In the run-up to the EU Treaty of Lisbon, and its failed predecessor the EU Constitutional Treaty, there has been increasing attention for the formal links between the European Parliament and national parliaments. There is however very little systematic evidence of whether and how parliamentarians actually use these formal opportunities in practice. In this paper we report on a survey among members of the sixth European Parliament (2004-2009) about the way they coordinated their work with their national parties and representatives in national parliaments. The survey results confirm our hypothesis that most inter-parliamentary engagement actually proceeds through political parties rather than through the formal inter-parliamentary institutions that have been developed. Following up on this, three more conclusions come to the fore. One is that MEPs coordinate above all with party colleagues from their own country. Contacts with parliamentarians from other countries are much rarer. Secondly, we find that initiatives from MEPs towards the domestic level outweigh initiatives the other way around, and that a majority of MEPs considers that their national party engages too little with EP affairs. Finally, our results suggest that there is considerable variation between different party families in the standing that MEPs enjoy within their national parties, the amount of inter-parliamentary coordination, and the attention national parties pay to EU decision-making.
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