As with political parties, national and regional Parliaments play a key role in the policy process, but their competencies and working methods do not always correspond with the dynamics of policy dialogue processes. In the framework of representative democracy, Parliaments are precisely where another type of debate takes place, not so much oriented to creating consensus but rather towards political bargaining under conditions of majoritarian rule. However, the trade-offs and compromises that result from these dynamics need to be taken into consideration by the INSPIRED dialogue process, as they can open –or foreclose– interesting windows of opportunity for policy reform.
By means of their Standing Committees, which focus on concrete policy areas and thus allow its members to specialise on a given topic, Parliaments are among many other things the meeting point for two forms of democracy: representative and deliberative. However, the extent to which deliberation leads to changes in opinion depends on how entrenched political parties may be in their initial positions and, more generally, on the country’s political culture.
Another aspect that puts Parliaments at the centre of policy reform processes is their budgetary powers, as they are to approve or reject the incumbent government’s policy proposals through the voting of the State budget. Party discipline tends to be quite strict in this regard, which means that the key players at this stage of the policy cycle are political parties rather than individual Members of Parliament, but this doesn’t preclude the possibility for some deputies to influence the process by highlighting certain aspects of concern for her/his constituency and even by pushing the government to increase some specific budgetary lines to address those concerns.
Last but not least, Parliaments have an oversight role that places their members in a privileged position when it comes to monitoring the government’s action – or inaction – with regard to some policies. Through Parliamentary questions, special reports or ad hoc committees, some MPs can follow up on the implementation of policies and exert pressure over the government to deliver on its commitments. Moreover, they can issue information requests about the progress of government programs, their levels of expenditure or their actual outreach to their intended beneficiaries, queries that can turn out to be revealing when it comes to assessing the actual impact of policy reforms like the ones advocated by INSPIRED.