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European Parliament and Executive Federalism: Approaching a Parliament in a Semi-Parliamentary Democracy

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The European Parliament has often been understood along the lines of theories of European integration—compared to regular parliaments by Federalists or belittled as merely an international assembly by intergovernmentalists. This paper proposes an understanding of the European Parliament not along theories about what the EU should become, but what it is and surely will continue to be, that is a very distinct federal structure. The European Parliament is a parliament in an executive federalism—with far-reaching consequences for its form and functions. After outlining the characteristics of this federal structure, these consequences will be demonstrated by analysing the European Parliament in contrast with two ideal types of parliaments: the working parliament, separated from the executive branch and centred around strong committees (like the US Congress), and the debating parliament, characterised by the fusion of parliamentary majority and government as well as plenary debates (like the British House of Commons). Dwelling thus on a comparison to a legislature in a non-parliamentary federal system, like the US Congress, this paper argues that the European Parliament might best be understood as a special case of a working parliament. Finally, it will be proposed to consider the influence of executive federalism not only as fundamentally shaping the European Parliament but also as rendering the EU generally a semi-parliamentary democracy.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Harvard Law School

Publication date: December 1, 2003

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