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Nations often turn to international courts to help with overcoming collective-action problems associated with international relations. However, these courts generally cannot enforce their rulings, which begs the question: how effective are international courts? This book proposes a general theory of international courts that assumes a court has no direct power over national governments. Member states are free to ignore both the international agreement and the rulings by the court created to enforce that agreement. The theory demonstrates that such a court can, in fact, facilitate cooperation with international law, but only within important political constraints. The authors examine the theoretical argument in the context of the European Union. Using an original data set of rulings by the European Court of Justice, they find that the disposition of court rulings and government compliance with those rulings comport with the theory's predictions.
In 2008 we published an article finding evidence for political constraints on European Court of Justice (ECJ) decision making. Stone Sweet and Brunell (this issue) argue that our theoretical foundations are fundamentally flawed and that our empirical evidence supports neofunctionalism over intergovernmentalism “in a landslide.” We respectfully disagree with Stone Sweet and Brunell regarding both their conclusions about our theoretical arguments and what the empirical evidence demonstrates. We use this response to clarify our argument and to draw a clearer contrast between our and their perspective on the role the ECJ plays in European integration. Finally, we reevaluate their neofunctionalist hypotheses. Ultimately, we do not find support in the data for Stone Sweet and Brunell's empirical claims.
The actual impact of judicial decisions often depends on the behavior of executive and legislative bodies that implement the rulings. Consequently, when a court hears a case involving the interests of those controlling the executive and legislative institutions, those interests can threaten to obstruct the court's intended outcome. In this paper, we evaluate whether and to what extent such constraints shape judicial rulings. Specifically, we examine how threats of noncompliance and legislative override influence decisions by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Based on a statistical analysis of a novel dataset of ECJ rulings, we find that the preferences of member-state governments—whose interests are central to threats of noncompliance and override—have a systematic and substantively important impact on ECJ decisions.
Scholars often use roll-call votes to study legislative behaviour. However, many legislatures only conclude a minority of decisions by roll call. Thus, if these votes are not a random sample of the universe of votes cast, scholars may be drawing misleading inferences. In fact, theories over why roll-call votes are requested would predict selection bias based on exactly the characteristics of legislative voting that scholars have most heavily studied. This article demonstrates the character and severity of this sampling problem empirically by examining European Parliament vote data for a whole year. Given that many legislatures decided only a fraction of their legislation by roll call, these findings have potentially important implications for the general study of legislative behaviour.
As Steenbergen and Marks (Introduction) argue, the definition and substantive content of the political space is crucial for understanding the nature of political competition in the European Union. In the study of industrialized democracies, including the EU member states, scholars often define the policy space in terms of voter preferences over policy (see Gabel and Huber 2000). Since parties and representatives compete before an electorate, the ideological structure of voters' preferences is fundamental to understanding political contestation. Consequently, one common approach to defining the political space is empirically to examine how an electorate structures its policy preferences.
In this chapter, we attempt to describe the EU policy space in the same manner: by examining the structure (or lack thereof) of EU citizens' preferences over EU policy. However, it is important to note that voter preferences do not play exactly the same role in EU politics as in representative democracies. For one, the links between policy-makers and citizens are different in the European Union than in a typical representative democracy. The Council of Ministers – arguably the most important legislative body in the EU – consists of representatives of national governments elected in national, not EU, elections. It is relatively uncommon that national governments fall or lose elections due to their positions taken in the Council of Ministers. As a result, past research has, at least implicitly, dismissed the EU electorate as a salient constituent for these national representatives.
As Steenbergen and Marks (Introduction) describe, scholars of EU policy-making have adopted conflicting assumptions about the dimensionality and character of the EU policy space. Since the shape of the political space – the number of dimensions, the policy content of these dimensions, and the location of actors in this space – is a central determinant of political competition and outcomes, these conflicting assumptions often lead to different conclusions about and interpretations of EU policy-making. This is a serious impediment to advancing our theoretical understanding of EU politics. A resolution of this theoretical conflict depends on assessing the relative value of the conflicting assumptions about the character of the policy space.
To help address this problem, we attempt to examine empirically whether the structure of the EU political space is consistent with these existing models. Specifically, we investigate whether the existing models described by Marks and Steenbergen (in this book) account for the EU policy space as defined by the European party federations – or “Euro-parties.” These Euro-parties bring together the domestic and European-level political elites in the four main European party families – socialists, Christian democrats/conservatives, liberals, and greens. In the European elections of 1979, 1984, 1989, 1994, and 1999, the Euro-parties drafted manifestos describing their positions across a broad range of policies involving the EU. We use an established content analysis technique to turn these text documents into numerical data representing Euro-parties' positions on specific political issues.