Author:Agh, Attila
Position:European Union, East Central European


The paper first outlines the conceptual framework of the early consolidation as the recent stage of development in the East Central European (ECE) countries. In analysing the process of accession to the EU, the paper focuses on the role of the ECE parliaments that has been an "underresearched" field. The role of parliament has been discussed in three major aspects. First, in its legislative function as legal and political harmonization with the EU, i.e. passing the acts for the Europeanization. Second, the ECE parliaments have the function of aggregating the particular interests into a national interest by providing a public and transparent forum for discussion and interest reconciliation. Third, they have a communicative function given their high visibility, therefore they have to inform the public at large about the latest events of the EU accession and to prepare the populations for the participation in the EU referendum as well as for the support of the EU membership.

Democratization and EU integration of the East Central European (ECE) countries have often been treated separately. In the EU integration literature the economic aspects have been discussed almost exclusively and the political aspects ("political harmonization") have been largely neglected. Instead of reducing EU integration to its economic dimension, this paper deals with the political criteria of the accession capacity in the ECE countries, first of all in and by parliament. There is a shift in the democratization process in ECE countries in general from the minimalist-procedural to the maximalist-substantial understanding of democracy. No doubt that there has been a democratic order in ECE states as far as the formal criteria of democracy are concerned but there are many new problems concerning the low performance of the new democratic system, including the parliaments, also in the europeanization process. In this regard, the paper analyses three issues: 1) internal capacity - how the ECE parliaments manage EU affairs; 2) aggregation capacity - how it creates a national interest from the conflicting interests concerning EU accession; 3) external capacity - how it can mobilize the population for a successful referendum. The conclusion of the paper highlights some tasks for the ECE parliaments in the coming years. This paper has been pre-published in the series of Budapest Papers on Democratic Transition (2000 No. 272) edited by the Hungarian Centre for Democracy Studies.

Introduction: Pre-Accession and Early Consolidation

Despite some disillusionment, the first decade of democratization has been very successful in the ECE countries, first of all for their parliaments. The parliaments have been the mother and model institutions, that is the other institutions in fact have been generated by the parliaments and have been modelled according to the principles of the parliaments. As in Southern Europe, the ECE parliaments have also been central sites of politics, while the parties have been its major actors. The ECE parliaments have actually done the best job in connecting the average citizens to the "high" politics through its representative, communicative, socialization and legitimization functions.

I have tried to point out in a series of recent books and papers that 1) the East Central European (ECE) countries have recently entered the stage of democratic consolidation, but only through its sub-stage of early consolidation; 2) the pre-accession period in europeanization has necessarily coincided with early consolidation and these parallel processes have produced common tasks and new difficulties for democratization and EU integration (e.g. Agh, 1998a and 1998b). The new situation can be described as a shift of focus from democratization to political modernization, or as a new period of "completing" democratization into a coherent structure of consensual democracy (Rose et al, 1998: 154). My thesis is that the ECE parliaments could have managed both democratization and integration easier at an earlier point, in the period of democratic transition and association but in this completely new situation of consolidation and accession both its institutional and cultural capacity is largely missing and has to be newly created. The external and internal preconditions of europeanization have changed beyond recognition and the ECE parliaments have to make their new structural adjustments accordingly.

First, their main partner, the European Parliament has also become an important power centre inside the EU (see recently Dowding, 2000: 133). This has led to the "parliamentarization" of the European integration. Whereas the European Parliament was not active in the enlargement issue in the early nineties because of its concentration on the Maastricht process, it became much more involved in the enlargement discussions in its legislative period of 1994-99, and even more in the current parliamentary cycle. This greater involvement is due partly to the new competencies resulting from the Amsterdam Treaty, and partly to the "participatory revolution" in the member countries mobilizing citizens and organized interests. With the increasing significance of the European Parliament as a power centre, the contacts with the national parliaments of the ECE candidate countries will become more intensive and more important for the whole enlargement process.

The parliamentarization of the EU and the ensuing need for the Europeanization of the ECE parliaments have also basically changed the task of the parliaments of the ECE candidate countries. Reinforcing this external challenge, there are three internal reasons as well pushing the ECE parliaments to change. First, although the basic democratization and marketization legislation, or the legal systemic change, is more or less over, the ECE parliaments are still faced with the huge legislative task of detailed legal and political harmonization bills or "Euro-legislation". This legislative task is much bigger now than it was in the case of the latest entrants (Austria, Finland and Sweden). Second, the ECE parliaments have a decisive role in formulating the national interests for the EU negotiations by aggregating the interests of social groups. This task has also turned out to be more difficult because the ECE governments have almost completely monopolized the representation of national interests and its aggregation has to resolve the problems of increasing conflicts among social groups and the growing mass of "victims" of the integration. Third, they have to communicate the process and the results of accession negotiations to the population at large. The ECE parliaments are in a unique position to perform this communicative function because of their high visibility as political fora, at the same time their public trust is low because of their poor performance.

Thus, when the ECE parliaments are faced with these demands, a major paradox...

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