Parliament ‘trades legitimacy for efficiency’

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The European Parliament has become more efficient at the expense of its accessibility to citizens and voters, a European Policy Centre study due to be published soon will reveal.

Sara Hagemann, an EPC policy analyst and one of the study’s authors, told a forum in Brussels that the current European Parliament’s legislative performance had been “impressive”. Indeed, the present EU assembly had passed “1,004 pieces of legislation,” she added. 

Compared to the previous assembly, the Parliament has also increased its efficiency with more first-reading agreements, a surge in ‘own-initiative reports’, and a proliferation of successful amendments, according to Hagemann.

Her findings form part of an EPC study on the current European Parliament, to be published in the next few days. 

Regrettably, this increase in performance has come at the “cost of plurality and debate,” Hagemann argued. Parliamentary committees have become “more political”, where once they were primarily “technical”, suggested the LSE-trained political scientist. 

This move towards powerful committees is “not necessarily a bad thing,” said the EPC analyst, adding that the US Congress also had a “strong committee system”. But, unlike Congress, parliamentary committees are not always “fully representative” of the EU assembly, noted Hageman. 

Making most of the decisions in committee limits the time the plenary has to scrutinise and debate legislative proposals, lamented the analyst. 

‘Deplorable’ level of debate

Dutch Green MEP Joost Lagendijk acknowledged that the Parliament’s current arrangements were not ideal for engaging European voters. He said that there was a perception, especially in the media, of a “deplorable” level of debate. The Green MEP argued that the present set-up “offers no debate [and] no challenges” in plenary sessions, resulting in “no journalistic interest”. 

Dr Andreas Maurer of the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik agreed with the MEP’s assessment, saying that the Parliament was becoming “more and more like a working parliament” and “less and less like a talking parliament”. He said that although committees were open and transparent, the media were “not really interested” in them, meaning that the EU assembly’s visibility suffers as a result. 

The German academic said politicians had “concentrated for too long on efficiency”. He warned of the danger that “MEPs are becoming co-technocrats,” and suggested that they should remember that “the efficiency of a democratically-elected parliamentarian is not the most important thing”. 

Lagendijk concluded that it was up to clever politicians to “do” both legitimacy and efficiency, but said it was “more difficult” to do this at Brussels level. 

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