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Janice Duchene: MPSA National Conference-West Europe and the EU

April 29, 2010
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The Midwest Political Science Association’s National Conference was held this year from April 22-25, 2010, at the illustrious Palmer Hotel in Chicago. Many of IU’s own students and professors were in attendance, and although the volcanic ash cloud put a damper on attendance for some of the European panels, there were still a multitude of panels and paper presentations to attend on a wide range of issues related to Western Europe and the European Union.

These panels included topics on legislative politics at regional, national, and European levels, education policy in Europe, European Union enlargement issues, and elite strategies in the European Parliament. While all papers were unique and thought-provoking, a few in particular piqued my interest.

One such paper was by Christine Osborn of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In her paper, “Complimenting or Competing? Exploring the Adoption of European Court of Justice and European Court of Human Rights Norms on Sex Non-Discrimination in Germany,” she examined whether gender non-discrimination norms in Germany reflect the same non-discrimination norms of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), of neither, or of both. She concluded, after examining law cases under each of the five categories, that Germany aligns with the ECHR on two issues [custody of children in divorce and ‘out of wedlock’ cases, and trans-sexuality]; with the ECJ on one issue [pensions]; and with neither organization on another [compulsory military service]. This shows that Germany has proven itself capable of following the guidelines laid out by the ECHR and ECJ in transposing human rights into its own legal framework, giving hope that other European countries can – and are – following similar paths.

Another paper that piqued my interest was Robin Hertz and Dirk Leuffen’s (both from Eidgenoessische Technische Hochschule, Zürich) paper titled “Comparing European Union Decision-making Before and After Eastern Enlargement.” As with many of the papers presented, this dealt with the question of the future of the European Union, focusing specifically on the last wave of enlargement and its aftermath. In this paper, the authors examined the voting patterns within the European Parliament and Council in order to see if the voting patterns and legislative output differed after enlargement. Overall, they observed a larger amount of continuity for both then they had expected, and concluded that the compromise model of decision-making actually fit just as well after enlargement as before (contrary to their initial hypothesis that decision-making would become more formalized as the size of the European Union grew). While more work remains to be done in this arena, the finding itself is quite intriguing and offers insight into the unique way that enlargement may be progressing within the EU.

A last paper of interest was “The Determinants of European Parliament Candidate Selection,” written by Stephen August Meserve, William Bernhard (both of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), and Daniel Pemstein (from Vanderbilt University). These authors researched the party characteristics, electoral conditions, and nomination procedures that drive different parties’ EP candidate choices, using their newly created biography dataset from the 2009 EP election. Their driving reason for this research was to gain a better understanding into why certain parties put forward certain types of candidates, since this could alter the types of voting behavior and policy put forward within the EP. Although this research is still in the preliminary stages, some of the authors’ initial findings are as follows: the larger the size of the party, the more likely they are to choose a candidate with experience; the more electoral gains a party has, the less likely it is to send an experienced candidate, and the more pro-EU a party is, the more likely it is to send a candidate with electoral experience. As these authors continue to develop their dataset and research this area, I believe we will gain further valuable insight into the EP candidate selection process, allowing us to further understand the intricate workings of the EU as a whole.

As I hope is evident from the papers illuminated above, the MPSA’s West European and EU panels offered valuable, exciting, and innovative research, proving that this literature – and the scholars behind it – will provide new directions and intellectual insight into the field for many years to come.

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