An international collaboration organized by
the Research Committee 08 - Legislative Specialists (RCLS/ RC08)
of the International Political Science Association (IPSA)
 

Guiding Questions

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unparalleled global crisis with far-reaching implications all over the world. But they have varied significantly between political systems. It is our goal to analyze the immediate and broader effects of the pandemic on parliaments through a global collaboration of parliamentary experts in different countries.

Building on existing compilations, our collaboration will generate a unique dataset on parliamentary adjustments to the COVID-19 crisis which can be used for much research to come – and may be helpful for institutional learning among parliaments, too.

Our research is based on historical institutionalism in order to cater to the particular temporal dimension in the pandemic response. We assume…

  • that the pandemic has hit representative institutions (shifting and sometimes fragile as they are) as an “external shock”;
  • that this shock has consisted in sudden, new environmental challenges for parliaments, as they were posed by the “double shock” of the virus itself and the executive’s prerogative in such a situation;
  • that this external shock interacted with system-internal procedures and patterns of attitudes and behavior, either by stopping routines and transforming them, or by stimulating the search for new procedures and the acquisition of new behavioral and attitudinal patterns, or both;
  • that either lacking institutional resilience or – so far unnoticed – institutional potential for power-preserving (or power-regaining) reforms has become visible due to the aforementioned factors.

Based on the “process tracing” by country case studies, we want to find out empirically …

  • how exactly this double external shock has hit different parliaments;
  • what those parliaments’ concrete reactions have been to this “double shock”, and what effects in terms of institutional change or shifts in power have resulted from them;
  • what connections can be found between those reactions/consequences and the structural, procedural, attitudinal, and legal characteristics of the political systems under study.

The five Perspectives of our Research Framework

Our research framework provides the basis for a deeper understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected parliamentary power in political systems across the globe by investigating five core perspectives:

  • (P1) What were the immediate organizational adjustments of parliament?
  • (P2) How has the fulfillment of parliamentary functions been affected?
  • (P3) What has been the public perception of parliament’s role in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • (P4) Has parliament done its job correctly?
  • (P5) What shifts of power have emerged between parliament and the executive and within parliament?

(P1) First, we will broadly map the immediate reaction to the crisis in terms of external limitations imposed upon and internal adjustments set up by parliaments themselves. This concerns three dimensions which are intertwined and result from a complex mix of tradition, the broader legal setting, and the evolved parliamentary practices: (i) the predominant ways of parliamentary work, (ii) the architecture and infrastructure, (iii) recent innovations with regard to digitalization.

(P2) We will examine the functions of parliament and their impact on policymaking during the crisis: oversight (i), (ii) legislation, (iii) communication, (iv) election, and (v) representation. To adequately investigate these functions, parliaments cannot be understood as unified actors. Depending on the type of political system, the role of parties and parliamentary party groups as well as individual MPs will come to the fore, as will the difference between the majority and the opposition – or the particular dynamics in minority governments. Both formal and informal channels of influence have to be considered when investigating the impact of COVID-19 on parliamentary functions.

(P3) Political systems around the globe have taken different steps to handle the pandemic and to protect their citizens. In order to stop the virus from spreading, fundamental liberties have been limited. At the same time, massive economic stimulus packages and relief funds were enacted in a short period of time. Because of the urgency of the crisis response, many of these measures were adopted without much time to carefully consider and debate the shortcomings or possible alternatives. Therefore, special attention will be paid to the public perception of the roles of parliaments in the governmental measures to fight COVID-19. Among others, central questions are: What public knowledge (or lack thereof) existed for the measures? How were they covered in the media? What was the public support (or lack thereof) for the measures? What was the role of parliaments in these policy responses? How does this relate to public acceptance of the measures?

(P4) Based on the findings of organizational adjustments, parliamentary functions, and the public perception of governmental actions, we will be better able to assess the overall performance of parliaments in different political systems. We ask: have parliaments done their job as described in P2?

(P5) This leads us to investigate how the pandemic situation has revealed, accelerated, or been used for shifting power – both within parliaments and outside. Special attention will be paid to (attempted) cases of “power grabs” by the executive branch. Central questions are: (1) What power shifts within parliament and between parliament and the executive government have occurred? (2) How have political actors used the crisis situation to accelerate ongoing transformations?

Working on such findings, we hope to recognize within and across many individual cases patterns of …

  • what ranges of reform ideas (“variation”) have emerged and have been discussed in the compared parliaments in reaction to this “double shock”;
  • which of these reform ideas have not been followed due to practically insurmountable incompatibility with existing rules and habits (“internal selection”);
  • which of these reform ideas have been tried out, but have been found not to work (sustainably) in practice (“external selection”);
  • whether, and under which exact conditions, the pandemic has left a parliament basically in its previous shape and position (after brief disturbances), i.e. without recognizable changes of its long-term path of development;
  • whether, and under which exact conditions, the pandemic has turned out to be a critical juncture in the development of a parliament, that is: has created a situation in which parliament has, in fact, significantly modified its procedures and structures, or has significantly lost – or gained – power with regard to the executive, and/or authority vis-à-vis the people; and
  • in the case of a “critical juncture”: What forms of institutional change can be observed (“institutional layering”, “institutional conversion”, “institutional drift”, “institutional displacement”), either for parliaments or for (some of) its parts, like committees, party groups etc.; and why have exactly these forms of change been effectuated?

Research Steps

Our research is based on broad and comparative data collection and analysis through a network of country specialists on parliamentary research.

  • In the first step, we will develop a common research framework and define the information needed to address each of the research questions in the perspectives P1 to P5. Established theories on parliamentary functions, on the separation of powers and on historical institutionalism will serve as fundamental pillars of the framework.
  • We will then derive a set of country-specific questions to collect the data.
  • As a pilot study, we will set up an online survey for our network partners about parliaments in the pandemic. The questionnaire for the expert survey will focus both on immediate and broader effects of the pandemic on parliaments.
  • An online academic workshop will be held with the research coordinators and coutry specialists in order to discuss first results and the research framework itself – and to plan the steps for deeper analysis.
  • Based on the workshop results, we develop a questionnaire for a broader sample of parliaments.
  • Analyzing the data, we will pursue an in-depth analytical approach in two steps: First, by conducting country case studies, and second, by comparative in-depth topical studies of particular parliamentary functions. Individual researchers will provide single case descriptions of the roles of parliaments in the pandemic by applying the research framework and small groups of researchers will analyze particular functions in detail, for example by analyzing the formal and informal ways of decision making across countries or the different communication strategies.
  • These country case analyses and the topical analyses will be discussed in a public academic conference in 2021.

Research Team

Research Coordinators

  • PD Dr. Sven T. Siefken, Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany (lead organizer),
  • Prof. Dr. Osnat Akirav, Western Galilee College, Israel
  • Prof. Dr. Ken Coghill, Swinburne University, Australia
  • Dr. Petra Guasti, University of Jena, Germany, and Institute of Sociology, Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague, Czech Republic
  • Prof. Dr. Werner Patzelt, Dresden University of Technology, Germany

Country Specialists

Research Assistant

Pauline Haupt, Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany, https://regierungslehre.politik.uni-halle.de/ 

Contact

If you are interested in our research collaboration, if you would like to join our network, or you have information to share, please contact us at sven.siefken@politik.uni-halle.de or  PiP@politik.uni-halle.de

Links on Parliaments in the Pandemic

Below, we provide some links to current publications and compilations dealing with parliaments in the pandemic. Please share relevant information so we can add it to the list for future reference.