The European Scrutiny Committee has agreed
to the following Report:
DEMOCRACY AND ACCOUNTABILITY IN THE EU
AND THE ROLE OF NATIONAL PARLIAMENTS
1. It has become generally accepted that the EU has
problems in respect of democracy and accountability, and that
there is 'disconnection' between citizens and EU institutions.
Symptoms include the result of the Irish referendum on the Nice
Treaty, protests during recent European Council meetings and the
low turnout at the last European Parliament elections. We welcome
the recognition in the European Council's Laeken Declaration that
EU citizens 'feel that deals are all too often cut out of their
sight and they want better democratic scrutiny.'
The Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC) in Nice in December 2000
acknowledged 'the need to improve and to monitor the democratic
legitimacy and transparency of the Union and its institutions,
in order to bring them closer to the citizens of the Member States.'
A report of January 2002 by the Constitutional Affairs Committee
of the European Parliament (EP) traces the causes of disaffection
from the EU not just to shortcomings in what the EU does but also
to 'a sense of alienation, the serious difficulties encountered
in understanding and participating, a fear of helplessness in
the face of imposed decisions which cannot be influenced or controlled.'
2. The problem of 'disengagement' is the central
problem which our Report seeks to address and not just the backdrop
against which we aim to set out various improvements to EU decision-making.
We stress that the problems we have identified in relation to
the EU are symptomatic of a wider disengagement from politics
or at least traditional forms of politics (e.g. voting in elections)
both at the national and local level. This problem of 'disengagement'
is particularly acute in relation to the EU. Part of the explanation
is to be found in terms of the remoteness of EU institutions from
the citizen, as Jean-Luc Dehaene, a Vice-President of the Convention
on the Future of Europe, stressed in his evidence to us.
Public awareness of democratic scrutiny of EU decision-making
is very low. Therefore increasing democratic scrutiny, while important
and worthwhile in itself, will have little direct or immediate
impact on citizens' views about the EU. The key task should be
to make both EU decision-making and the scrutiny of EU decision-making
more relevant to the citizen. Reform must result in greater opportunities
to exercise democratic control of EU decision-making and a greater
awareness of those opportunities.
3. The Prime Minister, among others, has indicated
that one of the remedies is a greater role for the national parliaments
of EU Member States,
and 'the role of national parliaments in the European architecture'
was listed in a Declaration attached to the Nice Treaty as one
of four subjects to be considered at the next IGC.
National parliaments and national parliamentarians can play a
key role in bridging the gap between remote EU institutions and
the citizens of EU Member States and in making EU decision-making
more relevant and EU decision-makers more accountable. This is
because national parliaments generally have a much closer relationship
with citizens than any EU institution, including the EP, since
they reflect the culture and history of their country, they have
fewer electors per Member, Members can spend more of their time
in their constituencies, and they deal with the majority of the
subjects which interest people. The report by the EP's Constitutional
Affairs Committee on relations with national parliaments, while
insisting that the EP and national parliaments 'are equally representative
of the peoples in the European Union', states that 'the solidity
of national democratic frameworks and their closeness to the citizens
are an essential asset which can in no way be ignored in pursuing
the "parliamentarisation" of the Union'.
4. Therefore we considered it important for us to
conduct an inquiry, concentrating on the role of national parliaments
in the EU but also examining the allocation of powers between
the EU and its Member States (another of the four subjects listed
at Nice) and the role of regional and other sub-Member State authorities
in the EU. Part of the subject matter relates directly to our
role as a scrutiny committee, and some has previously been examined
in Reports by our predecessor Committees.
The terms of reference we adopted were to examine ways in which
the EU could be made more democratic and accountable and citizens
could feel more in touch with and able to influence political
developments in the EU. We regard giving citizens the opportunity
to influence decision-making as the critical requirement if disconnection
from the EU is to be reduced.
5. We took oral evidence in Westminster, Brussels
and Edinburgh, and also received written evidence.
We are grateful to all those who provided evidence. We would like
to thank UKREP for
its assistance in Brussels and the Scottish Parliament for its
assistance in Edinburgh. We were able to make use of the Report
by the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union on
A second parliamentary chamber for Europe: an unreal solution
to some real problems,
and that of the Scottish Parliament's European Committee on The
governance of the European Union and the future of Europe: what
role for Scotland?
6. Where we refer in this Report to the Government,
the Prime Minister and individual Ministers, we mean the UK's
Government, Prime Minister and Ministers.
7. We have made a separate Report on European
scrutiny in the Commons, to cover matters which relate solely
to the way in which the Commons deals with EU business.
As we observe there, the potential for national parliaments to
assist in remedying the disconnection between citizens and EU
institutions can be realised only if national parliaments, including
our own, deal with EU matters in a way which 'connects' with citizens.
How the 15 national parliaments use existing opportunities and
any new ones to reconnect citizens and EU decision-making is crucial
to the impact of our proposals below for giving new roles to national
8. We have necessarily concentrated on institutional
and organisational aspects of the EU. Some argue that what citizens
want from the EU are policies and actions which benefit them in
their daily lives; for example, Jean-Luc Dehaene argued that the
concerns of many citizens were more about 'a deficit of delivery
of Europe' than a democratic deficit, 'and so we have to organise
things so that they deliver ... the results that people expect.'
In fact the EU is already active, and sometimes achieving results,
in areas of great concern to citizens, such as measures to reduce
global warming and other environmental damage, international trade,
and immigration and asylum policies. However, citizens are becoming
ever less willing to accept solutions imposed on them by means
they do not feel able to influence. As Commissioner Barnier put
it, 'the key point here is that we have to work with citizens
and not just for citizens and on their behalf.'
Thus both what the EU does and how it does it (and
greater clarity in both of these) are relevant to reducing disconnection.
Institutional and organisational aspects of the EU in the abstract
may be of no interest to most EU citizens, but how the EU works
nevertheless affects citizens' perceptions of it.
9. Much has changed since we began our inquiry. In
particular, at the Laeken European Council in December 2001 a
Convention on the Future of Europe was established, with members
from national governments, the European Commission, the European
Parliament and national parliaments, together with government
and parliamentary representatives from the candidate countries.
It includes two House of Commons representatives. Its purpose
is to consider the matters set out in the Laeken Declaration,
including 'more democracy, transparency and efficiency in the
European Union', the allocation of competences in the EU and the
possibility of a constitution for the EU, and to put forward proposals;
final decisions will be made by the IGC in 2004. The UK Permanent
Representative to the EU (Sir Nigel Sheinwald) commented that
'the Convention is a real innovation. I do not think that life
will be quite the same again.'
10. Another important part of the background to our
inquiry is the prospect of enlargement of the EU from 15 Member
States currently to perhaps 25 in 2004 and more subsequently.
This will inevitably change the ways in which the EU operates,
which were originally designed for six countries.
11. Another underlying issue is what one witness
referred to as the 'trade-off between transparency (providing
democratic accountability) and private deliberation (maximising
The Commission touches on the same issue in observing (somewhat
prematurely) that 'It is time to recognise that the Union has
moved from a diplomatic to a democratic process.'
The EU does indeed need to make that transition.
Reasons for disconnection
12. Many reasons have been suggested for the disconnection
between citizens and EU institutions, some of which have been
touched on already. The Commission's list includes a perceived
inability of the EU to act effectively where a clear case exists,
the EU not obtaining the credit when it does act effectively,
Member States blaming 'Brussels' for decisions they have agreed
to themselves, and lack of understanding about the EU institutions;
the EU 'is often seen as remote and at the same time too intrusive'.
The Minister for Europe (Peter Hain) listed a general trend towards
non-participation, euro-jargon, lack of involvement of national
parliaments, over-emphasis on institutional changes at the expense
of delivering practical benefits, confusion over who does what,
lack of consultation, and worries about excessive EU interference.
Other reasons offered have included the opaqueness and complexity
of EU law-making, a perception that the EU is undermining democracy
and national sovereignty, lack of emotional commitment to the
EU and (at least in the UK) lack of media coverage and the nature
of such coverage as there is.
13. Two witnesses pointed out that not all the reasons
for disconnection were peculiar to the EU, and in particular that
many countries have experienced a decline in election turnout
similar to that of the EP in terms of percentage points.
However, the EP's percentage started at a lower level and has
remained well below that of most national parliaments in the EU.
Moreover, as Lord Norton indicated, reasons why disconnection
is likely to remain more serious in the EU's case than in the
case of Member States include geographical size, the fact that
votes at EP elections do not determine the composition of the
EU's executive, and the lack of visible symbols of the EU (such
as the Palace of Westminster and 10 Downing Street in the UK's
case). To these might
be added the number of languages, the lack of clearly identifiable
leaders, differing political cultures and the complexity of EU
decision-making. Unless tackled, the problems are likely to worsen
as the EU enlarges (reducing the influence each country can exert),
as EU laws affect new areas and as citizens become even less willing
to accept policies handed down from above.
Democracy and national parliaments
in the EU
14. The two main sources of democratic legitimacy
in the EU (the 'double democratic mandate')
are elected national governments, represented in the Council of
Ministers, and the directly-elected European Parliament. However,
in both cases there are problems with that democratic legitimacy.
National governments, through national parliaments, are indeed
the EU's most important element of democratic legitimacy, but
whereas at home their legislative proposals require the assent
of their national parliaments, in the EU they act as a legislative
chamber on their own, without most of the procedural safeguards
of a parliamentary chamber and, though needing EP agreement in
some areas, making laws on their own in other areas. This is compounded
by the secrecy of Council proceedings.
While the Council collectively is not accountable to any other
body, Council members are individually accountable to their national
parliaments. However, individual Council members acting collectively
and doing so largely in secret cannot effectively be held to account
by another organisation.
15. The EP in some respects has more power than most
national parliaments, but turnout at EP elections is low (just
under 50% at the 1999 election), and there is little knowledge
of its activities among the electorate, which tends to be motivated
in EP elections by national issues rather than EU ones.
This means that parties and individual MEPs are not held to account
for their actions at EU level. It also reduces the EP's ability
to connect citizens and EU decision-making.
16. National parliaments have no formal role in EU
law-making at all (though they do of course have to implement
much EU legislation). There is general agreement that the primary
role of national parliaments is to scrutinise the activities of
their national governments in the EU and hold them to account.
It would obviously be inappropriate for any EU institution to
try to determine how they do so, but the way in which the EU reaches
decisions is nevertheless a major factor reducing the ability
of national parliaments to hold governments to account, as we
show in the two following sections of this Report. Later in the
Report we discuss ways in which national parliaments might be
given some formal role in EU decision-making.
17. We make here three observations about national
parliaments which underlie the following parts of our Report:
- The relationship between national parliaments
and their governments as regards EU matters is not a purely domestic
arrangement for each Member State to sort out in its own way,
but is partly determined by the way in which the EU conducts business
a crucial aspect of the role of national parliaments which
is ignored in the Laeken Declaration;
- The fundamental requirements for scrutiny
by national parliaments of EU legislation are adequate information
and sufficient time before decisions are made, and these requirements
are the same as those of any regional or other authority or any
citizen seeking to influence EU legislation;
- Since the central problem which our Report
seeks to address is the problem of disengagement by the citizen
from the EU, national parliaments have a key role to play in strengthening
EU legitimacy. This can be done effectively only if they acquire
real influence in EU decision-making and are seen to exercise
1 Laeken Declaration on the Future of the European
Union, December 2001. Back
Treaty of Nice, Declaration 23. Back
Report on relations between the European Parliament and the
national parliaments in European integration ('Napolitano
report'), January 2002, A5-0023/2002, explanatory statement, para.
Q. 267. Back
Speech in Warsaw, 6 October 2000; para. 122 below. Back
Treaty of Nice, Declaration 23. Back
EP, A5-0023/2002, Napolitano report, explanatory statement, para.
Twenty-fourth Report from the Select Committee on European Legislation,
1994-95, The 1996 Inter-governmental Conference, HC 239;
Twenty-eighth Report from the same, 1995-96, The role of national
parliaments in the European Union, HC 51-xxviii; Thirteenth
Report from the same, 1996-97, The draft Protocol on the role
of national parliaments, HC 36-xiii. Back
Published as volume II of this Report. Back
The Permanent Representation of the UK to the EU - see glossary. Back
7th Report, 2001-02, HL Paper 48. Back
9th Report, 2001, SP Paper 466. Back
ESC, 2001-02, HC 152-xxx, European scrutiny in the Commons. Back
Q. 267. See also Ev 111, para. 1(iv). Back
Q. 95. Back
Q. 123. Back
Ev 16 (Lord Norton). Back
European governance: a White Paper, July 2001, p. 30. Back
Ibid., pp. 3,7. Back
Ev 111. Back
Ev 35, 167, 170, 183. Back
Ev 93, 98. Back
Ev 1; figures in The Statesman's Yearbook, 2001. Back
Ev 15. Back
European Commission, European governance: a White Paper,
p. 7. Back
See para. 20 below. Back
Ev 1, 3, 15, 192. Back
Paras. 117-48 below. Back
Paras. 20, 34, 41, 49 below. Back