I am writing this guest blog because the House of Lords European Union Select Committee which I chair, has today published a report on The Role of National Parliaments in the EU. I am a non-affiliated member of the House, and as is usual for committees in the House of Lords, the European Union Committee consists of members from all major political parties and the independent Crossbenchers.
The House of Lords has a strong track record for examining EU policies, and the UK Government’s approach to EU matters. Like a lot of what the Lords does, this is rarely glamorous or headline-grabbing work, but it is important. Why? Well, national parliaments can give voice to national political concerns in a way that the EU’s institutions may find difficult. And parliaments can use their diverse experience, and knowledge of their national context, to examine the major issues facing the EU and contribute to better policy responses.
What might a stronger role for national parliaments look like in practice? This video gives an overview of the report and the key recommendations.
In our report we set out five main areas:
- effective national scrutiny by national parliaments of their own governments;
- earlier engagement by national parliaments in formulating EU policies;
- a stronger legislative role through a reinforced ‘yellow card’ procedure;
- more effective co-operation by the EU’s parliaments, including the European Parliament; and
- more effective supervision by national parliaments of the major changes currently being introduced to EU economic and financial policies.
I will take just one example from this list, on the yellow card procedure. (For the rest, put your feet up and treat yourself to a read of our full report.) Since 2009 national parliaments have had a limited formal role to examine new EU legislation. This is often called the ‘Yellow Card’ procedure. Under it a third of national parliaments can force a review of a proposed new law if they think that the issue ought to be tackled at national, not EU, level. This is a good start, but it needs to be toughened up. Only a few months ago we saw the Commission over-ride serious concerns raised by several national parliaments (including both Houses at Westminster) about a controversial proposal to create a European Public Prosecutor’s Office. Amongst other changes, a Yellow Card needs to trigger something stronger than a review: it should mean that the proposal must either be withdrawn, or substantially amended to meet the concerns that have been expressed by national parliaments.
All these improvements can be achieved quickly, without treaty change. What is needed more than anything else is political will. We explain how in our report: most importantly, the changes could be embodied in an agreement between the EU institutions, and involving the national parliaments.
Our report does not imply that we think the Westminster Parliament is perfect: we know that we could do our EU work better. To take just one example, we intend to borrow from the Danish (and others’) playbook, and start holding regular hearings with the Minister for Europe ahead of European Councils. We are, though, sure that getting national parliaments more effectively involved would improve both the quality of EU decision-making, and the quality of EU laws.