting a European way of candidate selection for European elections is even lower than that for compulsory voting. Selecting candidates by European rather than national parties is regarded as the most effective means of overcoming the weakness of the European party system in the (scientific) debate (Franklin, van der Eijk, and Marsh 1996). The figures indicate, however, that parliamentarians do not see much need to change the system of candidate recruitment. The implication is that they do not see much need to strengthen the European parties either (Figure 6). Since support for this measure is low on both levels, one might conclude that MEPs as well as MNPs are relatively satisfied with the national routes to the European Parliament.

Figure 6

Distribution of Institutional Powerto contents list

Some of these evaluations of proposals for institutional change obviously are related to the question of distribution of power or influence. In this respect, members of the European Parliament and the national parliaments clearly have a common view. First, their judgements about the actual distribution of influence are very similar. Both groups regard the Council of Ministers as the most influential institution in European politics, followed by the European Commission, and the national governments, in that order. All three of these actors are regarded as having much or very much influence. The European Parliament occupies a middle position closer to „little“ than „very much“ influence, while the national parliaments are least influential in the perceptions of European parliamentarians. It is not surprising that this distribution of power does not fit the interests of parliamentarians. Both groups of parliamentarians want more influence for the European as well as the national parliaments, with members of national parliaments even more supportive than members of the EP. They also want the other three institutions to have somewhat reduced influence (Figure 7). The resulting power structure would not be a reversal of the existing one. Rather, the result would be a more equalized distribution of power in which the European Parliament would have equal influence with the Council of Ministers.

Figure 7


3.2. Views on the Future Political Order of the European Unionto contents list

With respect to the possible future of the political order in the European Union, models ranging from more technocratic and regulatory to full-fledged democratic systems are under discussion. The debate is both complex (Zürn 1995) and basically inspired by existing political models. The major alternatives can described in opposing terms: intergovernmentalism vs. parliamentarism or confederation vs. federation (W. Wessels 1996). These contrasts are not necessarily identical, since federalism can have a parliamentary as well as a presidential form. In the discussions about the future political order, however, they often coincide. The reason is that parliamentarism at the European level cannot be conceived without some kind of federal political order, given that the European Union is composed of different nations and the subsidiarity principle of the Union.

The basic characteristic of the two most prominent alternative models of political order can be summarized quite parsimoniously. The intergovernmental model is based on the sovereignty of nation states. It is a kind of „pooling of sovereignties“ (W. Wessels 1996: 23). The pooling of authority finds its representation in the Council. Parliament does not play a role in this model, at least not at the European level. At the national level, it is the basis of the legitimation of national governments acting at the European level.

The parliamentary model, sometimes equated with the federal model, would require a total rearrangement of the existing institutional setting. The role of the European Parliament at the European level would become similar to that of national parliaments in the member states. There is wide variation with respect to the concrete competencies of parliaments, their role in policy-making, etc. (Norton 1996a). However, national parliaments are legislative bodies and they elect governments.

There are many more implications of these two general models with respect to divisions of power and the shape of the concrete institutional setting, but basically they can be distinguished by the locus of democratic legitimation. In the intergovernmental model, the power of the European level comes from a pooling of authority of sovereign states, with national governments having the final say regarding the scope of the power of the European level. In the parliamentary model, at least if fully developed, power at the European level is high and its locus is the parliament.

Although the question of preferred political order cannot be directly addressed with our surveys, it can be indirectly addressed by making use of two indicators relating to the power of the European Union on the one hand and to the legislative authority of the European Parliament on the other hand. Combining these two questions, models of political order can be differentiated which come very close to the distinction between intergovernmentalism and parliamentarism. Conceptionalizing the two dimensions in simple dichotomies and combining them leads to a four-fold table, presenting the principle alternatives.

Table 6


Distribution of Preferencesto contents list

If this classification is applied as a more gradual concept, comparing views of parliamentarians of different countries according to the proportions who either favour or not a system with high power and a European Parliament with high legislative competencies, three of the four cells defined in Table 6 show cases. Parliamentarians of Denmark, Sweden, Finland, France, and Ireland fall into the category weak state. Only about 15 to 35 percent favour a strong European Parliament and between 0 and 45 percent favour a European Union with increased responsibilities. But in France and Ireland, only a few percentage-points are missing to make the majority of their parliamentarians supporters of a strong intergovernmental order. Parliamentarians of Luxembourg and Portugal particularly favour strong intergovernmentalism, but those of Greece, the Netherlands, and Austria also fall in this category although being somewhat short of a majority for a strong parliamentary system. Representatives of Great Britain, Germany and even more those of Belgium, Spain, and Italy favour „strong parliamentarism“.

Figure 8

The differences indicate that there is no cross-nationally common view of parliamentarians on the future political order. Without a common perspective, however, it is unlikely that clear decisions on the future political order can easily be achieved.

The situation is even more complicated when differences between levels are taken into account. In some countries, potential tensions between the European level perspective and the national perspective are very strong. In particular in France, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, majorities of members of national parliaments favour a different political order than their counterparts in the European Parliament. The direction of difference is most obvious: members of national parliaments in these countries tend to favour either a weak state or strong intergovernmentalism; MEPs in these countries favour strong parliamentarism (Table 7). It is also evident that the group classifications may be unstable where only plurality positions exist. Again, these findings indicate that it will not be easy to achieve a consensus about the future development of the political order at the EU-level, either between levels or within groups.

Table 7

Cross cutting national and level differences, ideology also influences institutional preferences. According to Hix and Lord (1998: 209), the left-right dimensions and anti- or pro-integration attitudes define the cleavage system in the European Parliament. Hooghe and Marks (1999) explicitly argue that contestation in the European Union is defined by a two-dimensional political space: social democracy versus market liberalism constitutes one dimension; nationalism versus supranationalism the other. They argue that regulated capitalism is supported by the political left, neoliberalism by the political right.


The definitions of the neoliberal model on the one hand and the regulatory model on the other almost mirror the distinction between weak state and strong parliamentarism at the European level. The neoliberal project means insulating markets from political interference, implying resistance to a supranational Euro-polity. The model of regulated capitalism seeks to create a liberal democracy capable of regulating markets and redistributing resources. Central to this project is the deepening of democracy (Hooghe and Marks 1999: 82-8).

Political Order, Institutional Improvements, and Ideology(1)to contents list

With respect to articulated need for institutional change in the fields of better co-ordination, better control and accountability, and better electoral linkage, empirical results support the hypothesis that ideas about political order and its improvements relate to ideology. In particular, better control is favoured more by the political left than by the right, fitting with the claim that a model of regulated capitalism is concerned also with deepening of democracy (Table 8). The question of power distribution also reflects differences in ideology. The political left clearly favours an increase in the power of the European Parliament more than the right, and disfavours an increase of powers of the European Commission and the Council of Ministers, which again indicates the concern with democratic means.

Table 8

These findings suggest that supranationalism has its political home more with the left than the right. This is also reflected in the level of support for a strong European Union and a strong European Parliament. Whereas about seventy percent of the most leftist support both strong EU and strong EP, on the right only one-third are for a strong EP and almost a half for a strong EU (Figure 9).

Ideology is also reflected in preferences regarding a future political order. Two-thirds of the leftist MEPs and a small majority (52 percent) of leftist MNPs favour a strong parliamentary state. The corresponding figure for the political right is 25 percent for both levels. The majority of the political right favours a weak European state (Table 9). Ideology determines preferences for a future political order in a similar way at the European and the national level. This might be a sign that ideology can form a shell in which consensus can be reached across levels. But the finding also shows that tensions within levels might persist because they are founded in ideological differences.

Figure 9 | Table 9

Political Order Preferences and its Macrostructural Determinantsto contents list

So far analyses show, that there are clear tensions between countries, levels, and ideological groups concerning the kind of future order of the European Union and institutional changes members of parliament in Europe support. For the dimension of authority shift, we have shown that differences between representatives of different countries can be explained at least partly by the variations across countries in their export dependency and strength of national settings both for of interest group systems and parliaments.


Here, I investigate briefly, whether this type of explanation applies also to attitudes toward the future political order in Europe. However, since we deal here with country groups of members of national parliaments and the EP, the number of cases is very small. Therefore, in contrast to the analysis of support for competence shift, regression analysis cannot be applied. Discriminant analysis is used instead. Discriminant analysis is a exploratory method allowing to test as to which degree belonging to groups with certain characteristics can be predicted by independent variables. In our case, group membership is defined by the mean position a country group of representatives with respect to their preference for the future political order, i.e. supporters of a weak state, intergovernmentalism, and parliamentarism (see Table 6 and Figure 8). Independent variables include export dependency, structure of the union system, and strength of national parliaments. Due to multi-collinearity , export dependency and parliamentary strength cannot be included in the same analysis. In order to have some yardstick how good prediction is, this analysis will also be applied to the dimension of competence shift.

Thus, with the help of discriminant analysis it is tested whether the globalization of the economy hypothesis formulated in section 2.2 and the vested interest hypothesis formulated in section 2.3, both applied to competence shift also can account for the different preferences for the future political order of the EU.

As can be seen in Table 10, the knowledge of the characteristics of the union systems and export dependency of a country allows a correct classification of 83 percent of groups of representatives. Export dependency leads to a greater support of the parliamentary model, a strong union system to higher support for the intergovernmental solution. A similar structure can be found with respect to competence shift, as we know from the regression analyses above and can be seen in Table 10 as well. Comparing the share of correctly classified groups, the state model comes out better but the number of cases is also much lower.

Taking into account parliamentary strength instead of export dependency, discriminant analysis performs rather poor than good, but showing the expected direction of effect: MPs who come from countries with strong parliaments rather support a weak state or an intergovernmental solution.

Results clearly demonstrate, that with respect to preferences for political order, “country” makes a difference. The degree of embeddedness of a country in a globalized economy causes parliamentarians to prefer a parliamentary model over weak state, strong national instutitional settings at home tear in the opposite direction. Thus, the double structure of forces found with regard to competence shift is at work here as well. But the two forces drive support in opposite directions.

Table 10


4. Conclusionsto contents list

Is it possible to square the circle? This question was raised in the sub-title of the paper and meant of looking for chances and constraints for finding an institutional solution to the pressing problem in the European Union of establishing more democratic forms of representation and control.

Analyses of two central dimensions of political integration, i.e. attribution of authority and democratic control, show, that there is no consensus between parliamentarians in Europe about what the shape of the future EU should be. It has been shown that support for competence shift and the preferences for the future political order are shaped by economic and institutional factors differing between nation states, and, with regard to competence shift, also by the nature of policy problems, i.e. problem scope and transnational problem load. Parliamentary support for further European integration in the sense of competence shift to the EU level and the development of a parliamentary political system in the EU correlates positively with the degree to which a nation is exposed to conditions of global economy and negatively with the strength of national institutions, both of the intermediary system and the national parliaments vis-a-vis national governments.

Thus, several dimensions of conflict cross-cut: differences between levels, i.e. the European and the national level; differences between nations, regardless of level; differences between ideological groups. Forces are driving into opposite directions, but cross-cutting “cleavages” does not necessarily imply that consensual solutions are easy to reach.

The whole bundle of ideas about changing Europe institutionally seems to be quite constrained in the minds of parliamentarians. Evaluations of concrete institutional reforms and more general preferences for a political order show the same pattern. On the one hand, this might be a good sign, since if ideas about concrete measures match ideas of a more general kind, the chance is higher that the outcome will be something that is internally consistent.

On the other hand, differences between parliamentarians of different countries and at different levels can result in very different opinions about the changes needed. These differences can be explained by structural factors which cannot be changed so easily: different degrees of embededdness in international trade and different national institutional settings. Strong parliaments and strong vested interests at home clearly put a major constraint for implementing a European institutional solution. At the same time, globalization of problems and the economy seems to tear in the opposite direction.

But there is no obvious majority position that has a chance to get through without serious opposition. Furthermore, there is a clear ideologically-based split in the envisaged prospects of the future Union. Ideology seems to be a mighty shell in this respect. It seems that differences between countries and between levels are cancelled out to a certain degree by ideological positions. But differences between the political left and political right are so striking that ideology on the one hand unites and on the other hand divides. Even if one of the ideological groups could claim that it represents the majority, it would be doubtful that it could implement its own vision of political order. The implementation of a political order at the European level needs consensus as a base. Majority decisions would not be accepted. Given the differences and tensions in attitudes between countries, levels, and ideological groups, it seems that consensus is far from feasible. If this is true, the same applies for the construction of a European political order.


Appendixto contents list

The study among the members of the European Parliament (MEP 96) was co-ordinated by Bernhard Wessels and funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. The survey was carried out by INFRATEST BURKE in Spring 1996. The study among the members of the national parliaments (MNP 96) was co-ordinated by Bernhard Wessels and Jacques Thomassen. National study directors were Irene Delgado and Lourdes Lopez Nieto in Spain; Louisa Gardella in Italy; Sören Holmberg, Martin Brothen, and Peter Esaiasson in Sweden; Manina Kakepati in Greece; Christina Leston Bandeira in Portugal; Michael Marsh and Mary Clare O’Sullivan in Ireland; Bernhard Wessels and Achim Kielhorn in Germany; Lieven de Winter and Patrick Dumont in Belgium and Luxembourg; and Colette Ysmal in France. Overhead funds for this part of the study were provided by the universities of Mannheim and Twente and the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin. Table A.1 informs about fieldwork period, number of interviews, return rates, and representativity of both the MEP Study and the MNP Studies.

Given the great variation in return rates, the question of representativity of the studies is of major importance. Representativity has been tested for party and gender and, where data were available, for age (and for the MEP study also for nation). The Duncan index of dissimilarity, measuring deviations between the original and the sample distributions, shows that altogether sample deviations from the real distributions are acceptably low in most studies. For both the MEP Study and the MNP studies, the deviation of party composition in the samples from their universes is about eight percentage points; it is about one for gender compositions and about three for age composition. For individual national studies the Duncan index is below ten in most cases except for party and age for some countries. A methodological caveat may remain for those countries with extreme low return rates. However, since most analyses reported in this book describe relations between variables rather than distributions of individual variables, this potential problem should be minimised.

The data of both studies are available from the Zentralarchiv für Empirische Sozialforschung, Cologne, Germany, (Study Number 3078 [MEP 96] and Study Number 3079 [MNP 96]).

Table A.1

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Endnotesto contents list

(*) I like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful and competent comments. I tried to incorporate as many improvements as possible but was clearly not able to take care of all suggestions. Some of them need more time to think about and will have impact on future works. The paper is based on findings presented in chapters 1, 9, and 11 authored or co-authored by myself of the book The European Parliament, National Parliaments, and European Integration, edited by Richard Katz and myself, Oxford University Press (May 1999). It extends the findings there by enlarging the model for competence shift (section 2) and introducing macro-theoretical explanations for preferences for the future political order in Europe (section 3). A study description can be found in the appendix.

(1) Interestingly enough, ideology does not play a systematic – at least not statistically significant – role with regard to competence shift. Therefore, a respective sub-section is missing in section 2.

©1999 by W. Wessels
formated and tagged by MN, 28.9.1999