Thursday, 23 June 2011

The European Parliament under scrutiny

Yesterday I was at the London School of Economics where the European studies department hosted the launch of the 8th Edition of the standard textbook The European Parliament. It has been extensively updated to reflect the growing influence of the EP following the Lisbon Treaty and the enlargement to the East.

Only one of the authors, Michael Shackleton, was present but he was joined in a panel discussion by former MEP and government minister David Curry, Hugo Brady of the Centre for European Reform, and Sara Hagemann a lecturer at the LSE.

The main theme to emerge was that the EP has now grown beyond its institutional battles with the Commission and Council and was therefore able to enter a more ideological phase. During my mandate (1994-1999) I remember countless clashes with the other institutions that just reminded us how powerless the elected part of the European Union governance really  was. However, even with its new powers the EP will struggle for legitimacy and credibility.

There was one interesting development of which I was unaware. The two main European political families will each go to the next European elections with a designated candidate for the Presidency of the European Commission. In the past the selection of the Commission President has been an unseemly carve up. My suspicion is that will remain the case. However the next European elections, due in 2014, may offer more transparency than previously.


One speaker made the point that many arrive at the EP expecting it to be something like their own national parliament, whereas each member state has a radically unique form of governance. However the EP has a special role in scrutinising EU legislation, something that national parliaments are unable and unwilling to do. Political colleagues in member states find it difficult to understand that MEPs often develop a view different from their own national party colleagues.

A growing area of influence is the extensive research capacity and the specialisms of individual members. Legislation is taken through the EP by a rapporteur  selected from the members of a particular committee. By the time that the legislation had completed its progress through the EP that rapporteur is the undisputed expert. This plays huge dividends when legislation goes to the Council of Ministers for final agreement. In the co-decision part of the process the rapporteur, representing the EP is at a huge advantage compared with the Council's six monthly rotating presidency.

A fascinating and enlightening book launch on a subject that has huge ramifications as Europe faces the stress of the financial crisis and growing concern about migration and diversity.

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