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Europe no image

Published on May 9th, 2012 | by Katharina Obermeier
Image © [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="567" caption="© European Parliament"][/caption]   “For much of its life, the European Parliament could have been justly labelled a ‘multi-lingual talking shop’. But this is no longer the case: the EP is now one of the most powerful legislatures in the world both in terms of its legislative and executive oversight powers.” The above quote by Professor Farrell from the University of Manchester elegantly illustrates the extraordinary evolution and inherent contradictions of the supranational body known as the European Parliament. It creates a direct link at European level between the citizens and policy-making, frequently acts as the European Commission’s toughest critic. It  is home to a startling range of political ideologies, from deeply eurosceptic nationalists to communists from across Europe. Above all, it provides democratic legitimacy to the EU as a whole, and is supposed to represent and safeguard the interests of the European citizenry vis-à-vis the Commission and Council. So why, in discussions about the management of the eurozone crisis, is the EU so widely perceived as an undemocratic bureaucracy imposing the will of the Commission and a select few European leaders on citizens? In matters related to the soverign debt crisis, is the European Parliament doing its job? Or is it even allowed to do its job? Of course, the European Parliament has approved a number of important pieces of legislation over the last year that have formed the framework for the EU’s response to the crisis. After all, in most areas of EU policy-making, the so-called “co-decision procedure” applies, making the adoption of legislation dependent on approval by both the Parliament and the Council. In March 2011, members of the European Parliament approved a treaty change to allow for the establishment of the European Stability Mechanism, which represents one of the principal guarantees by the EU for national government debts. In September of the same year, they came to an agreement with the Council on the so-called “Six Pack” of economic governance legislation, which includes provisions for stricter enforcement of budget rules viewed as crucial for the prevention of future crises. On the other hand, the Parliament had no input whatsoever on the fiscal compact signed by 25 EU member states (and already ratified by Greece, Portugal and Slovenia), simply because it constitutes an intergovernmental agreement rather than a normal EU law. Similarly, it is excluded from the Commission business of the Task Force for Greece and the setting of the conditions of the EU/IMF bail-out. While there are frequent exchanges of information between the Commission and Parliament and debates within various EP committees on the subject of the eurozone crisis, the predominance of the Commission and member state governments in the most vital decision-making so far raises the question of whether the Parliament has indeed managed to move beyond its “multi-lingual talking shop” role. A key element of this limited influence is the fact that the European Parliament does not have the right of legislative initiative, which is the exclusive domain of the Commission. This means that while the Parliament frequently develops, votes on and adopts resolutions on a variety of topics, they are not legally binding and none of the other EU institutions are required to consider them. Given these circumstances, it is easier for the Commission to develop the “big-picture” policies and submit them for Parliament approval, or for national governments of EU member states to bypass the normal EU decision-making procedure and come to an agreement among themselves. Neither of these options allows the Parliament to ensure the interests of the European citizenry are taken into consideration, and they are left instead to criticise the approaches developed by these other institutions rather than formulate constructive policies themselves. As far as the eurozone crisis is concerned, the Parliament is fulfilling some of the tasks of a “powerful legislature”, but it is too often relegated to the status of talking shop in relation to the Commission and national governments.

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Lacking the Initiative: The European Parliament’s Role in the Eurozone Crisis

© European Parliament

 

“For much of its life, the European Parliament could have been justly labelled a ‘multi-lingual talking shop’. But this is no longer the case: the EP is now one of the most powerful legislatures in the world both in terms of its legislative and executive oversight powers.”

The above quote by Professor Farrell from the University of Manchester elegantly illustrates the extraordinary evolution and inherent contradictions of the supranational body known as the European Parliament. It creates a direct link at European level between the citizens and policy-making, frequently acts as the European Commission’s toughest critic. It  is home to a startling range of political ideologies, from deeply eurosceptic nationalists to communists from across Europe. Above all, it provides democratic legitimacy to the EU as a whole, and is supposed to represent and safeguard the interests of the European citizenry vis-à-vis the Commission and Council.

So why, in discussions about the management of the eurozone crisis, is the EU so widely perceived as an undemocratic bureaucracy imposing the will of the Commission and a select few European leaders on citizens? In matters related to the soverign debt crisis, is the European Parliament doing its job? Or is it even allowed to do its job?

Of course, the European Parliament has approved a number of important pieces of legislation over the last year that have formed the framework for the EU’s response to the crisis. After all, in most areas of EU policy-making, the so-called “co-decision procedure” applies, making the adoption of legislation dependent on approval by both the Parliament and the Council. In March 2011, members of the European Parliament approved a treaty change to allow for the establishment of the European Stability Mechanism, which represents one of the principal guarantees by the EU for national government debts. In September of the same year, they came to an agreement with the Council on the so-called “Six Pack” of economic governance legislation, which includes provisions for stricter enforcement of budget rules viewed as crucial for the prevention of future crises.

On the other hand, the Parliament had no input whatsoever on the fiscal compact signed by 25 EU member states (and already ratified by Greece, Portugal and Slovenia), simply because it constitutes an intergovernmental agreement rather than a normal EU law. Similarly, it is excluded from the Commission business of the Task Force for Greece and the setting of the conditions of the EU/IMF bail-out. While there are frequent exchanges of information between the Commission and Parliament and debates within various EP committees on the subject of the eurozone crisis, the predominance of the Commission and member state governments in the most vital decision-making so far raises the question of whether the Parliament has indeed managed to move beyond its “multi-lingual talking shop” role.

A key element of this limited influence is the fact that the European Parliament does not have the right of legislative initiative, which is the exclusive domain of the Commission. This means that while the Parliament frequently develops, votes on and adopts resolutions on a variety of topics, they are not legally binding and none of the other EU institutions are required to consider them. Given these circumstances, it is easier for the Commission to develop the “big-picture” policies and submit them for Parliament approval, or for national governments of EU member states to bypass the normal EU decision-making procedure and come to an agreement among themselves. Neither of these options allows the Parliament to ensure the interests of the European citizenry are taken into consideration, and they are left instead to criticise the approaches developed by these other institutions rather than formulate constructive policies themselves. As far as the eurozone crisis is concerned, the Parliament is fulfilling some of the tasks of a “powerful legislature”, but it is too often relegated to the status of talking shop in relation to the Commission and national governments.

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About the Author

Katharina Obermeier

Katharina considers herself a German-Canadian hybrid. She grew up in Germany and completed her BA in International Relations at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Politics, especially in relation to concepts of nationality, have always fascinated her, and she is particularly interested in international political economy. During her studies, she was an avid participant at Model United Nations conferences, and helped welcome international exchange students to her university. She is currently completing an internship at a Brussels-based trade association and hopes to work in European affairs in the future. In her political writing, Katharina marries social democratic principles with a keen interest in the European Union and its implications for European politics and identity. She writes to counteract simplistic ideas about politics and economics, continuously attempting to expose the nuances and complexities involved in these subjects.



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