Meddling with Brussels

20 January 2014

Meddling with Brussels

Since the Lisbon Treaty national parliaments have enjoyed the possibility of opening a dialogue with the European Commission. What seems at least as important is the introduction of a scheme to force the European Commission to reconsider, at an early stage, proposals it has presented. Since Lisbon roughly a third of the national elected representative bodies have reacted to a Commission proposal by saying it would be better not to do it. Known as a ‘yellow card’, this obliges the Commissioner to reconsider its proposal. If more than half of the twenty-eight national parliaments in the European Union brandish the card, it turns into an ‘orange card’, in which case the Commission, should it continue to pursue the proposal, will have the whistle blown on them by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.

Arjan Vliegenthart

Arjan VliegenthartTo date there has been no festival of card-waving. Most parliaments aren’t, at least as yet, capable of the sort of preparatory procedure needed if one is to weigh up whether a national protest card is advisable. Most parliaments aren’t, at least as yet, capable of coordinating amongst themselves in order to ensure the amount of support needed to mobilise in a timely fashion. So the harvest has so far been poor: in the autumn of 2012 the European Commission decided to withdraw its proposal regarding the right to strike in the member states following the registering of broad protests from national parliaments.

Recently fourteen national parliaments gave the yellow card to the controversial proposal from the Commission to establish a European Public Prosecutor’s Office. In reaction to this, however, each parliament received a letter from the Commission announcing that the objections had been noted but that the plan would nevertheless go ahead. Because the number of cards was too small to count as orange, this brought the role of the national parliaments to a close.

The inadequate influence of national parliaments on the European decision-making process is partly their own fault. Although the power of the European Union has grown explosively in recent decades, we in the Dutch national parliament are not inclined to adjust our own working methods in order to play this role more effectively. We are too busy with all sorts of other things and as a result the critical study of proposals from Brussels is as things stand neglected, despite all of the well-intentioned efforts.

The problem is nevertheless to an even greater extent the fault of the Commission, which seems to view national interference as more of a hindrance than as something helpful. So the Senate has been waiting since 25th June , despite the agreed three month time limit for response, for an answer to questions we put regarding the Commission’s plans to introduce so-called EU citizenship. In terms of content also the Commission does not seem terribly interested in a real dialogue, as witnessed by their often uninformative answers consisting primarily of what are, even if not word-for-word, the serving up of positions which they have already stated earlier.

Of course, a good referee doesn’t strew cards around like confetti. But a ref who noted that showing a yellow card has no influence on the course of the game would also conclude that what was needed was a red card. A national right of veto, essential in cases where the European Commission seeks to interfere, could provide that.

This column first appeared in the original Dutch in the official state newspaper the Staatscourant. Arjan Vliegenthart is a Senator for the SP.

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