National parliaments seek to bridge EU democratic gap

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Speakers of national parliaments from across the 27-member bloc have echoed an EU summit decision last week to carry on with the Lisbon Treaty ratification process and give the chance to all countries to express their views. EURACTIV spoke to Bernard Accoyer, the president of the French ‘Assemblée Nationale’.

Meeting in Lisbon on Friday (20 June), speakers of parliamentary chambers across the EU decided to continue exploring ways of working together “in the best interest of citizens,” despite the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty by Irish voters in a referendum on 12 June. 

The treaty, which was initially foreseen to come into force in time for the next European elections in June next year, provides national parliaments with a reinforced role in EU affairs.

Bernard Accoyer, the president of the French ‘Assemblée Nationale’, told EURACTIV: “The Irish ‘No’, as previously the French and Dutch rejection of the Constitution, shows the worrying ditch between the people and the institutions. The Union today is perceived as an economic union, a union of free circulation, a monetary union for some, but not as a political union.”

“European MPs do not carry the same political responsibility held by national parliamentarians,” added Accoyer, stressing that this analysis should not be perceived as criticism, but rather as an opportunity to find new ways to address the absence of European political direction.

National parliaments to complement EU Parliament’s role 

European speakers noted that the role of national parliaments will never be in competition with, but strongly complementary, to the role of the European Parliament as they share the same objective: to strengthen European democracy. They stressed the EU constitutes an important pillar of the international order and more should be done to encourage European leaders to act jointly for a stronger EU role in the world.

French Parliament President Accoyer pleaded for a reinforced cooperation among national parliaments, but also between national parliaments and EU institutions, namely the European Parliament and the European Commission. 

“We need to start working in a pragmatic way. Those who want to advance in this direction  [a political Union] will, those who don’t will wait to join us. The aim is to start implementing the provisions laid down by the Treaty to national parliaments ,without this being legally binding. If these new rights result in a convergence of views, they will have a political weight and we will have begun to reach our goal,” ended Accoyer.

Due to enter into force in 2009, the Treaty 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. 

Commission already anticipating Lisbon Treaty changes

Recently, the Commission’s ‘Barroso initiative’ has started to transmit proposals to national parliaments and the latter have been able to pronounce their opinion through the IPEX website, a platform for the electronic exchange of EU documents and the repository of national opinions. The speakers encouraged the European Commission to carry on the process and welcomed efforts by the EU executive to respond to reactions submitted by national parliaments and take them into account in further policy formulation.

But subsidiarity checks are not enough. The president of the Portuguese ‘Assembleia da Republica’, Jaime Gama, who launched the initiative aimed at having more “informal debates” among parliamentarians across Europe – less speeches and more brainstorming – stressed the need to have one agreed agenda. “We are taking the first step to strengthen the European project,” he said. “We need to organise ourselves to better cooperate with the European Parliament and we cannot have two overlapping agenda.”

The European Parliament, represented at the conference by Vice-President Manuel dos Santos, called for the institutional cooperation not to be limited to subsidiarity. Interparliamentary meetings are the right place to share information and further cooperation. “The winners will be the EU citizens,” said dos Santos.

The Lisbon Treaty, initially scheduled to enter into force on 1 January 2009, gives national MPs a stronger voice in the EU by granting them the right to raise objections to European Commission legislative proposals - the so-called 'yellow' and 'orange card' procedures. 

Under this new mechanism, national parliaments are able to send reasoned opinions to EU institutions 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.

  • 15-16 Oct. 2008: EU summit to explore solutions after the Irish 'No' vote.
  • June 2009: European elections.

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