The Cortes Generales in troubled times. The Eurozone-crisis and parliamentary involvement in EU-affairs

Seminar Paper, 2015

23 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents






List of abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

I Introduction

During the last decades, the process of European integration has fundamentally changed patterns of governance in Europe and led to the establishment of a new institutional framework on the continent. The ongoing transfer of competencies from the national to the supranational level has created a multi-level governance system in which new institutions emerged and already existing ones are looking for a new role in this very complex system. Since the national parliaments represent the will of the citizens, they play a crucial role in legitimating decision-making at the European Union (EU) level and are highly under pressure to find ways of influencing EU policy. Often they have been called “losers” or “latecomers” of European integration (Maurer/Wessels, 2001a), because the loss of their legislative power to the supranational level, and the shift of power to the executive have continuously limited them in their scope of action and their ability to control the executive (de-parliamentarization thesis). To an increasing degree national executives exercise legislative competencies at the EU level (namely in the EU Council) and restrict national parliaments in influencing policy-making at the EU level (Abels/Eppler, 2001: 21-24). As a result, the democratic deficit in the EU worsens and legitimacy of disputed issues is increasingly questioned.

With the institutional revision of the EU in the Lisbon Treaties Europeans tried to fight the democratic deficit by strengthening the role of national parliaments in the multi-level system. Unfortunately, the beginning of the European debt crisis in 2010 changed patterns of economic governance in Europe. The need for fast decisions led to the formation of crisis management by summit (Schulz, 2012), meaning that decisions are taken by the Heads of State of Government directly at the EU level (in the EU Council) without involving national legislatives. This even increased shift from the legislative to the executive threatens the new gained rights of national parliaments and further undermines democratic legitimacy of decisions taken. This is especially the case in questions of the national parliaments key prerogative - budgetary authority. The measures taken to counter the Eurozone-crisis, such as the establishment of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), intergovernmental treaties outside the legal framework of the EU like the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union (TSCG, also known as Fiscal Compact), and especially the European Semester strongly limit the budgetary sovereignty of national parliaments and lead to a further worsening of the democratic deficit in the EU (Hefftler, 2013: 335). This is especially problematic when citizens stop supporting decisions taken by their governments at the EU level. On the one hand, the electorate in the debtor countries might refuse disputed programs and their implementation, on the other hand, the citizens of the donor countries might be less and less willing to pay for these programs.

It is now up to the national parliaments to get involved into decision- making at the supranational level, to connect the citizens to it and thus ensure democratic legitimacy. As their legislative competencies have been limited, they need to find ways to actively scrutinize those who exercise it - their governments. Against the background of all national parliaments having elaborated different mechanisms of scrutiny, this paper will focus on the Spanish parliament (Cortes Generales, or just Cortes) and its role in the management of the Eurozone-crisis. The aim is to provide answers to the questions: Which measures does the Cortes Generales possess to scrutinize instruments of crisis management? Has it been actively using those to scrutinize European crisis management or has it been a mere rule taker? To answer these questions it is essential to look at the role of national parliaments in the EU system first. In a second step we want to have a closer look at the role of the parliament in the Spanish political system to better understand the then following part that is dealing with what scrutiny measures the Cortes possess and how actively it has been using them during the Eurozone-crisis.

II Parliamentary control in the European multi-level system

Since the mid-1990 scholars have increasingly focused on how to fight the democratic deficit in the European Union and the role of national parliaments in the European multi-level system has received more and more attention. Considerations are based on the assumption that the process of European integration has profoundly affected the powers and position of the national parliaments in the EU institutional framework. Following neo-institutionalist theories the basic structure of representative parliamentary democracies is characterized by a functional distinction of the parliament being the authorizing and supervising “principle” of the exercising executive “agent” accountable to it (Principle-Agent Approach). But this relationship between national legislative and government has changed significantly through European integration. The transfer from legislative competencies from the national to the supranational level resulted in a loss of the national parliaments legislative sovereignty and thus to the loss of one of their most powerful instruments of executive control (Schmidt, 1999). European integration has also led to a shift of power from the legislative to the executive. While the national parliaments lose their legislative competencies the executives gain more legislative powers through their direct involvement in EU decision-making in the Council (Auel/Benz, 2005; Rittberger, 2010). The Heads of State or Government and the ministers in the Council not just obtain the agenda-setting power at the EU-level, they are also the ones who take decisions in the negotiation process and have the power to induce changes of policy, whereas national parliaments can neither intervene in negotiations nor can they veto the decisions taken (Auel/Benz, 2005: 378). This also means that “[w]henever the Council of Ministers votes by qualifies majority, they [the national parliaments] risk being forced to implement policy they have not even had the chance to reject” (Winzen, 2010: 2). Sure, as a measure of last resort national parliaments could withdraw their confidence in their governments and force them to refrain from legislation or to change it in favour of parliamentary demands. But in the EU reality questions on the EU agenda are usually not important enough that they would lead to a vote of no-confidence (Winzen, 2010: 3). Is it right then, that national parliaments are the “losers” of European integration?

These days, more and more empirical studies focus on the reactions of national parliaments to the changes in the institutional framework through active institutional Europeanization. Indeed, national parliaments seemed to have learned “to fight back” (Raunio/Hix, 2000; Auel/Taeca, 2015, forthcoming). They are no longer just reinforcing their governments position in EU negotiations and ratifying agreements on key issues of the process of European integration (Piedrafita, 2014: 451). Research projects on national parliamentary scrutiny of EU policies have shown that even if national parliaments are very limited in directly influencing policy-making at EU level, they gained greater institutional opportunities of government scrutiny in EU affairs through expanded participation rights (Auel/Taeca, 2015, forthcoming). They have also shown that even if they have been “late adaptors to integration” (Tapio, 2009: 318), they now do exercise tighter scrutiny of their governments over EU matters (Maurer/Wessels, 2001b; Auel/Benz 2005) to provide democratic legitimacy to EU decisions. Therefore, in some studies the de-parliamentarization thesis has been questioned (Auel/Benz, 2005) and it has been argued that instead of “losers” national parliaments should be regarded as “latercomers” in the integration process (Maurer/Wessels, 2001b; Auel/Benz, 2005).

But how do national parliaments hold their governments accountable and control their actions in EU affairs? As Sprungk argues, “[i]t is most conductive to hold governments effectively accountable if parliament focuses on getting information for effectively controlling the government ex post” (Sprungk, 2013: 555). It is in this sense essential for national parliaments to “fight the information asymmetry by engaging in monitoring activities and increasing reporting requirements for the government [and to] make use of the information obtained by actually making the government explain and defend their decisions” (Sprungk, 2013: 557-558). In our analysis we will follow her recommendation and first have a look at how the Cortes Generales fight the information asymmetry by institutionalizing reporting requirements for the government, how and what third parties it consults and how it formally requests information by the government itself. Second, we will have a look at to what extent it actually uses the information obtained for making the government explain and defend decisions taken on EU affairs ex post (Sprungk, 2013: 558). Since Auel and Höhing state that parliamentary scrutiny in EU affairs highly depends on institutional structures and opportunities (Auel/Höhing 2014: 8) and that more institutional opportunities and means to get involved increase the activity of national parliaments in EU affairs (Auel/Höhing, 2014: 10), we think that having a look at the national parliamentary system in Spain in general is the right point to start before coming to analyse more specific institutional provisions. If we follow Auel/Höhing when they argue that scrutiny of the management of the crisis is essentially business as usual and that it does not vary much from scrutiny of general EU affairs (Auel/Höhing, 2014: 8) we might come to the conclusion that the Cortes Generales as a historically rather less active national parliament in EU affairs has not increased scrutiny activities during the crisis and stayed a mere rule-taker.

III Eurozone-crisis and involvement of the Spanish National Parliament in EU affairs

1 The parliamentary system of Spain and the role of the Cortes Generales in EU affairs

The introduction of democracy and the establishment of a parliamentary system in Spain are closely related to the process of European integration. After the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1975 the transition to democracy started and Spaniards were establishing a new political system that since Spain’s accession to the European Communities in 1986 is embedded in a broader European institutional framework. According to its Constitution of 1978 (Constitución española de 1978, CE1 ) the Kingdom of Spain is an asymmetrical bicameral system, with the national parliament, the Cortes Generales, being constituted by the Congreso de los Diputados (lower house) and the Senado (upper house). Although Spain is a federal state with the regions (Comunidades Autónomas) being represented in the Senado and sharing legislative powers with the Congreso de los Diputados, the latter one can ultimately override decisions taken by the Senate, that rather serves as an ineffective second reading chamber (Basabe Lloréns/González Escudero, 2001: 203). Whereas being the central institution of national legislature, the Cortes Generales powers are strictly limited regarding involvement into legislation in EU affairs. There is no specific article in the Spanish Constitution that refers to the role of parliament in EU affairs and even the Lisbon Treaties merely include provisions: “the national parliaments contribution to a good functioning of the EU” by receiving information and ensuring compliance of the EU with the principle of subsidiarity (art. 12 TEU, and Protocol 1 and 2 TEU2 ). Even though, there is article 10, referring to parliamentary scrutiny of government on EU affairs: “Member States are represented in the European Council by their Heads of State or Government and in the Council by their governments, themselves democratically accountable either to their national Parliaments or to their citizens” (art. 10 TEU). This shows again that national parliaments involvement into EU affairs is limited and mainly based on government scrutiny.


1 Agencia Estatal Boletín Oficial del Estado: Constitución Española,, accessed 13.01.2015.

2 European Union law: Consolidated Version of the Treaty on European Union, http://eur-, date accessed 23 November 2014.

Excerpt out of 23 pages


The Cortes Generales in troubled times. The Eurozone-crisis and parliamentary involvement in EU-affairs
University of Cologne  (Institut für Politische Wissenschaft und Europäische Fragen)
Advanced Seminar the political System of the EU: Parliamentary representation in the multi-level system of the EU
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
917 KB
cortes, generales, eurozone-crisis, eu-affairs
Quote paper
Josephine Susan Götze (Author), 2015, The Cortes Generales in troubled times. The Eurozone-crisis and parliamentary involvement in EU-affairs, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: The Cortes Generales in troubled times. The Eurozone-crisis and parliamentary involvement in EU-affairs

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free