'Strengthening the role of national parliaments
in the European Union'
In liberal societies, such as those that make up
the member states of the European Union, the legitimacy of decision-making
is based on the principle of consent. That is why one of the most
urgent democratic challenges facing the European Union today,
is the need to make the governance of the EU more open, more accessible
and more transparently related to the interests and concerns of
European citizens. This paper argues that national parliaments
are well placed to bridge the gap between EU decision-making and
the citizens of Europe, and so to overcome the EU's 'democratic
deficit'. That deficit has eroded and continues to erode the trust
of the people of Europe in the future of the European project.
In addition to their function as legislative assemblies,
national parliaments are the physical embodiment of the link between
the government and the governed. Most EU citizens rightly look
to their national members of parliament in the first instance
to hold individual ministers and their government to account.
As more and more legislation is introduced at the European rather
than the national level, i.e. as the legislative function of national
parliaments declines, so their scrutiny role should increase.
The EU's law-making institutions are simply too remote for the
ordinary citizen of the EU to be able to access directly. National
parliaments can provide that vital intermediate link. But if this
is to succeed, the role of national parliaments must be strengthened
This paper sets out three sets of proposals, strategic,
practical and legal, to enhance the role of national parliaments
in EU decision-making. The issues raised could be addressed at
the current Convention on the Future of Europe and the changes
to existing EU Treaties necessary to implement the proposals brought
forward through the subsequent inter-governmental conference.
1. Charter for National Parliaments
The Charter would offer a set of broad principles
and objectives to guide national parliaments in relation to their
role in the European Union and to which national parliaments would
subscribe. As such, it would represent a strategic framework within
which the role of national parliaments could be developed and
The implementation of specific measures or procedures
to meet these common objectives would be a matter for individual
parliaments (although a process of peer review could be undertaken
via COSAC). In practice, this would be the only realistic option,
given that parliaments, as sovereign bodies, will want to decide
how best to exercise their own scrutiny role according to their
own traditions and norms.
Objectives and principles to be anchored in the charter
a pledge by national parliaments
to promote the openness and transparency of decision-making in
the European Union;
a pledge by national parliaments to review
their own procedures with a view to increasing the opportunities
for holding their own government ministers to account in relation
to EU decision-making;
a pledge by national parliaments to review
their own procedures with a view to promoting the engagement of
the citizen in the European Union.
The Charter could be worked up and drafted by the
Working Group on National Parliaments at the Convention (Chaired
by Gisela Stuart MP) and presented to national parliamentary representatives
at the Convention. There could then be a process of consultation
with MPs from national parliaments, interest groups and civil
society groups. After further discussion in the Working Group,
a working text could be agreed at the Convention. The Charter
could also be presented to an inter-parliamentary conference such
as COSAC at the time of the next IGC .
2. Raising the public profile of national parliaments
National parliaments must be more pro-active in seeking
to engage the citizen with Europe and should use their own deep-seated
legitimacy to this purpose. Whilst there is a significant level
of lobbying by interest groups at the European level, there has
been little similar activity in national parliaments. The attention
of the public and interest groups therefore needs to be re-focused
on national parliaments, so that a balance is struck between European
institutions and national parliaments with in relation to influencing
European legislation. This could be achieved in a number of ways,
Media presentation and public perceptions
Decision-making bodies in the European Union, including
governments, European Commission and the Council of Ministers,
must seek to ensure that the media focus more attention on national
parliaments and their role in the European Union. National Parliaments,
in turn, could then improve access to information and provide
a more positive image of Europe to citizens. There could, for
example, be regular briefings by national parliaments on European
legislation, briefings on EU legislation on the web-site, newsletters
and/or briefings to national newspapers. National parliamentarians
should be able to initiate more debates in parliament about issues
of real concern to the citizen. Parliaments should be encouraged
to experiment with new ways of disseminating information relating
to such debates to media interests, business interests and civil
society groups, which would not only help to engage the citizen
by better informing them, but could encourage the national press
to cover European legislation more widely.
Parliamentary conventions on the 'Future
These could be 'mini' conventions, held at regular
intervals, to discuss the issues relating to the 'Future of Europe
Debate'. This would enable national parliaments to take a pro-active
role in reaching out to civil society and to promote openness
and transparency in the European Union. Civil society could include
trade unions, pressure groups and employers' associations, who
could meet and debate the Europe they would like to see, with
responses from Ministers, MPs, MEPs and Commissioners. This would
give practical expression to the principles of openness and transparency,
and provide a source of information on European issues. This idea
has already been put into practice by the French National Assembly
and could be institutionalised as a mechanism for engaging civil
society in the European debate on a regular basis.
3. Incorporating the protocol on national parliaments
into the European Treaties into a new 'Article' in the Treaties
on the role of national parliaments.
The current protocol on national parliaments in the
Amsterdam Treaty could be formalised into the Treaties, under
a new 'Article' or 'Chapter' -National Parliaments in the European
Union. This would help to strike the balance that is needed between
the European institutions and the European nation-states. It would
safeguard the position of national parliaments as equal partners
to the European Parliament and enhance their influence over EU
decision-making of in a way commensurate with the increased authority
and prestige of the Council of Ministers. The new section of the
Treaty would seek to define the role of national parliaments in
the following ways:
National Parliaments and the
Council of Ministers.
There should be at the very least, a parliamentary
privileged access to documents and discussions of COREPER I and
II. This ensures that decisions made by civil servants are open
Ministers should have to provide parliament with
a warning or prediction of the legislation they will discuss at
the Council. National parliamentary committees could then submit
reports before the Council meeting and/or call debate before or
after European Councils.
National Parliaments and the European
National Parliaments could exert a greater role in
the policy formation of the European Commission. This could be
achieved by requiring Commissioners to attend Committee hearings,
thereby holding them to account and by requesting briefings on
National Parliaments could also ensure that they
are better informed of the Commission's annual legislative programme
by requesting a 'Queen's Speech' type briefing from the Commission
on its annual legislative programme (similar to the broad economic
guidelines and the financial framework).
This would enable national parliaments to predict
potential problems in legislation. National parliaments or national
parliamentary committees could then publish a consultation document
on the forthcoming legislative programme, request submissions
from interest groups, civil society, etc and then feed this back
to the Commission. National Parliaments could then request a written
answer to the consultation and any clarifications of particular
points of legislation.
There is an urgent need for national parliaments
to take on a greater role in the European Union. The Convention
on the Future of Europe provides a historic opportunity to assert
the role of national parliaments in new and innovative way. In
doing so, national parliaments can be part, indeed a large part,
of the solution to the European Union's biggest problem, namely
the lack of trust on the part of EU citizens in the EU decision-making
process or the so-called 'democratic deficit'. National parliaments
will need a defined strategy, with target dates, for how they
see their role developing in the future and with specific measures
to be implemented if they are to achieve an enhanced role. It
is important that this does not become another House of Lords
type reform, which has taken over 90 years.
National Parliaments in the European Union could
be recognised as a fourth part of the European decision-making
process, with a clearly defined and interactive part together
with the European Parliament, the European Commission and the
Council of Ministers. The above paper sets out a number of practical
and strategic suggestions for this to happen, which could be addressed
at the Convention itself.
National parliaments have a key role to play in making
sure that the European citizen does not become further disengaged
from the European project. National parliamentarians should themselves
take the lead in developing the role of national parliamentarians
in relation to EU decision-making. They can do so by strengthening
the scrutiny role of parliamentary committees in their own parliaments.
They can do so by ensuring that the reforms put forward by the
Convention make it easier for national parliaments to assert their
influence, in relation to all aspects of EU decision-making. And
they can do so by making sure that as a result of these reforms,
national parliamentarians are seen to be exercising some degree
of democratic control over EU decision-making on behalf of the
citizens of the individual EU member states.
Question put, That the Annex be added to the Report.
The Committee divided (Div. 135).
|Ayes, 2||Noes, 5
|Mr Roger Casale||Mr Michael Connarty
|Mr Jim Dobbin||Mr Wayne David
|Mr Mark Hendrick|
|Mr Angus Robertson|
|Mr Bill Tynan|
Resolved, That the Report, as amended, be the Thirty-third
Report of the Committee to the House.
Ordered, That the Chairman do make the Report to the House.
Ordered, That the provisions of Standing Order No. 134
(Select committees (reports)) be applied to the Report.
Several Papers were ordered to be appended to the Minutes of Evidence.
Ordered, That the Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence
taken before the Committee be reported to the House. (The
[Adjourned till Wednesday 26 June at half-past Ten o'clock.