ECPR General Conference 2009
Potsdam, 12 September 2009
Panel: Democratic representation in the multilevel European polity and beyond
Participants from WP 3 – representation and institutional make-up organised a panel under the section ‘Policy Representation in Comparative Perspective’. The panel was chaired by John Erik Fossum and discussed the democratic challenges facing complex multilevel polities, with focus on the EU and Canada. The particular emphasis was placed on systems of representation in two entities both of with harbour strong systems of intergovernmental interaction (in the EU manifested in the Council formations and in Canada in the comprehensive system of intergovernmental relations). The panel provided a conceptual overview of the representation problematique, specifically addressed to the European Union. It provided two assessments of the distinctive features of the EU’s representative system: (a) through the notion of the multilevel parliamentary field; and (b) through focus on the role and salience of the civil society – EU institutional interface.
Christopher Lord (ARENA, University of Oslo) presented his paper ‘Setting criteria for parliamentary representation in a multi-level polity’, which scrutinizes the often remarked point that citizens are represented twice over in the EU polity. Once through their national governments which are, in turn, more or less accountable to national parliaments; and a second time through the European Parliament. But this cosy thought presupposes that various parliaments can and do fit together into a coherent and defensible system of representation within the European arena. In his paper, Lord proposes some base-line normative standards for a multi-level system of representation in a non-state polity beyond the state, reviews existing literature on how far the Union fits those standards and proposes some directions for further research.
Ben Crum and Eric Miklin (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) presented the paper ‘The EU’s Multilevel Parliamentary Field in Practice: The Case of the Services Directive’, which focuses on the two channels of democratic representation in EU decision-making (indirectly through national parliaments and directly through the European Parliament), and proposes to conceive of his double structure of representation in terms of a ’Multilevel Parliamentary Field’. Further, the paper seeks to utilise this concept for the case of the EU Services Directive and examines the parallels and interrelations in the way the Services Directive was dealt with in the European Parliament on the one hand and in the national parliaments of Germany, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands on the other.
Hans-Jörg Trenz (ARENA, University of Oslo) presented the paper ‘Civil society as an element of the compound representative structure of the EU’, where he argues that participatory elements of democracy through civil society involvement should not simply be considered as an auxiliary of EU-governance but rather as a constitutive element of the compound representative structure of the EU. Bringing back political representation in relation to organised civil society does not only shed light on a central mechanism of interest mediation in the multi-level setting of the EU but also on new ways of imagining common interests, identity and solidarity. In order to spell out how political representation works as a creative practice, the notion of representative claims-making will be introduced as the modus operandum of the integration of the emerging EU-polity in relation to its social constituency.
In a final presentation, Erik Miklin presented the paper ‘Visibility of Choices and Better Scrutiny? The Effects of a Politicisation of EU Decision-making on National Parliaments’, which takes up the debate on politicisation of decision-making on the European level to overcome the EU’s democratic deficit, and takes it to the national level. It discusses the effect a politicisation would have on the way national parliaments fulfil their democratic functions in the EU’s indirect channel of democratic representation. It is argued that politicisation strengthens the electoral link between citizens and national parliaments in Council decision making because it increases the salience of the issues discussed and hence helps to overcome national parties’ current reluctance to take up these issues. This leads to open parliamentary debates in which parties discuss their different views and hence provide citizens with choices that they can take into account at the next national election. Furthermore, it is argued that the higher salience of politicised issues also increases national parliamentary control over the processes on the European level and hence leads to a better alignment of the ministers sitting in the Council.