International parliaments are on the rise. An increasing number of international organizations establishes ‘international parliamentary institutions’ or IPIs, which bring together members of national parliaments or - in rare cases - elected representatives of member state citizens. Yet, IPIs have generally remained powerless institutions with at best a consultative role in the decision-making process of international organizations.
Why do the member states of international organizations create IPIs but do not vest them with relevant institutional powers? This study argues that neither the functional benefits of delegation nor the internalization of democratic norms answer this question convincingly. Rather, IPIs are best understood as an instrument of strategic legitimation. By establishing institutions that mimic national parliaments, governments seek to ensure that audiences at home and in the wider international environment recognize their international organizations as democratically legitimate. At the same time, they seek to avoid being effectively constrained by IPIs in international governance.
The Rise of International Parliaments provides a systematic study of the establishment and empowerment of IPIs based on a novel dataset. In a statistical analysis covering the world’s most relevant international organizations and a series of case studies from all major world regions, we find two varieties of international parliamentarization. International organizations with general purpose and high authority create and empower IPIs to legitimate their region-building projects domestically. Alternatively, the establishment of IPIs is induced by the international diffusion of democratic norms and prominent templates, above all that of the European Parliament.