What do Parliaments actually do?
Are parliaments in decline (as is argued by many spectators), is there a continuity in parliamentary development, or are we even experiencing a renaissance of representative bodies? In our project we aim to address these questions from two perspectives.
First, from a historical perspective: This begs the question how to systematically compare parliamentary assemblies, both over time and space. To answer this question, the historical analysis focuses on legislative organization, more precisely control over the legislative agenda and committee powers. Actors able to ensure that their legislative projects pass the parliamentary stage unaltered control the legislative agenda. The focus on legislation allows for a long-term comparison (starting in 1866) of legislative organization in the four national parliaments of Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Sweden. Why do governments control the process of legislation in some parliaments (such as the British House of Commons and, since 1958, the French National Assembly) while in the other two parliaments (and the French prior to 1958) committees are the central actors? The most important reason for this striking variance is the presence or absence of anti-system obstruction aiming to block legislation. If such obstruction occurs, it allows governments to centralize agenda control. Absent anti-system obstruction, committee become the core actors in the legislative process.
The second perspective on the evolution of parliaments is a transnational one: The increasing shift of political decision-making from national parliaments to international organisations since the end of World War II causes huge challenges for traditional paths of parliamentary control. Parliamentarians are often side-lined in international negotiations, limited to agree on international deals, outlined by national governments. Therefore it is often assumed that the rise of international government is accompanied by the decline of parliaments. As a consequence, parliamentary assemblies on the transnational level were established to increase parliamentarians’ participation. The formation of the Council of Europe in 1949 and its first Parliamentary Assembly on the transnational level was thereby an unprecedented innovation. In order to contribute to a broader understanding of transnational parliamentary assemblies – using the example of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe – we therefore suggest shifting the research perspective from the macro- to the micro-level. The parliamentarians’ exotic – at first glance ungrateful – dual mandate lead us to our central research questions of the PhD project: What motivates national representatives to become and stay as delegates in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe?