Responsive versus responsible? A comparative study of budgetary discourse in the Eurozone

We will reduce borrowing consistently also in the 2014 budget (…). This is a substantial contribution of the German Federal Republic to fulfil to the obligations of the European Stability and Growth Pact and the fiscal agreement.‘
(Wolfgang Schäuble, Bundestag, Germany, 11 September 2012)

This stance on our fiscal policy is accompanied by the gradual reduction of net debt, and it makes use of the fiscal space made available by the flexibility clauses defined by the European Commission.‘
(Pier Carlo Padoan, Camera dei Deputati, Italy, 4 November 2015)

These excerpts taken from parliamentary speeches of recent German and Italian finance ministers are examples of how the fiscal rules of the European Monetary Union (EMU) have become an important decision-making criterion in the drafting of governments‘ yearly budgets. The growing importance of supranational rules for national fiscal and spending policies has raised questions about the potential consequences for the functioning of national democracies. In particular, the theory has been advanced that under the new European economic governance rules, governing parties can no longer be responsive to the demands of their voters, and that instead they must be increasingly responsible towards European institutions. In other words, governments can no longer pursue socio-economic policies on the basis of their political preferences, as they are strictly bounded by the commitments undertaken at the European level.

This project explores this theoretical proposition by looking at how governments present their yearly budgets to the parliament. The time-period ranges from 2007 to 2019, allowing to look at budgets presented both before and after the reform of European economic governance of 2011-12, through which European institutions acquired more power to supervise national governments in the drafting of their budgets. The selected cases are Austria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. By including both Southern and Northern European countries, the project aims also to shed light on current questions about the different political consequences that deepening European integration may have in different sub-regions.

The presentations of yearly budgets are highly informative about the logic of appropriateness that governments follow in their budgetary policies. When presenting their yearly budgets, governments are confronted with a highly diversified audience, ranging not only from parliamentary majority to opposition, but also from European institutions to local constituencies.

Through a comparative content analysis of these texts, the project assesses the extent to which budgets are presented as the product of partisan political preferences or as a result of European institutional commitments. The project develops a method for policy-claim analysis that allows mapping both the budgetary policy courses pursued in the selected countries, as well as the criteria with which governments try to gain support for such policies. Besides answering its research question, the project will  produce a dataset of policy-justification arguments to be used by the broader scientific community.

Funding: FWF Lise Meitner Grant (M 2591-G27)

Project leader: Johannes Karremans, PHD
Project mentor: Prof. Zoe Lefkofridi

Data and replication material:

This data is related to the following publication:
Karremans, Johannes, ‚Political alternatives under European economic governance: evidence from German budget speeches (2009-2019)‘, Journal of European Public Policy.  Link