Academic journal article European Quarterly of Political Attitudes and Mentalities

Central European MEPs as Agents of Two Principals. Party Cohesion in the European Parliament after Enlargement

Academic journal article European Quarterly of Political Attitudes and Mentalities

Central European MEPs as Agents of Two Principals. Party Cohesion in the European Parliament after Enlargement

Article excerpt

1.Introduction: MEPs as Agents of Two Principals

Despite the fact that Central European countries have been member states of the European Union for over a decade, the knowledge about the activities of their Members of the European Parliament (MEPs1) is still very limited both in the academic world and among ordinary citizens. What important topics are MEPs engaged in and how these issues affect citizens often goes without significant media coverage, and it is even more so when it comes to the voting behavior of the representatives and the internal institutional mechanisms of the European Parliament.

The lack of research about the activities of the Central European MEPs is especially regrettable if we take into account the outstandingly intriguing political context in which MEPs work. MEPs are selected by their national parties, which are the ones to send them to represent their values and interests in Brussels and Strasbourg. All representatives are voted for their five-year long mandate in their home countries. Since EP elections are held at the national level, politicians arrive to serve in the European Parliament after being elected in different electoral systems. Therefore, close connections to the domestic politics of their home country is given. Moreover, having a good relationship and regular contacts with the sending party is not only a moral imperative, but it is also the key to reelection and is vital to build a long-term political career in the EP (Hix-Hoyland 2013). For this reason, the party leadership of the sending parties possesses very important power tools which have the potential to exercise serious political influence on the MEPs delegated by them.

On the one hand, there is always a possibility that MEPs get advice from back home regarding what they should do. On the other hand, voting behavior of an MEP might be influenced to a large extent by the pressure coming from their own party group in the European Parliament. The factors behind the influencing potential of a European party group are completely different to that of the national parties. Gail McElroy (2001: 3) argued that "the European Parliament lacks the incentives that are necessary to keep the party groups disciplined". This statement is only partly true. The European Parliament's internal logic differs from that of the national parliaments as it lacks the traditional government-opposition divide due to its special place within the institutional structure of the European Union. Another huge difference is that the party groups of the European Parliament do not have the right to nominate their members. Therefore, European party groups miss the most important tool to exercise pressure over their members: the decisive role in the candidate selection process.

However, there are some more sophisticated instruments at their disposal. Such instruments include the nomination for the most prestigious positions of the EP and within the party groups, and the distribution of positions and policy-based tasks in the committees. Those politicians who harbor long-term ambitions and do not consider Brussels and Strasbourg the quite end of their career have outstanding career-building opportunities in the European Parliament (Verzichelli-Edinger 2005, Bíró-Nagy 2016). An MEP has numerous instruments to build up a strong political/policy profile that is not only helpful in gaining professional reputation but to reach high-level positions within the European party groups and the institutional structure of the EP as well. It is also worth to note that being a parliamentarian in the EP makes it possible that with competent policy work and "defending the national interests" further reputation can be won among the electorate of the sending country. Speeches at the plenary sessions might be also used to influence the domestic political scene. Furthermore, a clear political profile built during the EP years can help (re-)enter domestic politics. This brief summary indicates that adapting to the norms and inner mechanisms of the EP might be also of key importance to the representatives since this strategy might be extremely fruitful regarding their long-term political career goals. …

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