In the "turf war" over the banking union, reported here by EUObserver, an EU diplomat said:
"The debate will be tense. It is not because Council defends its turf, but because MEPs take so long. We simply cannot lose another year."
The banking union will centre on two pieces of legislation: one empowering the ECB as a banking regulator, and the other redefining the role of the London-based European Banking Authority. While the European Parliament has a say over the EBA, the ECB legislation is dealt with by a unanimous Council vote with the Parliament only consulted.
I think the Parliament's right to treat the two drafts as part of the same package. The banking regulation recently put in place fell under areas where the Parliament had a right of co-decision, and the Parliament should get some say over how the new regime will operate before it gives its go ahead to the EBA being changed to fit in with the new rules. It's also about how democracy is valued within the EU system: the European Council gets to set the pace of political debate, and, as we've seen in the past year with the Fiscal Compact, it's not adverse to re-hashing existing law in new, extra-EU treaties for its own political ends. The banking and Eurozone legislation is complex and controversial; we've seen this with the debate over the Fiscal Compact (a treaty that got both the causes and solutions to the crisis wrong), and the place and power of the ECB is an important issue.
This deserves democratic debate and scrutiny. The idea of the Parliament simply being a roadblock to crisis management is just plain wrong. The Council does not have the monopoly over economic or institutional wisdom (let's face it, 3 years of European Council summitry have done little to solve our current predicament), and opening debate up from diplomatic discussions and deal-making enhances the quality of decision-making by opening up the problems and solutions to scrutiny. The idea that the European Council can deliver down commandments and expect to have the Parliament either follow them or be easily ignored is insulting. As we can see from the Council opportunistically changing the legal basis of the Schengen area to exclude the Parliament, the Council is often more about protecting itself and its own interests than about creating common solutions.
And if the ECB is to be both independent as a central bank and have the power of banking regulator, there should be some democratic control and scrutiny. The Parliament may not have a strict legal right to this piece of legislation, but it has some say over financial regulation and should not be expected to stay silent while regulatory responsibility is passed to another, independent, institution.
While speed is important, having an open and more democratic debate is an important core value that shouldn't be overlooked, and which will help us come to better decisions.