Interparliamentary fora such as the European Parliamentary Week lack public attention as they are perceived as boring and hardly productive. But for German MP Axel Schäfer a revolutionary platform for collaboration between national parliaments and the EU is just the remedy for rising political apathy and dealing with Europe's democratic deficit, EurActiv Germany reports.
This is a “new dimension in parliamentary cooperation” in which EU and national legislators “are not rivals but partners”, said Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament, at the 2014 Parliamentary Week in Brussels last week.
The event brought together representatives from the 28 national parliaments and key players from the EU's own institutions for a 3-day conference on economic, budgetary and social matters.
"We need such a meeting of minds to foster the democratic foundations of the European Union," Commission President José Manuel Barroso said in hisintroductory speech.
Though the event focused on financial supervision and lessons learned from the euro zone debt crisis, the common note heard in speeches by EU heavy-weights was a need for more cooperation and coordination between national parliaments and the EU.
"We need a better coordination – this is my personal opinion - between the European Parliament and the national parliaments," Barroso said in his speech.
He was echoing European Council President Hermann Van Rompuy's statement that interparliamentary coordination is one of the most important ways to promote accountability and legiticmacy in a multi-level system, like that of the EU.
Lacklustre fora do not fit the bill
In an exclusive interview with EurActiv Germany, Bundestag MP Axel Schäfer shared the Commission President's opinion, but argued national parliaments and the European Parliament should be "interlocked in a new way".
The deputy chairman of the Social Democratic Party's (SPD) faction called for an annual forum, taking place during a one-week recess, during which representatives from national parliaments could come together to discuss common approaches to pan-European issues.
"They should gather together as factions, regardless of national borders, to form party families and address the question: How do we actually construct Christian democratic, liberal, green or social democratic policy in the EU?," Schäfer told EurActiv in Berlin.
Interparliamentary fora like the Conference of the Presidents of the European Parliaments or the Community of European Affairs Committees (COSAC), the SPD politician said, lack public attention and are often seen as boring, obligatory affairs.
Instead, Schäfer's version of parliamentary coordination would include opportunities for MPs to publicly confront European issues and directly advise the European Parliament without the necessity of a "great procedure with ratifications in all the member states".
Furthermore, the MP emphasised that the plan would not threaten existing competences as they are laid down in the treaties: "Nothing is being taken away from anyone. Nobody will be left out. Neither the European Parliament, nor the national parliaments would give up any competences. This is about intensified, structured, continuous cooperation and not about assembling a new parliamentary level."
Schäfer had hoped the plan would be a topic for debate at the SPD's European convention in Berlin last Sunday (26 January), but individual contributions were cut short due to time-constraints. The climax of the convention revealed no surprise: 97.3% of the 600 delegates attending chose European Parliament President Martin Schulz as the party's front-runner in the upcoming European elections.