The European Parliament: More powerful than its reputation

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

“Bringing citizens closer to Europe (and not bringing Europe closer to citizens) is the biggest challenge” of the upcoming elections to the European Parliament, argues Nicolaus Heinen of Deutsche Bank Research in an April paper.

From 4-7 June, over 375 million EU citizens from 27 member states will directly elect, for a legislative period of five years, 736 members of the European Parliament. But “these elections are being held for a parliament which is often unjustly labelled as insignificant and underestimated,” writes Heinen.

“Since its first constituent sitting in 1958, the European Parliament has steadily gained in significance and competences,” he argues, pointing out that “over 40% of the national legislation passed in Germany is triggered by EU initiatives”.

And “in areas such as agriculture or environmental policy, the share is close to 80%,” he adds.

“Unlike the national parliaments, the European Parliament is not dominated by one ruling coalition or party,” stresses the researcher. “This allows autonomous, strategic decisions to be made on relevant issues according to specific principles, rather than being dictated by the strictures of partisan politics,” he explains.

“The public at large is not sufficiently aware of the European Parliament’s influence,” Heinen laments, while public interest in the EU assembly “has fallen over the past few years”. 

Surveys indicate that the main issues in this election campaign are unemployment and economic growth, as well as inflation and purchasing power, the paper states. Even if these issues “are clearly dealt with at the national level, the Parliament has a relatively major say here,” says Heinen, giving three reasons for this:

  • European legislation is a key factor in improving the functioning of the labour markets;
  • Economic growth in itself cannot be controlled by politicians – but the latter can create a favourable environment by providing the right framework conditions;
  • The European Parliament keeps a watchful eye [on inflation] at institutional level, for example via quarterly hearings of the president of the European Central Bank before its committee on economic and monetary affairs.

“These important areas of the European Parliament’s competence should be communicated to the public in clear and timely fashion in the run-up to the elections,” stresses Heinen.

“This could help prevent the European elections from being used once again as a proxy for highlighting the shortcomings of national policies,” he concludes. 

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