Project Details

On this page I will provide details and summaries on projects conducted at my chair.



Project title
The Federal Constitutional Court as a Veto Player
Das Bundesverfassungsgericht als Vetospieler

Investigators
Prof. Dr. Christoph Hönnige (University of Göttingen)
Prof. Dr. Thomas Gschwend (University of Mannheim)

Project duration
From 2011-2015

Funding
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)

Summary
The project wants to investigate when and under which conditions the German Federal Constitutional Court annuls statutes and in doing so becomes an effective veto player in Germany’s political system. A veto player is a political actor that can obstruct changes in the law. Due to its power of judicial review the Federal Constitutional Court is such an actor. Empirically it has remained unclear, however, how often and under which conditions the court exercises its power. Furthermore, it is still an unsolved puzzle to what extent the court’s actions within the complex institutional system of the Federal Republic of Germany contribute to stabilizing the status quo and to making the system incapable of reform. So far, research argues that the Federal Constitutional Court does constitute a veto player. However, it explains the court’s behavior almost exclusively by means of jurisprudential approaches. In contrast to these lines of arguments, the project introduces concepts used specifically in political science, namely judges’ political preferences as explanatory factors. These are employed to predict under which conditions the Federal Constitutional Court declares statutes void and hence does or does not make use of its veto power. There are differing constellations of actors which are expected to make the court less or more likely to act as a veto player. They can be observed when looking at government compositions, legislative procedures, majorities in the Bundesrat, and preferences of judges resulting in changing court majorities. To examine this empirically the project will conduct studies on the basis of legislative procedures and rulings of the Federal Constitutional Court from 1976 to 2009.

(back to project overview)



Project title
Verwaltungsrefomen an Universitäten

Investigators
Prof. Dr. Christoph Hönnige (Technische Universität Kaiserslautern)

Sponsoring
Horváth & Partners Management Consultants

Project Duration
2008-2012

Summary
Das Projekt konzipiert Verwaltungsreformen im Bereich der Verbesserung der Studierendenservices (Beschleunigung und Optimierung der Einschreibungsverfahren, Verbesserung der Angebote für Erstsemester) sowie der finanziellen Steuerung von Universitäten (Einführung einer Vollkostenrechnung für die EU-Projektabrechnung und die Erfüllung der EU Beihilfeanforderungen) in Kooperation mit Horváth & Partners.

(back to project overview)



Project title
Constitutional Courts as Veto Players

Investigators
Prof. Dr. Christoph Hönnige (University of Göttingen)
Dr. Sylvain Brouard (Sciences-Po, Bordeaux)

Project duration
From 2010-2013

Summary
Constitutional courts play an important role in our understanding of comparative politics. With their right of constitutional review, they are able to stop legislation passed by parliament. Furthermore, their rulings usually allow them to define a framework of possible policies for future governments. Some authors actually take the additional step of declaring parliamentary sovereignty dead, replacing it by the sovereignty of the courts (Gibson 2003; Stone Sweet 2000). In this perspective, courts are part of a wider phenomenon called the rise of the unelected (Bellamy 2007; Vibert 2007).
In a sense, these claims are supported by the fact that most new democracies introduced a centralized constitutional court with the power to nullify legislation and thus to revert decisions by parliament and government. Thus, on the level of political systems, courts can be understood as elements of Consensus democracy (Lijphart 1999) or more commonly veto players (Alivizatos 1995; Brouard 2009; Ganghof 2002; Jahn 2010; Kaiser 1998b; Tsebelis 2002; Volcansek 2000; Wagschal 2006, 2009).
This perceived role stands in stark contrast to our knowledge about the mechanisms determining the influence of courts in political systems. Gibson argued in 1998 that law and courts are the most neglected subfield in comparative politics and that comparators know preciously little about judicial systems outside the United States (Gibson 1998). This is still true today. We have insufficient systematic knowledge about composition rules determining the position of courts in policy space, access routes of political actors to the courts regulating the amount of laws courts are involved with and isolation of the court from political pressure affecting the likelihood of strategic action by the judges. However, to properly understand the role of courts on the level of political systems, we need to systematically analyse institutional rules governing the interaction between courts, government and parliament and within constitutional courts.
This is also true for the perception that courts are veto players. While individual studies convincingly argue that courts are veto players (Hönnige 2009; Santoni/Zucchini 2006; Volcansek 2001), Tsebelis argues that they are not a veto players due to the fact that they are usually absorbed because of the exclusive composition by other veto players (Tsebelis 2002). However, he does not deliver an accurate investigation of the institutional settings in a comparative perspective and no empirical proof of the absorption hypothesis. And while some comparative veto player scales count courts as veto players (Ganghof 2002; Kaiser 1998a) others do not (Tsebelis 2002). Regarding the fact that the number of veto players usually varies between 1 and 3.5 (cf. Tsebelis Dataset on VPS), one veto player more or less might make a huge difference in cross-country and time-series analysis. Since a lot of literature is meanwhile based on veto player theory and counting the number of veto players the error in the literature might stretch way beyond the actual courts analysis. Thus, the question arises if and when constitutional courts are veto players. The aim of the article is thus to open the Black Box of absorption and composition rules. Our main argument is that unlike the state of the literature we need to explain how we should determine if a court is a veto player by analysing composition rules and patterns of government control.

Working Papers
Hönnige, Christoph/Sylvain, Brouard: Constitutional Courts as Veto Players – Composition Rules and the Absorption Hypothesis, DVPW Sektionstagung Vergleichende Politikwissenschaft, Duisburg, 20.-22.9.2010

Hönnige, Christoph/Sylvain, Brouard: Constitutional Courts as Veto Players – Composition Rules and the Absorption Hypothesis, IPSA Research Committee 09 Interim Meeting, Bologna, 21.-23.6.2010

Hönnige, Christoph/Sylvain, Brouard: Constitutional Courts as Veto Players – Composition Rules and the Absorption Hypothesis, MPSA Annual Conference, Chicago, 22.-25.4.2010

(back to project overview)



Project title
Voice Without Vote – Challenges for the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions? Analysing the influence of consultative committees

Voice Without Vote – Herausforderungen für den Europäischen Wirtschafts- und Sozialausschuss und den Ausschuss der Regionen? Der Einfluss beratender Ausschüsse im Vergleich

Investigators
Prof. Dr. Christoph Hönnige (University of Göttingen)
Prof. Dr. Diana Panke (University of Freiburg)

Project Staff
Julia Gollub (University of Göttingen)

Sponsoring
Fritz Thyssen Stiftung

Project Duration
2010-2012

Summary
Committees play an important role in national and international legislative processes: they are set up to increase effectiveness of decision-making, enable logrolling and partisan coordination, and increase the expertise or the legitimacy of decision-making (Mattson/Strom 1995). There are two types of committees: decision-making committees and consultative committees. Decision-making committees, especially parliamentary committees as pas pro toto of the whole house, have long been the center of attention regarding their composition, jurisdiction and decision-making rules (e.g. Shepsle and Weingast, 1987, Mattson and Strom, 1995). Decision-making committees are de facto able to make binding decisions. They are important in the legislative process since they usually either have a gate-keeping or a gate-opening function.

In line with the principle ‘voice, but no vote’, consultative committees have access to decision-making arenas, but lack formal voting power. Thus, their recommendations or conclusions are not binding in character. But while we know a lot about decision-making committees, there are only a few studies on the role and influence of consultative committees. Research on consultative committees looks either at internal decision-making procedures and compositions of actors or provides general information on the institutions. So far, however, the influence of consultative committees has been neglected. This is also the case at the international level. The principle ‘voice, but no vote’ not only applies to consultative committees, but also for non-governmental organizations (such as Amnesty International, Acted, ActionCarbone, Democracy International, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Medair). While non-governmental organizations are often subject to research, the role of consultative committees within governance arrangements on international level has not been studied in detail, so that we do not know how and under which conditions consultative committees are able to exert influence.

This project aims to close this gap in our knowledge and answer the following research question: How and under which conditions can consultative committees influence policies even though they have no formal voting-powers?

In order to answer this research question and shed light on the scope conditions under which consultative committees can exert influence and shape the content of policy outcomes, the project draws on neo-institutionalist theory and develops a sender-receiver model. In the project, we specify a sender-receiver-model focusing on the exchange of information for influence. Consultative Committees have access to formal decision-making bodies (voice), but cannot decide upon policies as they lack formal decision-making power (votes). Thus, expert-based and political consultative committees are bound to exert influence via an indirect route. They operate as senders and have to persuade the legislative decision-making bodies as receivers to take on the information provided in the recommendations in order to influence policy-outcomes. Whether this endeavor is successful depends on how far supply of recommendations meets demands for information, which is influenced by the preference configuration between senders and receivers, the distribution of a set of different capacities as well as the incentives to develop recommendations and to adopt them respectively at play.

The distinct capacity, incentive and preference hypotheses for the sender-side, the receiver-side, and the interactions between senders and receivers are put to a comprehensive empirical test. To this end, the project applies a mixed-methods approach and combines quantitative regression analysis with qualitative case studies. This has the advantage of getting insights into the bigger picture on the basis of a large-N analysis as well as inquiring the causal mechanisms underlying the hypotheses in great depth through process-tracing case studies.
The quantitative part is based on a comprehensive and representative survey conducted in 2010. In this survey, actors in the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers as the two legislating receiving institutions were asked about the role and influence of the CoR and the EESC as the two consultative committees as senders institutions across eleven different policy areas. The survey shows that the influence of consultative committees varies across receiving institutions and policies and the quantitative hypothesis test shows that this variation can indeed be accounted for with the sender-receiver model.

The qualitative part is based on two case studies selected according to a most similar systems design that varies the major explanatory variables but keeps all other alternative explanations constant. The legislative processes took place between 2006 and 2010, were all decided under the co-decision procedure and both consultative committees were involved on a mandatory basis and actually delivered opinions. However, the cases differ with regard to the policy area. We decided to choose two case studies on the ground of three considerations: Firstly, a case study from the core policy area of each institution, secondly, case studies where both institutions delivered opinions in time, and thirdly, legislative acts in which the committees made sufficient amendments to enable us to trace processes.

Project Team

From left to right: Christoph Hönnige, Diana Panke, Julia Gollub

(back to project overview)



Project title
None, connected to the projects Bundesverfasssungsgericht and Consultative Committees

Project Duration
2013 onwards

Summary
Within the context of the the projects on the German Federal Constitutional Court and Consultative Committees in the European Union the decisions and opinions of these institutions are coded according to the Comparative Agenda Policies Coding scheme.

The aim is to analyse the connection of the legislative agenda and the court agenda in comparative perspective (together with Prof. Christine Rothmayr and Prof. Sylvain Brourad). I also analyse the connection of the EU legislative agenda and the agenda of the Commitee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee (together with Prof. Diana Panke).

(back to project overview)