National Parliaments and the Lisbon Treaty

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…

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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5 Responses to National Parliaments and the Lisbon Treaty

  1. Carl.H says:

    The way forward, in my view, is a referendum on Europe. The UKIP polled nearly a million votes. This Government has spoken of giving more power to the people, who have been calling for a long time for a European referendum. Are they to be completely ignored ad-infinitum ? If you add to the UKIP, the BNP and ED that’s an awful lot of voters and we know a percentage of Conservatives want it too.

    • Chris K says:

      And Labour voters. And let’s not forget that famous LibDem promise, at the time of the Lisbon Treaty whitewash, of the “real issue” of an “in/out” referendum. What a shame that, at the first opportunity, they were all too busy to vote in favour of having one.

      People feel powerless and very angry about matters EUropean. Our politicians are extremely out of touch with us on it.

  2. ladytizzy says:

    Seeing the flag reminds me of how delusional the EU was from way back:

    “There are twelve stars because the number twelve is traditionally the symbol of perfection, completeness and unity.”

    Yes, dears. And the reason(s) for David Beckham wearing the 23 shirt at Real Madrid include:
    …we have 23 pairs of chromosomes, Michael Jordan wore the number 23 shirt, Caesar was stabbed 23 times, 23mph is the maximum speed of an American crow; and let’s not forget AA23, the cell in which Princess Leia was held in the original Star Wars movie.
    (du Sautoy’s own observations become more persuasive as one reads on, until the ‘about the author’ bit – Prof Marcus du Sautoy is an Arsenal fan. )

    • Carl.H says:

      “The word “twelve” is a native English word that presumably arises from the Germanic compound twa-lif “two-leave”, meaning that two is left after one takes away the base, ten.”

      Prophetic ?

  3. tory boy says:

    In connection to a previous blog, when the whips office, send out a text message to all their party peers who covers the cost of the text message. Is this the same person who covers the cost for Cross Bench members, and opposition members?

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