National parliaments prepare for bigger role in the EU

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Members of parliament from across the EU, meeting in Brdo (Slovenia) on 7-8 May, have begun developing an embryonic strategy to deal with new provisions contained in the EU’s Lisbon Treaty that would significantly increase their powers within the EU. 

National MPs attending the Conference of Community and European Affairs Committees of Parliaments of the European Union (COSAC) underlined the need to develop novel mechanisms to make use of these new rights and powers. 

Indeed, the Lisbon Treaty, due to enter into force in 2009 once it has been ratified by all member states, would give national MPs a stronger voice in the EU policymaking process by granting them the right to raise objections against European Commission legislative proposals – the so-called “yellow and orange card” procedure.

Under this historic new mechanism, national parliaments will be able to send to the presidents of the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament reasoned opinions on whether or not draft legislation complies with the principle of “subsidiarity”. This principle prevents the European Union from deciding matters on behalf of national, regional or local authorities unless it adds value. 

In this new legislative context, cooperation among national parliaments will be essential. Indeed, a reasoned opinion will have to gather support from at least a third of all EU national parliaments (18 out of the total of 54 chambers in the EU) in order for a proposal to be sent back for review by the Commission (the so-called “yellow card”). To actually strike down a Commission proposal (“orange card”), a simple majority of national parliaments will be required.

Speaking at the conference, Dutch Parliament representative Han ten Broeke noted that with the new Treaty, “national parliaments effectively become EU institutions and as such they need to take responsibility and behave as part of the EU set up”. 

Some parliaments have already taken steps to change or adapt their internal procedures to better fit with the new provisions. The French Parliament has changed the Constitution to enshrine the subsidiarity mechanisms. The Finnish Eduskunta will add a specific procedure for subsidiarity in its Rules of Procedure. The Belgian Chambre des representants has changed its rules as well and reinforced its staff with three new members. The Hellenic Parliament has established a working group to come up with proposals. Meanwhile in Spain, the EU Joint Committee for EU affairs has tabled a series of measures to prepare not only the parliament, but also, more broadly, to finetune its relations with the government, which in some cases might conflict with the opinion of the chambers. 

In order to enhance the subsidiarity process, national parliaments have also called for the European Commission to provide them directly with a weekly list of all new documents it publishes. This is expected to help strengthen mutual dialogue and exchange of views. 

But subsidiarity is not all that counts, noted Pierre Lequiller, president of the French National Assembly’s Delegation to the European Union. “We need to stop talking about subsidiarity and processes. It is time to really have constructive discussions of substance: how national parliaments can really influence legislation on climate change, energy, defence and the Union for the Mediterranean.” 

The French Government intends to take leadership role for this “urgently required” approach when it takes over the EU Presidency in July, Lequiller told EURACTIV. 

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