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Give national parliaments a greater role in the EU - Lords Committee

The House of Lords EU Committee has today called for a greater role for national parliaments in EU decision making including the introduction of a ‘Green Card' procedure to enable a group of national parliaments to work together to propose new EU legislation or amend existing European law.

The report also says that national parliaments, working together, should have the right to require proposed EU legislation to be withdrawn or substantially amended.

Greater cooperation between national parliaments and early engagement by national parliaments with the European Commission form key themes in the Committee's report. As well as cooperation through a Green Card procedure, the Committee say that national parliaments should work together to engage with the Commission early in the development of legislative proposals, and that the Commission should respond positively and promptly to that engagement.

The Committee also call for a strengthening of the existing ‘Yellow Card' process which enables national parliaments to ask the European Commission to think again if one third of Member State parliaments produce a reasoned opinion against a proposal.  The Committee say that when a Yellow Card is issued the Commission should be required to withdraw or substantially amend its proposal. In 2013 a Yellow Card shown to a Commission proposal for a European Public Prosecutors Office (EPPO) was rejected by the Commission, and the proposal is now going forward to the European Council and European Parliament. 

The report says that the Yellow Card process should also be strengthened by expanding its scope to include proportionality concerns as well as subsidiarity – this would enable national parliaments to oppose a measure if it went beyond what was necessary to achieve EU treaty objectives. The deadline for national parliaments to raise these concerns should also be increased from 8 to 12 or 16 weeks.

The Committee makes it clear that the effective involvement of national parliaments is fundamental to ensuring accountability and legitimacy for the EU. They conclude that these improvements can be made through agreements involving national parliaments, national governments and the EU institutions, without the need for Treaty change.

Commenting Lord Boswell, Chairman of the House of Lords EU Committee, said:

“National parliaments have a vital role to play in ensuring EU institutions are accountable to the public they serve. We believe that role can be developed without treaty change and the first step is for national parliaments to get better at working together and engaging actively with the European Commission early in the legislative process. 

“The reasoned opinion process introduced in the Lisbon Treaty gave national parliaments an important tool in holding the EU to account, but it is vital the Commission takes that seriously and engages more fully in response to concerns raised. When enough national parliaments feel strongly enough on an issue to play a Yellow Card the Commission must feel compelled to scrap or significantly amend their plans. The decision by the Commission to ignore the Yellow Card on the EPPO is a worrying development.

“We also think national parliaments should have a more active role in proposing new EU legislation or amendments to existing laws. We propose a Green Card procedure so that a group of national parliaments could get together to propose a change. The Commission should undertake to respond ideally by bringing forward appropriate legislative or other changes.”

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • Given that the response to the European financial crisis is likely to involve closer eurozone integration and control of domestic economic policy of eurozone member states by central EU institutions it is vital national parliaments are given greater control of those developments to avoid ever greater democratic deficit.
  • European institutions should begin to tackle this immediately by giving national parliaments a greater role in scrutinising proposals for ‘Genuine Economic and Monetary Union' (GEMU).
  • Effective scrutiny of the EU by national parliaments is vital to ensuring there is legitimacy and accountability for actions of the EU. Each national parliament will have their own way of working but it is important that even in the current challenging economic conditions that the Committees undertaking that scrutiny are adequately resourced.
  • National parliaments should work more closely with the European Parliament including closer working between national parliamentary committees and European Parliament committees where appropriate.
  • COSAC, the body which brings together EU committees of national parliaments, can play a valuable role in sharing expertise. It would benefit from clearly focused agendas and discussions at its meetings.

Lord Boswell has recorded a YouTube video discussing the Committee's recommendations. The video can be viewed here

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