Colin's Journal: A place for thoughts about politics, software, and daily life.
What is the European Parliament good for? Why does it exist, when we are already represented by nationally elected representatives? These are good questions that are due some consideration. One of the strongest arguments in favour of adopting the new European Constitution is that it will increase the powers of Parliament. Only if we are sure of Parliament’s purpose does such an argument carry any weight.
In a traditional transnational organisation, such as the UN, all decisions are made by government representatives among themselves. Decision-making in the EU could be done along similar lines, with decisions requiring either a unanimous or qualified majority.
EU legislation typically starts life by the member states asking the Commission to create a directive proposal. For those policy areas subject to “co-decision” the Council of Ministers (i.e. the national governments) and the European Parliament both have to agree to the legislation. The new Constitution will expand Parliament’s role to cover almost all policy areas, making co-decision the norm. It is in the co-decision process that I see the value of the European Parliament.
The European Parliament is exclusively focused on scrutinising European legislation. A constituent, contacting their MEP regarding proposed European legislation, is likely to find them already familiar with it. The European Parliament is a forum in which a knowledgeable debate of proposed legislation can take place. Most importantly, MEPs have the power to suggest amendments to legislation, giving them opportunity to directly address people’s concerns.
In contrast, a nationally elected representative has no opportunity to amend EU legislation. They can lobby their government to make changes in the Council of Ministers, but can be easily ignored by those in power. Naturally, national representatives are focused on the legislation passing through their own parliament, and so are unlikely to have any deep knowledge of legislation being proposed at the EU level.
In short, the only way nationally elected representatives could give proper scrutiny of European legislation would be for it to pass through each and every Member State’s parliamentary process. This is clearly unworkable as any amendment made by one parliament would have to be re-considered by all others.
To answer my own questions: The European Parliament is critical for the scrutiny and amendment of European legislation. Our national representatives are unable to fulfil this role because they are unable to amend European legislation and giving them such powers is unworkable.
Email: colin at owlfish.com