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Long Term Reforms Notwithstanding Short Term Rationality - the Impact of National Elections on European Constitutional Policy

Dominic Pakull

How do politicians with short time horizons focused on the next election manage to adopt long-term reforms? Notwithstanding the assumption of rational choice approaches that policymakers are primarily aiming for re-election, to date the analysis of the impact of elections on concrete policies has been mainly limited to the literature on the political business cycle. This paper proposes an analytic framework to investigate the influence short-term rationality of policymakers has on EU constitutional policy. Such reforms require not only a long-term perspective, but also the coordination of a growing number of political actors from the member states, all of whom have their own national electoral calendars. Nevertheless, such reforms can be realized, as the four successful revisions of the EU treaties from Maastricht to Lisbon in the last twenty years show. However, the constitutional treaty failed in referendums in France and the Netherlands 2005 and a fiscal union of all 27 members could not be adopted recently. A central question is, then, whether the positions of political parties on constitutional issues in the EU remain stable or change in response to short-term electoral considerations, resulting in coordination problems on the European level. So far, several studies assume that EU member states have long-term preferences on EU constitutional issues - determined by economic or geopolitical interests (Moravcsik 1998), logics of political delegation (Pollack 2003) or stable constitutional ideas (Jachtenfuchs 2002). However, there are no studies systematically examining the impact of national electoral cycles on EU constitutional politics. This paper will argue that positions could be more volatile in semi-presidential and federal systems, due to additional electoral cycles, compared with parliamentary and unitarian states.

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