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Framing Climate Change Policy in the European Parliament: Political Contestation, Issue Dimensions, and Legislative Influence

Contentious Politics
European Union
Representation
Climate Change
European Parliament
Frank Wendler
Universität Hamburg
Frank Wendler
Universität Hamburg

Abstract

Climate change governance exposes decision-making by the European Parliament (EP) to three separate but interrelated sources of political conflict: a strong dynamic of politicization in the external context of public debate and controversy; a multi-dimensional and volatile pattern of ideological polarization between party political groups represented within the EP; and increasing position distances between policy initiatives by the European Commission and national interests represented in the Council. Against this background, how does the EP translate political contestation into legislative influence? Research based on classical institutionalist approaches and exogenous two-dimensional models of the EU political space provides only insufficient explanations for various aspects of EP decision-making in this regard: its relatively high-profile and progressive position in public proclamations on climate policy, combined with relative restraint and high degrees of voting cohesion across party groups in legislative decision-making. Against this background, the paper harnesses framing analysis to explain the integration of competing political positions and issue dimensions within the EP into coalitions needed to project parliamentary positions and exert legislative influence. We argue that considering the dynamic and multi-dimensional political space established by climate change policy, framing analysis has purchase for relating and explaining two aspects of EP decision-making: on the one hand, the polarization and interaction between party groups within economic, distributional, ethical and political issue dimensions established by climate change policy, and their inclusion in decision-making coalitions through the accommodation and linkage of policy positions, on the other. Empirically, the paper tests hypotheses on the interrelation between intra-parliamentary and external drivers of political conflict, and intra-parliamentary dynamics of negotiation and coalition-building by comparing two sets of decisions with contrasting political and institutional conditions: namely, EP resolutions on EU external climate governance (particularly on the annual Conference of the Parties since the Paris Agreement), and decision-making on internal climate legislation by the EU (particularly the revision of legislation on emissions trading and promotion of renewable energy). In terms of method, the paper is based on data gained from the coding of legislative texts and documentation of parliamentary proceedings and process tracing techniques, covering the time period from the conclusion of COP 21 in 2015 to the present. While submitted as a stand-alone proposal, the paper would best fit into a panel covering the topics of parliamentary politics in a context of politicization, the involvement of the EP in questions of global governance, and the interrelation between discourse, framing and political conflict on matters of European integration.