My talk at Edge Hill University yesterday focused on national parliaments and the Lisbon Treaty. I put the talk in historical context, explaining how the role of national parliaments had changed since the founding of the European Communities. Initially, the stance was one of non-engagement but, following the White Paper on Completion of the Single Market and the Single European Act, engagement – at least at national level – became the norm. Having a European Affairs Commiteee, for example, became standard and now every national parliament has one. In recent years, there has been an attempt to engage at the level of the EU, both individually and collectively.
The collective engagement has been both top-down as well as bottom-up. The top-down approach has taken the form of the EU seeking to engage national parliaments through, for example, the Barosso initiative in 2006 and now the Lisbon Treaty. The treaty, for the first time, provides a formal role in the EU law-making process for national parliaments. This was heralded as a great step forward for parliaments to have an impact on the process.
However, Lisbon – like the Barosso initiative – is rather limited in what it can deliver and, indeed, in some respects may be counter-productive. The Barosso initiative provided for national parliaments to receive proposals at the same time as the European Parliament and to have the opportunity to comment on them and receive a response. A good many parliamentary chambers, including the House of Lords, have regularly submitted comments (though the Portuguese Parliament heads the list). However, these submissions have had no impact on any EU legislation and the responses have generally been of the ‘thanks, it’s wonderful you have responded’ variety.
The provisions of the Lisbon Treaty provide for national parliaments to examine draft legislative proposals to see if they breach the principle of subsidiarity. If they believe they do, they can certify this and, if enough national parliaments do so, what is known as the yellow card or orange card procedure may be engaged. However, the problems are several: there is rarely a problem with subsidiarity – it is the issue of proportionality that is more important; national parliaments are involved at too late a stage – interest groups have already lobbied to influence the draft – the knack is to get in early; and the yellow and orange card procedures only enable national parliaments to trigger a rethink – they remain dependent on the Council of Ministers and European Parliament to kill off a proposal.
The House of Lords has so far twice submitted an opinion that a draft legislative proposal breaches the principle of subsidiarity, but on neither occasion did enough other chambers do likewise to trigger the yellow card procedure. The way forward, in my view, is the bottom-up approach, with like-minded national parliaments getting together and doing so not only with regard to draft legislative proposals but also at a much earlier stage and seeking to influence the agenda rather than simply waiting to see what comes along.
Right, back to the marking…