This study uses rationalist and constructivist explanations of co-decision in the European Parliament (EP). It seeks to understand the change in the policy preferences of the EP during negotiations on the ‘Returns’ directive – dealing with the voluntary or compulsory return of irregular immigrants. This article shows that the introduction of co-decision contributed considerably to the EP’s change of stance on immigration policies. A long-standing advocate of civil liberties in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice (AFSJ), the EP was expected to raise the standards of protection for third-country nationals. In view of the inability of the EP to construct a more liberal policy, the study uses two institutionalist approaches to understand why the EP was unsuccessful in raising the standards. Therefore, the approaches aim at identifying the logics and layers of change. The empirical application of the models highlights the necessity to integrate rationalist and constructivist understandings of co-decision in order to understand motivations for policy change. Synergies in the direction of change also point to the importance of institutional motivations, in order to understand major changes in the policy preferences of the EP.
Co-decision, European Parliament, Returns directive, Rationalism, Constructivism, Justice and Home Affairs, Irregular immigration
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