Irish parliament seeks greater EU scrutiny powers


Taking their cue from the Lisbon Treaty, Irish MPs this month called for new scrutiny powers compelling the Dublin government to take their views into account before agreeing to new EU legislation.

The move follows months of debate in the Dáil (parliament) investigating ways to strengthen the chamber's input into EU legislation.

The Dáil's twin EU affairs delegations, the European affairs and European scrutiny committees, undertook the research, forming a subcommittee which concluded that the enhanced role bestowed on national parliaments by the Lisbon Treaty makes it imperative for MPs to give their input into forthcoming EU directives at the earliest possible stage.

According to the Irish Times, centre-right Fine Gael member Lucinda Creighton – who chaired the subcommittee – argued that "there is absolutely no point in dealing with legislative proposals after the horse has bolted. After the Lisbon Treaty, national parliaments have new obligations to engage with legislation at the earliest possible opportunity".

The main proposal is that a more robust system of legislative scrutiny be introduced, whereby all ministers will pledge that – bar certain exceptional circumstances – they will not agree to anything in the EU Council of Ministers until it has been cleared by the Irish parliament.

If this so-called "scrutiny reserve" is over-ridden, the minister must write immediately to the appropriate committee explaining why this was the case and risks being brought in front of the committee for questioning.

The idea largely mirrors the UK system, where "scrutiny reserve" legislation has already existed for a number of years.

The report also proposed another interesting innovation, advocating the creation of an 'EU Information' kiosk in the chamber, which could act as a one-stop shop for the 50,000 Irish citizens who visit the parliament each year.

Speaking before the subcommitee, Dr. Gavin Barrett of University College Dublin, editor of the 'National Parliaments and the European Union' textbook, argued that "the opportunity for reform provided by the need to implement the Lisbon Treaty reforms is one that is unlikely to come around again quickly, therefore optimum use needs to be made of the opportunity we now have".

He added that "we do well to remind ourselves that in examining these issues we are not alone but we are looking at matters that are occupying legislatures in other member states. Our failure in the past to address adequately matters of democratic accountability means we have more ground to make up in Ireland than do other member states".

On a similar note, former Irish European Parliament President Pat Cox told the committee that Ireland needed to "raise its game" when it comes to interventions in the European Union, "whether at the drafting stage or at the legislative stage".

National parliaments have come to play an increasingly important role in the functioning of the EU, cooperating with the European Commission and the European Parliament as well as with each other. The Lisbon Treaty further strengthens their influence on EU decision-making (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on 'National Parliaments and the EU').

In 2009, Germany's Constitutional Court argued that the German chambers of parliament would need to be granted a stronger voice in EU affairs (EURACTIV 18/08/09).

Essentially, the court claimed that the Bundestag and Bundesrat had "not been accorded sufficient rights of participation in European lawmaking procedures and treaty amendment procedures". 

Leading Irish political and constitutional voices have been calling for many years for a stronger system of legislative scrutiny to be introduced.


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