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Political Research Exchange - PRX

Intergovernmental Relations and Executive Dominance: Horizontal Cooperation and Parliamentary Participation in Two Federal States

Comparative Politics
Alexander Arens
Universität Bern
Alexander Arens
Universität Bern
Rahel Freiburghaus
Universität Bern

Horizontal cooperation between subnational entities is among the central mechanisms that make federal states work. Formal treaty based cooperation, next to interstate councils, accounts as the channel of intergovernmental relations. It enables the subnational entities to fulfill their constitutionally enshrined tasks in areas of self-rule, while protecting them against federal encroachment. Much as advantageous as they are in «autonomously» countering the demands of the subnational constituencies, intergovernmental cooperation by formal treaties is criticized for its high degree of executive dominance and its lack of parliamentary accountability and scrutiny. However, barely anything is known about the extent and pitfalls of treaty based horizontal cooperation in terms of quantitative research. This paper contributes to our understanding of horizontal cooperation among subnational entities in two federal countries, Germany and Switzerland. Both federal states follow different logics and operating principles: German Politikverflechtung and unitarian federalism on the one side and a highly decentralized Swiss model with extensive legislative competences of the substates on the other. The paper asks a twofold research question: To what extent and in which policy areas do subnational entities cooperate in Germany and Switzerland? And, to what degree are subnational parliaments involved in the preparation, negotiation, and conclusion of formal treaties? In methodological terms, the paper is cross-sectional and quantitative. The focus lies on similarities and differences between the cases compared – the German Bundesländer and the Swiss Cantons. On the one hand, new data is presented that describes the state of formal interstate cooperation in the cases compared. On the other hand, a new index is presented measuring parliamentary participation in executively driven interstate relations in the German and Swiss substates. The index is theoretically grounded and takes a comprehensive perspective. It encompasses not only the formal setting of parliamentary participation – e.g. rights of information and consultation, the design of parliamentary committees – but also its preconditions – parliamentary resources. The paper closes with a critical discussion of the proposed index and challenges of future investigations on the role of parliaments in intergovernmental relations.
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