The Opposition Deficit in EU Accountability: Evidence from over 20 Years of Plenary Debate in Four Member States
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Debates about the European Union's democratic legitimacy put national parliaments into the spotlight. Do they enhance democratic accountability by offering visible debates and electoral choice about multilevel governance? To support such accountability, saliency of EU affairs in the plenary ought to be responsive to developments in EU governance, has to be linked to decision-making moments and should feature a balance between government and opposition. The recent literature discusses various partisan incentives that support or undermine these criteria, but analyses integrating these arguments are rare. This article provides a novel comparative perspective by studying the patterns of public EU emphasis in more than 2.5 million plenary speeches from the German Bundestag, the British House of Commons, the Dutch Tweede Kamer and the Spanish Congreso de los Diputados over a prolonged period from 1991 to 2015. It documents that parliamentary actors are by and large responsive to EU authority and its exercise where especially intergovernmental moments of decision making spark plenary EU salience. But the salience of EU issues is mainly driven by government parties, decreases in election time and is negatively related to public Euroscepticism. The article concludes that national parliaments have only partially succeeded in enhancing EU accountability and suffer from an opposition deficit in particular.