EP - CC / Flickr
EP - CC / Flickr

Adriaan Schout and Jeroen van Dijken wrote a column last week in Dutch daily de Volkskrant entitled EU kan goed zonder Europees Parlement – essentially that the EU could do OK without the European Parliament. I picked up on the story via euro|topics.

The whole line of the column, as far as I can determine, is that the European Parliament is essentially useless if national parliaments took their job in scrutinising EU legislation seriously.

For a whole bunch of different reasons this is the wrong approach.

Firstly, national parliaments are rubbish at using the powers they currently have to hold ministers to account before they go off to meetings of the Council of the European Union. Only Denmark and Finland come close to having reasonable systems of parliamentary scrutiny; the EU, ironically, relies to a great extent on the unelected House of Lords to do the task the Commons cannot be bothered to do.

This leads to the second point: what incentive do national parliaments have to improve their scrutiny of EU legislation? Basically none as far as I can tell. National politicians don’t win their seats on the basis of checking whether the market for widgets functions at European level.

Thirdly, is it even right, in governmental terms, that national politicians should determine the conduct of EU affairs? I think all of Europe’s populations are grown up enough to understand – broadly – that different problems are solved at different levels, and each of those levels needs democratic accountability. I don’t think that the Tweede Kamer should be uniquely composed of local councillors from towns in the Netherlands, yet that’s the logical equivalent of what they propose at the European level.

Now don’t get me wrong: there are a whole bunch of problems with the way the European Parliament works: opaque party system, the EP cannot determine the President of the Commission, dull debates, dull election campaigns etc. but the Dutch obsession with national parliaments as a way to solve these problems is not the way forward.

10 Comments

  1. MattGB

    “But this would, of course, be “federalism” and thus would be Wrong. I do wish our national dialogue over the issue could move past stupid terminolical issues.”

    It could do, if those that are in favour of the EU were prepared to argue the case for it, It’s the EUrophiles who don’t want to discuss federalism. Nationalists like me are quite happy to debate why we don’t want a federal Europe.

    “Until such time as there’s truly an EU demos…”

    Where will this spring from? Is this to rise, like a phoenix, from the ashes of national democracy and sovereignty?

    With regard to the European Parliament – what a joke that is! Who would notice if it was closed down forever? Only the free-loading parasites which infest its rank body. Time and again it has been exposed as the absolute opposite of a democratic institution. I’m proud to say that I couldn’t name any MEPs, other than the head of UKIP and Danny Cohn Bendet if he’s still around.

  2. Giacomo D.

    I forgot:
    in the alternative model the Commission should be elected by the EP alone without need of Council approval, the Supreme Court should guard EU laws to be in accordance to the treaties and National Parliaments should have the right to bring to the Supreme Court attention any violation of the treaties by the EU institutions.

  3. Giacomo D.

    As I said in a comment on a previous post recently I started thinking if it could be better to work on the Council in order to achieve more common response to problems at a govern level. Well I try to explain it better.

    The federal model I suppose we all have in mind is: EP -> federal parliament, Commission -> federal government, Council -> federal senate
    where the arrow means “to become a real”.

    I think most of us base their thinking on this idea, I always thought this too.

    However recently I started thinking if, because of historical reasons, this could be a path which cannot be walked. So I started to think to an alternative path which maybe can allow us to use politicians personal ambitions as a lever to go in the direction we want.

    So the path model become:
    EP -> federal parliament,
    President of the Council -> directly elected federal president and head of federal government
    Council -> federal government
    Commission -> guardian of the EU laws and of their enforcement by national governments

    In the middle term, even before the direct election, the structure of the Council will change in this way: its president will be able to appoint a secretary of the Council for each area, I mean a secretary of the council for the ministers of economy meetings, one for environment and so on.

    The president of the Council and the various secretaries appointed by him will produce the first pieces of draft legislation. Then the Council will vote on them, without power of veto by single countries.

    If the legislation is approved then it is passed to the European Parliament which can block it and push back to the Council or amend it and make it law without the need of Council approval of amendments.

    In this way legislation will be produced by the president of the council and his team, voted by national governments ministers and then passed to the EP, there will be no need of national parliaments ratification of those laws.

    The Commission will be deeply weakened and it will just have two powers:
    that of blocking any piece of legislation produced at a national level and which violate laws/treaties approved by EU (Council + Parliament)__if countries will not stop enforcing or applying those national laws they will be fined;
    that of fining national governments which do not make EU laws effective.

    Well… this is just speculative thinking probably these changes are still much more difficult to obtain…

  4. Aye–Ralf, we already have a directly elected Parliament, replacing the Council of Ministers with an indirectly elected Senate would be hard enough to acheive politically.

    Until such time as there’s truly an EU demos, having the EU be truly federal with everything elected at an EU level is pretty much unachevable. That’s not to say we can’t have it as a mid term objective, but the US took what, 150 years? Why not set it as a target for 20-50 years instead?

  5. I’m not so sure. The member state governments already bash/scapegoat the EU enough; if they didn’t have a place in the institutions, the case that it’s “Brussel’s” fault would be more potent when its made. There might be an even greater temptation for the member states to ignore directives and wash their hands of any policy coming from Brussels. On the other hand, electing national representatives might force the political parties to campaign and debate European issues.

    At the moment I’m still leaning towards a reformed-Bundesrat model, if only because the record of political parties in debating European issues doesn’t fill me with confidence.

    It would be a very interesting debate.

  6. In the USA it took fairly long before Senators became directly elected by the people. For once, couldn’t Europe advance representative democracy a little bit quicker?

    It would be interesting to discuss the need for a second chamber.

    Even a directly elected Senate could still give the small states a greater representation than strict democratic rules would allow.

    The differences in size between the member states are so great that in my view even the Senate, if there is one, would have to have different numbers. Let us say that the greatest third would elect six senators each, the countries in the second third in size four each and the rest two each.

    This could compensate for the new distribution of seats in the First Chamber. We would have to move much closer to one person, one vote. Let us say roughly one MEP per each beginning million of citizens, but perhaps the smallest states would have to get two to make some kind of proportional representation possible (government / opposition).

    But a system with two Chambers complicates decision-making a lot. Is it really worth it?

  7. That would be an improvement on the actual Bundesrat, MatGB, since the excutive of the Laender appoints their representatives.

  8. Eurocentric’s proposal has always struck me as a good approach–give each state seats in the ‘senate’ based on the number of QMV votes it gets, and have the reps elected from within the primary chamber of the national parliament.

    You’d only need Council meetins for non-QMV issues, and senate reps would be accountable to the national parliaments ina much more open way.

    But this would, of course, be “federalism” and thus would be Wrong. I do wish our national dialogue over the issue could move past stupid terminolical issues.

  9. Personally I would back the German model (or something based on the German model) of having a stronger EP and a Council broadly along the lines of the Bundesrat.
    Mainly because I think that since most of the power of the EU resides in the states, the states should remain deeply involved in the process.

  10. Jon,

    You are right about most of the things you say.

    The House of Lords reports on (usually broad areas) of EU policies are often quality stuff, respected around Europe.

    The illustration with local councillors is apt. You could have added veto powers in key questions (if compared with the second chamber of the legislative branch, the Council).

    The principle of deciding and being accountable at the right level is crucial.

    The real solution is to establish a union of EU citizens, who elect our parliament (both chambers) and a politically accountable government.

    This model does not need a President for the European Council, but a Speaker of the Senate.

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