CMV: The European Parliament should be supplemented or replaced by an European Assembly of National Parliamentarians

Sat Jul 14 2018 15:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)


Richard Bellamy

University College London, EUI Florence

Professor of Political Science, Director of the Max Weber Programme

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The EU has been accused by Eurosceptic parties from across the EU of taking away control from the domestic democratic institutions of the member states. This proposal seeks to promote a democratic reconnection of the EU by showing how it relates to the different democratic systems of the member states and thereby show how the EU can be regarded as a mechanism for ‘taking back’ the democratic control member states lose due to mutual interdependence and globalisation. To achieve this aim, EU politics needs to be ‘domesticated’ – related to the everyday concerns of citizens, and ‘brought back home’ – that is placed into a context that is closer to citizens and in a context they understand. At the same time, it needs to be ‘normalised’. The politicisation of the EU is mainly along the axis of ‘pro-‘ or ‘anti-‘, ‘in’ or ‘out’. Instead, it needs to be polarised along the ‘left’ or ‘right’ and other cleavages – ‘green’, ‘feminist’, ‘multicultural’ etc .. – that inform domestic politics. That is, political debate about the EU needs to shift from ‘should it exist at all’ to a more nuanced ‘what is the best way for it to do the useful things it does’, and ‘what should those things be’?.

I believe two changes might promote this goal:

- Proposal 1 is for a ‘Green’ Card or Parliamentary Legislative Initiative whereby a 1/3 of MPs in a ¼ of national parliaments may make a legislative proposal for the Commission to implement. The aim here is allow national parties to have different positive policies for the EU and not just be in a position of accepting or rejecting whatever is put to them.
- Proposal 2 is to develop the Interparliamentary Conference on Stability, Economic Coordination and Governance into a Parliamentary Assembly tyo oversee the European Stability Mechanism. Thomas Piketty and colleagues have suggested such an Assembly would consist of 400 members, 4/5 from national parliaments based on the population of the member state and 1/5 from the European Parliament. Their argument is that Fiscal policy has to be related to the different social and economic systems – the variety of capitalisms – of the member states. Moreover, any positive policies for additional funding and investment need to support of national taxpayers. The reason the EU has turned to austerity policies rests on limited solidarity between states, itself the product of a perceived lack of control. Empowering national parliaments in this area enables them to take back control.

NB Thes proposal buildon the strengthening of the role of national parliaments have been strengthened in EU affairs. European committees where established in all national parliaments to scrutinise EU proposals and the actions of their own Ministers in EU policy-making. They can also send ‘reasoned opinions’ highlighting issues to the Commission. Additionally, they obtained certain negative powers that allow them to challenge whether an EU measure is truly necessary or not, or might be better undertaken by the member states – the so-called Early Warning Mechanism. This is not an individual veto – rather at least a 1/3 of national parliaments must raise an objection for it to be reconsidered (a ‘yellow’ card) or 55% to be withdrawn (an ‘orange’ card). Collaboration between Parliaments is facilitated through COSAC – the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs. Proposal 1 seeks to move these begative powers in a positive direction

Proposal 2 is a reform of the existing (Article 13) Inter-parliamentary Committee comprising representatives of all national parliaments and the European Parliament to foster cooperation to oversee Stability, Economic Coordination and Governance (this builds on the other Interparliamentary Committee in the areas of Common Foreign, Defence and Security Policy). Again it strengthens the existing structures by given them greater positive powers.

Background: From the Democratic Deficit to the Democratic Disconnect

-The EU is often criticised for its democratic deficit - the comparatively low level of direct democratic input by citizens into EU policy-making and the selection of the Commission.

- The standard response to this problem is to propose strengthening the powers of the directly elected European Parliament (EP), with the EP acting as the EU’s legislative body and elections to the EP deciding the composition of the Commission as in a domestic parliamentary system.

-However, critics of this proposal note: a) that the powers of the EP have been progressively strengthened in since 1992, with the EP now having a much stronger role both in legislation and the choice of the Commission than before, yet turn out in elections have progressively declined to below 50% over the same period, and b) that Eurosceptical parties have gained the most from the growing salience of EP elections.

-One reason for these disappointing effects of enhancing the powers of the EP could be that many citizens see such a move as taking powers away from national parliaments and domestic democratic systems. The Brexit call to ‘take back control’ clearly appealed to this concern. From this perspective, the EU suffers not simply from a democratic deficit but also - and perhaps more importantly – from a ‘democractic disconnect’.

-The ‘democratic disconnect’ stems from citizens feeling EU institutions are remote and out of touch. As successive opinion polls have shown, the vast majority of European citizens identify more with their fellow nationals and domestic institutions than those of the EU. After all, the political cultures and socio-economic systems of the member states differ widely, and reflect very different historical experiences. Moreover, domestic institutions continue to be the main providers of public goods and services to their citizens.

- Yet, that does not mean that the citizens of the member states do not acknowledge the benefits of belonging to the EU. In an interconnected world, the democratic decisions of different states can undercut each other, while many public goods – such as a clean environment or security – can only be achieved through collaboration. Many citizens also have an interest in taking advantage of the enhanced economic, social and political opportunities offered by free movement, and most states gain from them doing so. That said, the Eurozone crisis and the imposition of austerity policies by creditor on debtor states, on the one hand, and the challenges posed by the migration crisis, on the other, has led many citizens to see the EU as a source of domination itself.

- So the challenge is to show how the EU can be a mechanism for ‘taking back democratic control’ rather than ‘losing control’ by addressing the ‘democratic disconnect’

Background Information

  • Initially, the role of national parliaments within the European has been diminished as European integration progressed. The European Union’s powers have expanded and its areas of competence have widened.

  • The idea of introducing an alternative to the European Parliament or amending the European Parliament in any shape of form by introducing an assembly of national parliamentarians has not yet been officially discussed on EU-level

    • In fact, even innovations like a Eurozone parliament have been rebuked by EU officials in recent years

  • ​The role of national parliaments within the European Union has been detailed in a number of declaration, protocols and treaty texts, most notably:

    • The Maastricht Treaty (especially declarations 13 and 14)

    • The Lisbon Treaty (Article 12)

    • Protocol 1 on the Role of National Parliaments in the European Union

Read more

European Parliament relations with national parliaments

The role of national parliaments in the EU

Debate Summary


Main points of the discussion:
(a) Is the proposed action (Parliamentary Legislative Initiative) really the best option to serve the declared goal?
(b) Does the assumed effect really serve the proclaimed goal?

See diagram:


#Clarification of proposal
• “Can you clarify whether you propose supplementing or replacing the EP with the Assembly?”

#Desired effect doesn’t serve proclaimed goal
• One contributor doubts that the proposal would address the disconnect: “Your solution seems to presuppose a very specific diagnosis of the root cause of the disconnect, namely that that institutions are staffed by MPs who, albeit elected by electorates in member states, are perceived to be disconnected from the worries of citizens in member states. An alternative diagnosis is that national politicians are all too happy to blame European institutions for any piece of legislation that gets pushback from their national electorate. The latter is unlikely to change just because the composition of the European Parliament changes.”
• Another objection: “I also worry that the green card make the democratic disconnect worse: To the extent that the initiative is indeed perceived as a move by national parliamentarians, a coalition of say christian democrats in northern European countries that pushes an austerity bill would probably not be perceived favourably by voters in the South, or vice versa.”

#Alternative actions are more suitable to serve proclaimed goal
• Suggestion: “Allow for popular petitions to make a legislative proposal for the commission to implement; introduce a second chamber in the EP akin to the german Bundesrat representing member states and give them a veto in certain areas; introduce transnational lists to the EP.”
• “Would transnational lists for the EP achieve a similar goal?”

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