Abstract This article analyses how parliamentary party groups in the Tweede Kamer and the Bundestag achieve internal cohesion via the working procedures of parliamentary committees. Earlier research has indicated that committees comprise legislators with more or less divergent views from the parliamentary party group (PPG) median. This begs the question what mechanisms exist to deal with internal conflicts and maintain a level of cohesiveness among committee members and the wider PPG. The analysis is based on evidence from interviews with 78 legislators. The results show how individual legislators develop the initial positions with relative autonomy but are subsequently placed in a system of scrutiny through the internal working groups established in the PPGs. The analysis also highlights informal relationships between legislators outside of the institutionalised patterns. 1. Introduction Beyond the immediately visible plenum, parliaments work through various venues in which decisions are prepared or even taken. One of the main institutions to ‘promote decisional efficiency in the chamber and allow legislators to influence policy’ (Saalfeld and Strøm, 2014, p. 372) are parliamentary party groups (PPGs).1 1 These groups comprise all members ‘elected either under the same party label or under the label of different parties that do not compete against each other in elections, and who do not explicitly create a group for technical reasons only’ (Heidar and Koole, 2000, p. 249). Across legislatures, there is great variation in the organisational properties of PPGs. While some PPGs are characterised by weak internal organisation which provide only limited procedural and disciplinary powers to the PPG leadership, some PPGs are heavily involved in preference aggregation of their members and decision-making processes. These groups fall under the familiar notion of the responsible party model, i.e. ‘powerful floor coalitions, capable of disciplining their members and passing their programs, […] effectively dominating the legislative agenda and taking responsibility for the final legislative product’ (Cox and McCubbins, 1993, p. 5). To be able to make a difference in the legislative output, PPGs require a high degree of unity in the legislative behaviour of their members. The study of legislative behaviour and party unity is often limited to ‘visible’ behaviour during plenary sessions. Indeed, when votes are cast in the plenum, many PPGs in European legislatures show a high level of cohesion (see e.g. Sieberer, 2006). This, however, does not hide the fact that, although PPGs generally pool legislators with similar ideological views, PPGs are still relatively heterogeneous organisations (Ceron, 2015). This begs the question how PPGs achieve internal cohesion among their members? Many PPGs rely on (more or less) complex internal hierarchical structures and, within a process of division of labour, delegate the task to develop policy proposals to specific policy experts (Saalfeld and Strøm, 2014). Andeweg and Thomassen (2011) view this differentiation into policy experts as an important pathway to party unity in the Tweede Kamer. They argue that legislators frequently take their cue from party specialists in areas outside of their own portfolio when it comes to a vote on an issue. This division of labour allows for negative coordination and to deal with heterogeneous preferences within PPGs. Schüttemeyer (2001) finds very similar mechanisms for the German Bundestag, similar to Ringe (2010) for the European Parliament. Although this form of political delegation is necessary, there is also the risk that the individual legislators may pursue their own interests at the expense of the PPG. This is of particular interest in a crucial stage of parliamentary decision-making: parliamentary committees. Parliamentary committees are privileged institutions because they subdivide policy areas and, at least in principle, offer ‘property rights’: once assigned, committee members have the right and duty to work on issues within their jurisdiction before other legislators can, eventually, vote on it. The question arises what mechanisms exist within PPGs to monitor the behaviour of committee members after they have been assigned? Unfortunately, ‘much comparative empirical research (and most formal work) has treated the inner workings of legislative parties as “black boxes”’ (Saalfeld and Strøm, 2014, pp. 386–387). The relationship between committee members and the other members of their PPG, as well as studying the actual decision-making and conflict resolution in committees has attracted comparatively little scholarly attention (but see Damgaard and Mattson, 2004). To contribute to this debate, I analyse the room for manoeuvre of policy experts in the Dutch Tweede Kamer and the German Bundestag to understand how PPGs achieve internal cohesion during committee negotiations. The article is structured as follows: the next section introduces the theoretical framework by describing the process of division of labour theoretically in a principal–agent framework. To disentangle various strategies of how PPGs organise their work in committees and may leave more or less room for manoeuvre to committee members, the congressional theories of legislative organisation are applied. After providing more information on the method used for the study, the main findings are reported. The evidence gathered from semi-structured interviews with legislators indicates that, although policy experts can work on their portfolio with a high degree of autonomy, PPGs in both legislatures have established a complex system of checks and balances to monitor the behaviour of their legislators. 2. Theoretical framework: PPGs and legislators in committees Because of the sheer scale and complexity of parliaments, PPGs frequently divide their workload and delegate tasks to individual legislators. The principal–agent theory can be used to capture the delegation process within PPGs. Delegation, however, risks that agents (policy experts in committees) succeed in pursuing preferences that differ from that of the principal. To minimise this agency loss, principal–agent theory states that principals will either engage in ex ante controls (e.g. screening and selection) or in ex post controls (e.g. institutional checks, monitoring and reporting). From the perspective of the principal, the most desirable method of reducing agency costs is to select agents which represent the principal’s preferences as closely as possible. This effectively eliminates the need for ex post monitoring and enforcement. With regard to selection criteria, several studies have shown great variation in assignment patterns across and within systems: in the US Congress and state legislatures (e.g. Krehbiel, 1990; Cox and McCubbins, 1993; Adler and Lapinski, 1997; Hamm et al., 2011), the European Parliament (Bowler and Farrell, 1995; Whitaker, 2005; McElroy, 2006; Yordanova, 2009) and national legislatures outside of the USA (see e.g. Hansen, 2010, 2011; Battle, 2011; Mickler, 2013, 2017a, 2017b; Raymond and Holt, 2014). However, these studies indicate that committees sometimes cluster legislators who are unrepresentative of the PPG mean. As an example, committees in the Bundestag frequently comprise legislators who have ‘outlying’ interests (by having connections to interest groups in the committees’ jurisdiction) or are unrepresentative of the PPGs ideological mean (Mickler, 2017b). In order to understand how intra-party cohesion is achieved after committees are filled, several strategies are possible. To capture these relationships between committee members and the PPG and the room for manoeuvre of individual committee members, I will turn to the well-established congressional theories on legislative organisation (distributive, informational and partisan theories). Although it should be noted that the theories were not developed to account for this type of analysis, it is possible to deduce several clear ‘strategies’ of the relationship between committee members and the PPG. 2.1 Theories of legislative organisation The distributive theory of legislative organisation (Shepsle, 1978) views legislatures as decentralised institutions which are dominated by geographical concerns. Legislators are primarily motivated to secure their own re-election. To accomplish this, they distribute particularistic benefits to their constituents. The distributive theory argues that committees serve this goal by dividing policy areas and allowing legislators who have a ‘stake’ in the committee’s jurisdiction to join them (‘self-selection’). It views committees as autonomous power centres with an exceptional status and gate-keeping power. The informational theory of legislative organisation views committees are agents of the chamber and instrumental to increasing the efficiency of the legislative process. It highlights the uncertainty that legislators face about the consequences of policies (Gilligan and Krehbiel, 1990, p. 533). Committees are means to reduce this uncertainty by specialising and to obtain superior information about the outcomes of bills. Rather than being ‘outlying’ and autonomous, committees are ideological ‘microcosms’ of the legislature without an advantageous position vis á vis the legislature. Both of these theories view PPGs in the legislature as weak and non-constraining. The partisan theory of legislative organisation (Cox and McCubbins, 1993) contradicts this and views committees as part of the reward system of the PPG leadership. PPGs are assumed to watch the assignments and the proceedings in committees carefully and decide whether the outcome is contradictory to their seat-maximising strategy. The main task of the leadership is to ‘protect’ the PPG from undesirable outcomes which might harm it in the long run. The only exception to this congressional bias is a more recent perspective proposed by Martin and Vanberg (2011) who address the issue of legislative organisation from the tension that arises in multi-party government (coalition) situations. While coalition partners are forced to govern jointly and make compromises, they are held accountable separately at the next ballot box. To control for ministerial drift of the coalition partners and keep ‘tabs’ on them, the legislative committee system is used to scrutinise, and potentially amend, legislation and, therefore, solves delegation and intra-coalition problems. 2.2 Incorporating theories of legislative organisation into the principal–agent framework I argue that the organisational implications of the congressional theories are not specific to USA but can be used to analyse other contexts. However, certain adjustments need to be made when transferring them. The most fundamental adaptation is a redefinition of the role of PPGs. The assumption of non-restrictiveness of these groups advocated by the informational and distributive theory needs to be relaxed for the analysis. Afterwards, the central concepts can be used to derive several strategies of how work in committees is organised to achieve cohesion within PPGs. On the one ‘extreme’, PPGs may give a high degree of autonomy to the committee members in their work (distributive rationale of committee workings). In this ‘true’ form of division of labour, committee members have real ‘property rights’. They are able to develop the positions taken in committee with a high degree of autonomy from their PPG colleagues (both on the same committee and not on the same committee). There are very few reporting requirements and limited possibilities for other legislators from the same PPG to veto a position taken by committee members. Other legislators from the PPG rely on those legislators to structure the position and take cue. The PPG leadership grants high levels of autonomy to committee members as well. Committees develop into relatively closed networks, in which only those who are actually on the committee have a say. According to an informational rationale of committee workings unintended changes at the committee stage are a major concern to other legislators from the same PPG. Subsequently, PPGs grant very little autonomy to committee members. Even though they are assigned to the committee and may develop the initial position initially, they have clear reporting requirements. Legislators need to coordinate and communicate their positions with other legislators from the same PPG, inside and outside of the committee. The positions that are proposed can be vetoed. The PPG leadership has a veto right in all areas and can take over issues it deems to be of major importance, but it is still accountable to the PPG. In terms of committee workings, the ‘keeping tabs’ and the partisan theory have similar predictions. They are interpreted as a ‘medium’ way. This rationale highlights the conditional nature of monitoring: some committees are more closely monitored, others are not. They differ, however, in the reason on the committees. The partisan theory highlights the importance of certain issues which are of major importance for the PPG at the next elections. Subsequently, especially committees dealing with issues of major electoral importance are assumed to be closely monitored. The ‘keeping tabs’ perspective highlights policy disagreement between the minister of a PPG and ministers of the coalition partners to explain PPGs’ actions. Subsequently, especially committee members on these ‘policy disagreement’ committees are assumed to be closely monitored. Legislators in other committees are relatively autonomous. The role of the leadership is strengthened compared to the informational and the distributive theory. Decisions taken in committee and positions which are developed need to be communicated and coordinated with the leadership rather than the ‘rank-and-file’ legislators from the PPG. 3. Methodology and data The analysis is conducted via a focused comparison of two lower chambers, the Dutch Tweede Kamer and the German Bundestag. Both are characterised by the existence of ‘strong’ PPGs which divide their workload by assigning portfolios to individual legislators. However, earlier research has indicated different assignment patterns in the two legislatures. PPGs in the Dutch Tweede Kamer indicated a clear reluctance by PPGs to assign legislators with ‘outlying’ interests (i.e. those who have connections to interest groups in the committee’s jurisdiction) to corresponding committees. Such considerations were generally absent for PPGs in the Bundestag (Mickler, 2017b). A focused comparison of these two legislatures will provide more insight into the question whether this different pattern leads to different monitoring strategies. Figure 1 depicts the ‘basic’ division of labour within PPGs with legislators being allocated to committees but with one legislator being responsible for a particular policy area. To understand the division of labour and power relations within PPGs, four relationships are covered in the analysis. These are deemed to be the most important ones for the purpose of this study. The ‘point of departure’ is the individual legislator in a committee. The analysis focuses specifically on a legislator’s relation (MP1A in Figure 1) with (1)‘rank-and-file’ legislators from the same PPG on the same committee (MP2A, MP3A), (2) ‘rank-and-file’ legislators from the same PPG who do not serve on the same committee (MP4A, …, MP11A), (3) ‘rank-and-file’ legislators from coalition PPGs on the same committee and (4) the leadership of their own PPG (MP12A). To analyse the informal rules which guide the internal processes, the study relies on in-depth interviews with legislators. Relying on interviews is appropriate because there is no meaningful way of statistically analysing these informal relationships. Qualitative methods provide a way to get a deeper understanding of how PPGs internally distribute power among their members. Similar to the interviews held by Settembri and Neuhold (2009) in the European Parliament this qualitative strategy is worth pursuing to broaden our understanding of the processes and gain new insights. The semi-structured interviews were conducted by the author in January 2015 (Germany, three interviews by telephone in February 2015) and in the period of April–May 2015 in the Netherlands. A total of 78 legislators were interviewed (see Table 1). A list of respondents in alphabetical order for each PPG can be found in the supplementary material to this article (online).2 2 In the Netherlands, I was unable to schedule interviews with several smaller PPGs (Democraten 66, GroenLinks, ChristenUnie, Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij and Partij voor de Dieren). In most cases, the high workload of legislators of these smaller PPGs made the participation not feasible. The insight into working procedure of opposition PPGs, therefore, rests solely on the evidence provided by legislators of the PVV, CDA and SP. Table 1 Number interviewed legislators per country Bundestag SPD CDU/CSU Die Linke B90/Grüne Total 17 16 10 8 51 Tweede Kamer PvdA VVD SP CDA PVV Total 12 11 2 2 1 27 Bundestag SPD CDU/CSU Die Linke B90/Grüne Total 17 16 10 8 51 Tweede Kamer PvdA VVD SP CDA PVV Total 12 11 2 2 1 27 Notes: Party abbreviations: SPD = Social Democratic Party (German: Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschland), CDU = Christian Democratic Union (German: Christlich Demokratische Union), CSU = Christian Social Union (German: Christlich Soziale Union), PvdA = Labour Party (Dutch: Partij van de Arbeid), VVD = People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (Dutch: Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie), SP = Socialist Party (Dutch: Socialistische Partij), CDA = Christian Democratic Appeal (Dutch: Christen-Democratisch Appèl), PVV = Party for Freedom (Dutch: Partij voor de Vrijheid). Table 1 Number interviewed legislators per country Bundestag SPD CDU/CSU Die Linke B90/Grüne Total 17 16 10 8 51 Tweede Kamer PvdA VVD SP CDA PVV Total 12 11 2 2 1 27 Bundestag SPD CDU/CSU Die Linke B90/Grüne Total 17 16 10 8 51 Tweede Kamer PvdA VVD SP CDA PVV Total 12 11 2 2 1 27 Notes: Party abbreviations: SPD = Social Democratic Party (German: Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschland), CDU = Christian Democratic Union (German: Christlich Demokratische Union), CSU = Christian Social Union (German: Christlich Soziale Union), PvdA = Labour Party (Dutch: Partij van de Arbeid), VVD = People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (Dutch: Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie), SP = Socialist Party (Dutch: Socialistische Partij), CDA = Christian Democratic Appeal (Dutch: Christen-Democratisch Appèl), PVV = Party for Freedom (Dutch: Partij voor de Vrijheid). 4. Analysis 4.1 The ‘Standard Protocol’ in PPGs: the development of positions After positions as spokespersons are assigned in the Bundestag and the Tweede Kamer legislators possess ‘property rights’ in this area (see also Schüttemeyer, 2001; Andeweg and Thomassen, 2011). Spokespersons are responsible for the content of the portfolio and mandated to speak on behalf of the PPG outside of the legislature (towards the media, general public) and inside the legislature, that is, during plenary debates. Committees are the other central venue to fulfil that role. The distribution of functional responsibilities is taken very seriously but there are exceptions to this ‘property right’. First, the PPG leadership is privileged to take over an issue (e.g. Interview Bundestag, 151919B; Interview Tweede Kamer, 150520A). Additionally, the chairs of the within-PPG working group (more on their role below) in the Bundestag are allowed to take over an issue (Interview Bundestag, 150119A). Apart from these exceptions, the ‘standard protocol’ in PPGs of the Bundestag and the Tweede Kamer dictates that, after an issue has been referred to a committee, spokespersons develop the position with great autonomy from other members of the PPG, only assisted by their staff members3 3 In the Bundestag, this is either done by the personal employees or the policy advisers of the PPG (German: Fraktionsreferenten); Tweede Kamer: PPG’s policy advisers (Dutch: beleidsmedewerker).. The staff’s involvement was highlighted as an invaluable help (Interview Bundestag, 150114A; 150112B; 150126A; Interview Tweede Kamer 150520A, 150521A, see also Schüttemeyer, 2001, 2009; Stender, 2016). The room for manoeuvre of spokespersons is, however, constrained by several factors. For government legislators the most restrictive determinant are issues that are clearly regulated in the coalition agreement (Dutch: regeerakkoord; German: Koalitionsvertrag) (e.g. Interview Bundestag, 151201B; 151401C; 152901F; Interview Tweede Kamer, 150423A). The next orientation mark (applicable to all PPGs) is the party’s electoral manifesto and the party’s declaration of principles (Dutch: beginselprogramma; German: Parteiprogramm). The latter was especially highlighted by Dutch legislators (e.g. Interview Tweede Kamer, 150414A; 150422E; 150520B). However, these documents do not always prescribe the position in detail (Interview Bundestag, 150126B). A third orientation mark is the policy taken by the party on similar issues in the past or, in the case of the Bundestag, if a resolution has been adopted by the PPG (German: Fraktionsbeschluss). If so, spokespersons are expected to follow this decision meticulously (Interview Bundestag, 150119A). When these sources do not provide any point of reference, the legislator’s judgement prevails (Interview Tweede Kamer, 150429; Interview Bundestag, 150119A). This range of factors contradicts the prediction of the distributive rationale and differs from the processes in the European Parliament in which policy experts in committees have a very heavy weight in the preference formation of policies: those who handle ‘a dossier in committee are its architects’ (see Ringe, 2010). In the Tweede Kamer and the Bundestag, spokespersons are much more confined in their room for manoeuvre. Legislators may be tasked to work out the position, but cannot simply determine it. 4.2 The influence on the initial position: the internal ‘layers’ of PPGs After spokespersons developed their position, they find themselves in a complex internal structure that PPGs in the Bundestag and the larger PPGs in the Tweede Kamer (PvdA and VVD) have set up. The setup of the PPGs in the Bundestag is depicted in Figure 2. The larger PPGs (SPD and CDU/CSU) have set up corresponding within-PPG working groups (German: Arbeitsgruppe) for each committee (comprising all PPG members on the committee). The two smaller PPGs (The Left and the Green Party) cluster topics together in so-called Arbeitskreise, for example, Arbeitskreis I covers topics such as the economy, labour and social affairs, pensions, finance, budget and municipalities and, therefore, comprises legislators who serve on corresponding committees. Given that these clusters comprise several committees across related policy-related topics, all legislators who serve on these committees are also, automatically, members of the cluster. In the Tweede Kamer, the internal structure of the larger PPGs (PvdA and VVD) largely resembles the organisation of the smaller PPGs in the Bundestag (PvdA: fractiecluster; VVD: fractiecommissie). However, one slight distinction needs to be made with regard to the membership to these within-PPG groups which is not determined by committee membership but by the legislator’s portfolio. Contrary to the situation in the Bundestag, in which all legislators who serve on a committee as full member are assigned a role as spokesperson in the committee’s jurisdiction, not all committee members of the PvdA and VVD PPGs are actually spokespersons within the committees’ jurisdiction (see also de Jong and de Jong, 1998) but are assigned to ‘fill’ the number of seats. The main purpose of those legislators is to be present at meetings which schedule a committee’s agenda for the upcoming weeks (Dutch: procedurevergadering) to secure the government’s majority. Non-spokespersons will not attend ‘regular’ meetings of the committees and, therefore, also not attend the meetings of the within-PPG working group. Figure 3 depicts these formal structures for the larger PPGs in the Tweede Kamer. As a general rule, nothing is presented as the PPG’s position without prior consultation in this system of working groups to allow other legislators to provide input. The degree to which these within-PPG working groups influence the initial position content-wise is to a great extent determined by the nature of the issue and no fixed rule can be described. It became clear from the interviews, however, that the other legislators take the control function very seriously and that conflicts occur. The spokespersons’ initial position has to ‘survive’ this scrutiny. How ‘well’ the spokesperson develops the proposal and is able to anticipate various opposing ideas is crucial to increase the chances of passing this hurdle. In case bigger conflicts arise and spokespersons are not able to convince their colleagues of the proposed position, a developed position can end at an impasse and not make it through the within-PPG working group (Interview Bundestag, 150127A; also 150129A). This clearly supports the informational rationale. However, if one has to give an estimate of the rate of ‘dead by working group’, these are not the rule but rather the exception (Interview Tweede Kamer, 150429A; Interview Bundestag, 150123B). In addition to this formal hurdle and in order to prevent any conflicts at the level of the PPG meetings, they are ‘well-advised’ (Interview Bundestag, 150130E) to also talk to other legislators or other working groups within the PPG which might feel overlooked. However, generally speaking, legislators indicated that, outside of their own within-PPG working group and outside of sensitive or controversial issues, the decision-making process works on mutual trust (Interview Bundestag, 150129C; 150130B; Interview Tweede Kamer, 150415A; 150416A, 150506A, see also Andeweg and Thomassen, 2011). There is simply not enough time to acquire expert knowledge in all areas to closely monitor the process. In the smaller4 4 ‘Small’ here refers to PPGs whose number of legislators is smaller than the number of specialised committees. PPGs in the Tweede Kamer (interviewed legislators from the CDA, PVV and SP), the same internal sequence is followed. Due to their small sizes, PVV and CDA have not established within-PPG working groups.5 5 Respondents from both PPGs indicated that they established within-PPG working groups when their numbers were larger in the past. However, an interviewed legislator from the SP mentioned the existence of a ‘team meeting’ (Dutch: teamoverleg) which comprises the PPG colleagues working on the same policy area and the PPG’s policy advisor (Dutch: beleidsmedewerker). Within these meetings the weekly agenda and speaking order is discussed. The difference with the within-PPG working groups of the larger PPGs is that ‘this is all very informal and we [the participants of this team meeting] have thought of it ourselves. […] But most committees have something similar.’ (Interview Tweede Kamer, 150416A). 4.3 The discussion in the PPG meeting At the end of this ‘ideal-typical’ process, everything converges in the plenary meeting of the PPG. Although non-controversial issues might simply be mentioned for the legislators’ information and then quickly passed, every proposal needs to be presented in the PPG meeting to give legislators a chance to provide input.6 6 A slightly different approach is used in the PPG of The Left. The agenda of the PPG meeting only schedules the discussion on a small number of issues in any case and lists all other issues on a consensus list (German: Konsensliste). However, this consensus list is not closed but ‘every legislator can raise an issue on the list’ (Interview BT, 150126B, 150130E). The PPG meeting is the ‘actual platform for the political formation of will’ (Interview Bundestag, 150127A). However, the discussion of a topic in-depth is ‘preferably avoided’ (Interview Bundestag, 150130E) and seen as a last resort to discuss something. The position presented by the spokesperson and backed by the within-PPG working group has weight (Interview Bundestag, 150129D). Several legislators in the Bundestag argued that they have never experienced that a PPG wanted to go in a completely different way with regard to a position, if was proposed by a spokesperson and backed by the within-PPG working group (Interview Bundestag, 150202; 150119A). In the Tweede Kamer, everything needs to pass the within-PPG working groups. However, whether something is discussed in the PPG meeting or not depends on whether an issue is dealt with in plenary session of the Tweede Kamer (i.e. motions, bills). If this is the case, the issue is always placed on the agenda of the PPG meeting. Issues which remain in committee in the form of a general debate (Dutch: algemeen overleg) are not discussed in the PPG meeting, except if a spokesperson, the PPG leadership or another legislator specifically asks for it (Interview Tweede Kamer, 150429A; 150430B; 150520A; 150520D). However, the possibility to talk about every issue exists here as well in principle. The individual experts serve as ‘focal points’ whose advice on how to vote is usually followed. In both legislatures, interviewed legislators estimated that around 90 per cent of topics are non-controversial and do not raise the attention of the PPG and the leadership (Interview Bundestag, 150130E, Interview Tweede Kamer, 150422E). Although these numbers are rough estimates and should be treated with caution it became apparent that once an issue reaches the PPG meeting, the vast majority has been discussed to such an extent that conflicts are overcome (Interview Bundestag, 150129D; 150120A). If a legislator has done his or her job ‘well’, the developed proposal has already anticipated opposing ideas and possible conflicts are pre-empted (Interview Tweede Kamer, 150516A). The possibility to present an issue in the PPG meeting was largely seen as a good thing because it prevents ‘tunnel vision’ (Interview Bundestag, 150126B; Interview Tweede Kamer, 150520A). It is possible to reject a proposal altogether or to ask the spokesperson to include points so that the whole PPG can agree with it. Interestingly, interviewed legislators argued that in every portfolio an issue can become controversial (Interview Bundestag, 150130D; 150128C). However, several topics are more prone to be discussed. Some are valid across all PPGs, for example, finance-related matters (Interview Tweede Kamer, 150416A; Interview Bundestag, 150118A), others are more PPG specific. While the range of controversial issues, in most cases, includes those which are controversial on the ministerial level, interestingly, highly electoral salient issues are not necessarily those which are likely to be controversial. As an example, issues regarding labour and social affairs were not necessarily conflictual in the SPD (Interview Bundestag, 150130D) although it is a highly salient issue for the PPG. This contradicts the partisan rationale which predicted that topics, which are central to the electoral success of the PPG, are closely monitored. Processes in the smaller PPGs of the Tweede Kamer differ slightly. As these PPGs were in opposition at the time of the interviews, the legislators are ‘more free’ and do not have to feed every single issue back to the PPG. An interviewed legislator of a small PPG argued that with regard to many issues the PPG’s position has been established for years and there is no need to discuss it again. In case it is not entirely clear what the position of the PPG should be or if it is considered controversial, the internal working group is consulted (if it exists) but in any case discussed during the PPG meeting (Interview Tweede Kamer, 150416A; 150414A). 4.4 In case of no agreement: the ‘Escalation Ladder’ If, within a PPG, two (or more) legislators cannot reach an agreement the issue either a) has reached a dead end or b) gets elevated to the level of the chairs of the within-PPG working groups who attempt to find an agreement. A German legislator referred to it as a ‘settlement cascade’ (Interview Bundestag, 150119B). Given the importance of the chairs of the working groups, it was seen as important to ‘win them over’ (Interview Bundestag, 150128E). If no conclusion can be reached at the lower levels, the PPG leadership tries to solve the issue (Interview Bundestag, 150119B; 150129D; Interview Tweede Kamer, 150521C, 150615A). This decision would then still be put to a vote in the PPG meeting (Interview Bundestag, 150130D) but this describes a hypothetical situation, in most cases such conflicts are worked out and solved on the other levels (Interview Bundestag, 150130D). With the exception of level three, this process is the same in the Bundestag and the larger PPGs in the Tweede Kamer. In the Bundestag the setup is more complex due to the extended PPG leadership (German: geschäftsführende Fraktionsvorstand) which comprises the PPG leader and his or her substitutes as well as the whips. Figure 4 shows a depiction of this escalation ladder. 4.5 The role of the PPG leadership The interviews in the two legislatures indicated that the PPG leadership has an umbrella function in the whole process. The leadership gets updated constantly on proceedings in each within-PPG working group (mostly via a special group which comprises the PPG leadership and the chairmen of the working groups). However, the discussion in this group does not primarily focus on the content but rather serves to inform the PPG leadership on the general direction of discussions in the within-PPG working groups and possible problems that may arise (Interview Bundestag, 150129C). A Dutch legislator argued that this group is even cautious to not deal with too many issues We try to talk as little content as possible there. The content belongs to the PPG. Otherwise, you get a small club which decides on the content for the whole PPG and that is a little weird (Interview Tweede Kamer, 150506A)As a general rule, the PPG leadership always has the last word and a powerful, undeniable veto (see also Patzelt, 1999; Kintz, 2011). A legislator argued that ‘no bill passes the PPG meeting when the leadership does not agree with it. I have not witnessed that in 12 years’ (Interview Bundestag, 15013B). Another legislator noted that ‘if the PPG leadership says that it is not okay then this will of course not make the agenda.’ (Interview Bundestag, 150119A; also Interview Tweede Kamer, 150422E). In the smaller PPGs of the Tweede Kamer, the connection between spokesperson and PPG leadership is more direct. The PPG leadership is, as well, attentive and able to take over issues which it considers important to discuss (Interview Tweede Kamer, 150414A). When the leadership decides to take over an issue, legislators have to swallow this pill (Interview Bundestag, 150123A, also 150212A; Interview Tweede Kamer, 150422E). However, there was no indication that this is a frequent occurrence. The PPG leadership is ‘friendly towards the expertise of the lower levels’ (Interview Bundestag, 150119B; also 150115D). The influence of the PPG leadership is sometimes more ‘subtle’ by bringing a point to the attention of the spokesperson when the position is initially developed or by pointing out the cornerstone of a policy and leaving the ‘finishing touch’ (Interview Bundestag, 150119B, 150112A). 4.6 The relationship with the coalition partner For coalition PPGs, the coordination with the coalition partner is an additional step in the process. Having each other committed to working together, the iron rule is ‘not to surprise each other in committee’ (Interview Tweede Kamer, 150422B; also 150423A). This can initiate relatively complex parallel processes with the specialist of the other PPG as well as the leadership of both PPGs. The level of complexity depends on the policy differences between the parties, the importance of the issue and the level of politicisation (Interview Bundestag, 150123A). As a guideline, the pattern with regard to the internal escalation ladder is applicable in the same way between PPGs (chairmen of the within-PPG working groups, then level of the PPG leadership, see Figure 5 for a schematic depiction of the escalation ladder between PPGs in coalition situations). Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Schematic depiction of relationship between one PPG and its members in committees Source: Own depiction. For PPG B and C only the individual committee members are listed in this picture. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Schematic depiction of relationship between one PPG and its members in committees Source: Own depiction. For PPG B and C only the individual committee members are listed in this picture. Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Schematic depiction organisational layers PPGs Bundestag Note: The upper image depicts the organisational layers of the SPD and CDU/CSU in the Bundestag; the lower image depicts the organisational layers of The Left and Green Party. Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Schematic depiction organisational layers PPGs Bundestag Note: The upper image depicts the organisational layers of the SPD and CDU/CSU in the Bundestag; the lower image depicts the organisational layers of The Left and Green Party. Figure 3 View largeDownload slide Schematic depiction organisational layers larger PPGs Tweede Kamer (VVD, PvdA) Figure 3 View largeDownload slide Schematic depiction organisational layers larger PPGs Tweede Kamer (VVD, PvdA) Figure 4 View largeDownload slide Schematic depiction of the escalation ladder within PPG Source: Own depiction. Note: The thin broken line depicts a situation in which a decision is passed back to the lower level. Figure 4 View largeDownload slide Schematic depiction of the escalation ladder within PPG Source: Own depiction. Note: The thin broken line depicts a situation in which a decision is passed back to the lower level. Figure 5 View largeDownload slide Schematic depiction escalation ladder between PPGs in coalitions Source: Own depiction. Note: The thin broken line depicts a situation in which a decision is passed back to the lower level. Figure 5 View largeDownload slide Schematic depiction escalation ladder between PPGs in coalitions Source: Own depiction. Note: The thin broken line depicts a situation in which a decision is passed back to the lower level. There was very little evidence that the relationship between spokespersons within coalition partners is particularly amicable in committees. Several legislators highlighted their good relationship with their counterpart, but several legislators also described the relationship as a ‘partnership of convenience’. The main focus for most respondents is clearly their own PPG. Most legislators argued that they would first coordinate their decisions with their own within-PPG working groups, and then talk to the spokesperson of the coalition partner (Interview Bundestag, 150127A; Interview Tweede Kamer, 150423A, 150423B). This is not a fixed rule, but rather established practice. In certain situations, a legislator might first talk to the spokesperson of the coalition partner because the nature of a topic requires a speedy decision and the within-PPG only meets in a couple of days (Interview Tweede Kamer, 150423B). Legislators frequently argued that their contact with spokespersons of the coalition partner is aimed to ‘keep an eye’ on them (Interview Tweede Kamer, 150423B).7 7 In Dutch: ‘En ik wil hem ook een beetje in de gaten houden.’ (Interview TK, 150423B) This is also illustrated by a German legislator who kept referring to the spokesperson of the coalition partner during the interviews as his ‘friend from the dark side of the force’ (Interview Bundestag, 150130E). This statement is, of course, amusing but it highlights the close, yet distant relationship. 5. Conclusion: an informational rationale to ‘Keep the Sludge Moving’ Although PPGs are crucial institutions in the preference aggregation of legislators and are heavily involved in the decision-making process, we know comparatively little about how PPGs reach decisions with majority appeal among their members. This analysis focused on the issue how decisions are taken in committees and what room for manoeuvre committee members have in the Bundestag and the Tweede Kamer. The analysis was guided by a framework that was largely based on the established congressional theories of legislative organisation. Although it should be noted that the theoretical framework is to a certain extent stretched, it is possible to deduce several clear ‘strategies’. The interviews in the legislatures uncovered distinct working procedures in PPGs of the two analysed legislatures. These correspond very closely to what is described by an informational rationale. Generally speaking, spokespersons are able to develop the initial positions with relative autonomy but need to cross-check the positions against a range of factors (e.g. the PPG’s position in the past). Afterwards, legislators in committees are placed in a more or less intricate system of checks and balances via the PPGs’ internal working groups which are able to perform a check on the developed position. Legislators have to go through this system of scrutiny. With regard to the impact of the groups, they are rather selective and do not come into action in any instance. However, it is important to note that the actions do depend on whether an issue is of major electoral importance but that, in principle, everything can be elevated to be closely monitored. Of course, those issues that are controversial on the ministerial level (see ‘keeping tabs’ perspective) are more likely to raise the interest of the PPG members, but these issues are not the only ones which may induce a debate in the PPG. Outside of the formal structures, other legislators from the PPG as well as the PPG leadership have the possibility to get informed about the proceedings and can intervene. There was no sign that the PPG leadership often dictates positions but rather that the main focal point is the collective PPG. The PPG meeting is, in any instance, the last hurdle that a position has to overcome. The PPG always remains the main principal and has a chance to whistle a legislator back. Even though not all issues are actually discussed in-depth, the possibility exists. This process is also applicable to the smaller opposition PPGs, although the threshold to intervene is higher. Although a clear hierarchy with defined responsibilities exists, the intricate system of within-PPG working groups and the PPG meeting prevents a ‘solo action’ of a legislator. If a position does not satisfy the other legislators of the PPG, it needs to be changed. Such a system, although not bulletproof, ensures that the policy choices reflect the wishes of the majority of the PPG and for committees to ‘keep the sludge’ moving. 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Parliamentary Affairs – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 22, 2018
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