Polish Parliament and Youth Labor Transitions: Explaining the Dynamics of Lawmaking in the Sejm

Friday, 3 July 2015: 4:00 PM-5:30 PM
TW2.1.01 (Tower Two)
Kamil Marcinkiewicz, Carl von Ossietzky Universitat Oldenburg, Oldenburg, Germany
In representative democracies the transfer of voters’ preferences into political arena occurs through legislators. To understand how national policy on a given issue takes shape, it is hence crucial to investigate the process of lawmaking in parliament. This project intends to contribute to opening of the “black box” of parliamentary decision-making by examining legislative responses to the problem of youth labor transitions in Poland. It relies on data from the lower house of the Polish parliament, the Sejm, including votes and speeches on policies concerning situation of young people in the labor market. The aim of the study is to explain the patterns of response to the problem of youth unemployment by individual legislators and to describe trends observed over time on the macro level.

Both elements of longitudinal and cross-sectional design are applied. The project examines four consecutive legislative periods of the Polish Sejm. For the sake of comparability and due to their relevance, the most recent legislative periods were selected. The temporal dimension of the study extends from 2001 to 2014. The empirical analysis consists of two parts. The first aims at establishing and explaining the macro-level trends, while the second addresses the question of individual behavior of legislators.

The data used to establish longitudinal trends include statistics referring to votes and speeches delivered throughout the period of thirteen years. Changes in salience of topic of youth labor transitions are examined and explained. Additionally differences in the distribution of specific issue-areas related to labor policy in time are taken into consideration. I expect that the driving force behind the interest in the situation of young people in the labor market is legislators’ vote-seeking (Mayhew 1974; Müller and Strøm 1999). This mechanism of response by the members of parliament to certain macroeconomic trends (e.g. Fauvelle_Aymar and Stegmaier 2013; Stegmaier and Lewis-Beck 2008) is addressed by my first hypothesis. It suggests existence of a relationship between the unemployment rate and the salience of the topic of employment programs targeting young people and is tested by comparison of available data on parliamentary activity (e.g. 1888 speeches) with unemployment statistics. 

The analysis of longitudinal trends is followed in the second part of the paper by intensive studies of selected draft bills discussed in two different legislative periods. Data produced in all phases of legislative process are taken into consideration. The case studies provide better understanding of the votes and content of speeches appearing in the first section of the paper. Furthermore, they offer an empirically-founded explanation of individual parliamentary behavior.

Large portion of work on drafts is carried out in the parliamentary committees. Committees conduct the first reading of a project, during which amendments may be suggested. Its members prepare then a report for the parliament. Despite their relevance for the legislative process committee proceedings have not thus far attracted sufficient attention of scholars of East-Central European parliaments. The detailed examination of the committee proceedings and recommendations is nevertheless crucial to open the “black box” of legislative process. Investigation of committee proceedings is embedded in the theoretical framework provided by the models of committee decision making and agenda control (Black 1958; Romer and Rosenthal 1978; Cox and McCubbins 2005).

In the second reading the official committee report is presented in the plenary session of the parliament. Here I look more closely at the content of speeches delivered during the debates. In this step additional amendments to the bill can be put forward by a group of MPs, a party leader or a representative of a government.

Votes on amendments proposed in the second reading, votes following the third reading and votes on changes suggested by the higher house, the Senate, provide valuable data on individual voting behavior. Since virtually all votes in the Polish Sejm are roll-calls, it is possible to observe patterns of individual decision-making (Poole and Rosenthal 1985; Poole 2000; Poole et al. 2011). Where high level of party cohesion “overshadows” individual preferences (Kam 2011), text-scaling of parliamentary speeches may provide additional information (Laver, Benoit and Garry 2003; Slapin and Proksch 2008). Individual voting records and speeches are compared to secure the cross-validation of results.

Analogously to the hypothesis referring to the macro-economic trends and macro-level patterns of parliamentary activity I formulate a second hypothesis which concerns the individual level. Here I focus on the impulses from the legislator’s constituency (Baumann, Debus and Müller 2013): I expect to find a significant relationship between legislator’s individual parliamentary behavior and the level of unemployment in the district she or he was elected from.     

Using a method of diachronic comparison I intend to distinguish systematically repeating patterns from developments observed only in a given context. The problem selected for the more detailed discussion concerns legislation on internship programs for school graduates. In order to allow sufficient variance of context two legislative periods characterized by diverging political and economic conditions were selected. The first case study focuses on the draft bill on graduate internships (Poselski Projekt Ustawy o Stazu Absolwenckim) debated by the fourth Sejm.  The second case study is centered around another draft bill on graduate internships (Poselski Projekt Ustawy o Praktykach Absolwenckich) introduced in the sixth Sejm. Both documents were sponsored unlike the bulk of the Polish legislation by a group of MPs not by a government. Furthermore, legislators sponsoring both aforementioned projects belonged to the same party. In spite of certain similarities the fate of the two projects was different. The earlier draft was rejected in the second reading in January 2003, while the one introduced in the sixth period was passed and became a law in July 2009. The comparative case study intends to explain policy-makers’ stances on the aforementioned projects using their personal characteristics and constituency-level data.