Author: Philipp Dann

Title: 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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Last updated on September 9th, 2004