Editorial TEPSA Newsletter November 2014: “European Parliament and National Parliaments: partners or competitors?”, by Prof. Jaap de Zwaan, TEPSA Secretary General

images52J3E3P3It is clear that the primary responsibility with respect to the representation of citizens’ interests in the EU decision making process lies with the European Parliament. Indeed, the EP is directly elected, acts as co-legislator in the legislative process of the EU and possesses full-fledged budgetary powers. On the contrary, national parliaments are first and for all responsible to control the activities of their national ministers in the Council.

During recent years, however, the role of national parliaments in EU policy making has been strengthened. Notably the Lisbon Treaty has given a strong impetus in this respect. In Article 12 TEU, the different contributions of national parliaments to EU policy making are listed. Furthermore the First Protocol annexed to the Lisbon Treaty deals with information to be provided to national parliaments regarding recent policy developments, as well as with COSAC, the forum for interparliamentary cooperation within the Union. The Second Protocol describes the role of national parliaments in the process of application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality (the so-called ‘yellow’ and ‘red’ card procedure).

In this way the EP and national parliaments have their own, but strictly separate, responsibilities with regard to the further development of the integration process.

Now, both parliamentary branches would be wise to realize that, as directly elected instances, they both do represent the interests of the same citizens. These are common interests which they have to serve, each from their own perspective. In this process both levels, the national and the European one, should try to develop a, as much as possible, coherent approach.

The legitimacy of the EU decision making process for example would be well served if both parliamentary branches start to cooperate in a more structural and intensive way compared to what is happening today. So national parliaments could invite committees of the EP to come over to their member states in order to discuss -in the national parliament concerned- day to day business in the policy field in question. National parliaments also could organize periodically public hearings or debates in their member states about topical issues for which they invite, apart from relevant stakeholders and the media, individual members of the EP. Similar initiatives could be taken with regard to political groups of the EP respectively individual members of those groups.

Similar initiatives of course can be taken by the European Parliament with regard to their national counterparts. However, in view of the fact that the EP is the natural and fully competent participant in the EU decision making process, initiatives should originate in the first instance from national parliaments.

Equally national parliaments should position themselves -in contacts with their constituencies and electorate- much more than happens today as part of an international layer of government, in this case, the European Union. Because, indeed, national parliaments are on a daily basis engaged with legislation and other policy issues having a European background. What is urgently needed here is more ‘outreach’ to the ordinary citizen.

One of the major -and structural- problems the European Union is confronted with these days, concerns the ‘distance’ between the citizen and the European Union as well as the transparency and legitimacy of the EU decision making process. By cooperating more closely, the European Parliament and national parliaments should be able to bridge that gap, at least partially.

Photo source: presstv.ir