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01/10/2016

Berlin slacks in exercising right to control Brussels

EU Priorities 2020

Berlin slacks in exercising right to control Brussels

Germany only chose to exercise its right to subsidiarity in 1.4% of cases in which it had a right to act.

[Mark Hillary/Flickr]

National parliaments are capable of influencing and even scrapping Brussels’ projects. But a recent study has concluded that Berlin rarely exercises this right. EurActiv’s partner Tagesspiegel reports.

The Bundestag is not adequately carrying out its role in controlling and influencing EU policies. This is according to a study carried out by the Centre for European Policy (CEP). The European treaty framework provides two ways in which EU projects can be appealed and influenced by the member states.

Firstly, through subsidiarity, when a national government decides that a certain issue should not be handled by Brussels. Otherwise, a so-called opinion can be issued within the political dialogue, with EU legislation being influenced this way. Berlin is practically inactive in both aspects, said the study, which was commissioned by Konvent für Deutschland, a roundtable of former leading politicians that count ex-President Roman Herzog among their numbers. The group commented that the study illustrated “remarkable restraint” on the part of the Bundestag and that Germany’s role in controlling EU legislation is “shameful”.

Below average

According to CEP, national governments only took part in 1.6% of cases between 2010 and 2015, in which they had a right to subsidiarity. Germany’s participation rate was 1.4%, below the average. Sweden, in contrast, took part in 10% of cases and the Netherlands 3.4%. Germany trails so far behind its fellow member states as the Bundestag only exercised its right to intervention in three cases, with the Bundesrat, or Federal Council, doing so 11 times. Konvent für Deutschland concluded their assessment by saying that subsidiarity is still a niche option in European policymaking.

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The trend is even more apparent when it comes to the issuing of an opinion within the political dialogue. Practically all German attempts to influence EU policy were made by the Bundesrat, with only 2% being made by the Bundestag. A mere two opinion in five years. In contrast, the governments of Portugal and Italy issued opinions in 74% and 35% of cases, respectively, compared with Germany’s meagre 8.4%. Nevertheless, Berlin does not find itself alone in this regard, with most national parliaments only taking advantage of the measure in 4% of cases.

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Konvent für Deutschland’s Rupert Scholz, a former defence minister and Berlin senator, explained that the Bundesrat’s higher rate of activity is down to Germany’s regional governments being able to observe Brussels issues more keenly. Additionally, the regions’ European Affairs Committees are better prepared and have more power than their counterpart in the Bundestag. Erwin Teufel, once the Minister President of Baden-Württemberg and one of the German representatives on the EU Constitutional Convention, was disappointed by the outcome of the study. “The possibilities for control through subsidiarity are considerable, but are worthless if not exercised,” he complained. 

This article was also published by EurActiv Germany.

Background

The principle of subsidiarity is defined in Article 5 of the Treaty on European Union. It aims to ensure that decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen and that constant checks are made to verify that action at EU level is justified in light of the possibilities available at national, regional or local level.

Specifically, it is the principle whereby the EU does not take action (except in the areas that fall within its exclusive competence), unless it is more effective than action taken at national, regional or local level. It is closely bound up with the principle of proportionality, which requires that any action by the EU should not go beyond what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the Treaties.