Following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, which grants EU parliaments a bigger say in Brussels policymaking, MEPs are set to intensify work with national assemblies' committees, said European Parliament Vice-President Silvana Koch-Mehrin in an interview with EURACTIV.
Until now, much EU legislation has been dealt with in parliamentary committees on European affairs. But the new institutional framework calls for a change in the way political and legislative debates are conducted.
"If we really want to get the Lisbon Treaty to work, then we need to go to other political areas [than European affairs], either the joint committees in full size or the rapporteurs. What's important is that the structure is in place," Koch-Mehrin, who is one of the MEPs leading a rethink of cooperation with national parliaments, which will be presented next month to the European Parliament's conference of presidents.
Koch-Mehrin describes growing enthusiasm over the possibilities offered by the Lisbon Treaty, but she is quick to note that too many meetings take place in a relatively unstructured manner, which does not lead to the best possible results.
"Closer committee cooperation is really important, as this is where we do legislative work. It is not enough for national European affairs committees to be aware of what's happening. Industry committees, for example, in the national and the European parliaments need to be cooperating for a better exchange," she argued.
According to the European Parliament vice-president, national parliaments are overwhelmed with the number of documents sent to them. Many MPs are "drowning" in information and they cannot immediately differentiate between what is most important and what is merely good to know, she said, stressing that the European Parliament can function as a hub.
In recent years, national parliaments have come to play an important role in the functioning of the EU, cooperating with both the European Commission and the European Parliament. Besides the biannual Conference of European Community Affairs Committees (COSAC) and the conference of the speakers of the European Union parliaments, inter-parliamentary cooperation has benefited from a multitude of joint meetings.
Many parliamentarians are still unaware of their new power, said Koch-Mehrin. "The big challenge is to find that spirit of cooperation of democratically-elected members of parliament and not at all about the EU gaining more power and excluding national parliaments, but rather the other way around," she said.
The recommendations prepared by Koch-Mehrin and other leading MEPs will aim to strengthen cooperation not only between committees, but also among political groups in the national and European parliaments.
Koch-Mehrin is convinced that cooperation must not only happen on technical matters, but also needs to focus on political debates.
To avoid travel inflation, the paper being prepared recommends holding video conferences, at least for committee meetings. A pilot was held between the European Parliament's internal market committee and France's Assemblée Nationale.
"MEPs should be proactive in helping MPs to understand what is at stake, develop personal relationships with MPs and reduce the occasional doubts or questions that MPs have towards the European Parliament," she said, noting that more and frequent meetings must take place in a more structured way, similar to the procedure for ministers.
According to the Parliament vice-president, it is not enough that cooperation happens only through governments "as they are always held in a closed shop and through less democratic procedures" than in the European Parliament.
Silvana Koch-Mehrin was speaking to EURACTIV Managing Editor Daniela Vincenti-Mitchener.