Friday 20 January 2012

A stronger, more active European Parliament?

Martin Schulz, the former leader of the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament has been elected the President of the Parliament for 2.5 years.* He's set out his stall for parliamentarianism: that he'll stick up for the EP within the EU's institutional triangle and in the ongoing negotiations for the New Fiscal Compact (acceptance speech [PDF]):

"The intergovernmental agreement on a new fiscal union will be the first test. In the negotiations, representatives of our Parliament initially failed to secure support for their call to combine budgetary discipline with measures to foster growth and employment. But it is just such a sensible compromise that the citizens of Europe want! For this reason as well, we must have a seat at the table at European summits."

So there are two political goals here: for the Parliament's resolution on the fiscal and stability union to be incorporated in some way into the New Fiscal Compact, and for the EP to have a seat at European summits (probably for the EP president who currently only reports on the Parliament's view to the European Council, but is not part of the European Council - while the Commission President is a member). Interestingly, Proinsais de Rossa, an Irish MEP who is stepping down soon, has claimed that the European Parliament might reject the new treaty. This wouldn't block the treaty - it won't be part of the EU treaty system - but it could politically damage the ratification process, especially if Ireland holds a referendum on the pact.

Polscieu has picked up on Schulz's line on first reading agreements - agreements between the Council and Parliament on a draft of legislation so it can be passed quickly. If Schulz's "re-thinking" of the issue leads to fewer first reading agreements, then we're likely to see more parliamentary debates on legislation and a strengthening of the Parliament's political voice and profile. Since the EP is now equal to the Council as a legislator in almost every area (that the EU has competence in) but foreign policy, the loss in profile by first reading agreements is self-inflicted. That's not to say that first reading agreements don't have their place, but it's hard to see why the statistic of 72% of legislation passed by co-decision (now called "ordinary legislative procedure") being decided under such agreements in the last parliament (2004-9) should be repeated again for this parliament.

If Schulz makes progress on all three counts, then the EP's public profile should increase - particularly if the EP gains a bigger role at European summits, given that most of the media attention is focused on these "zero-sum game" events. We'll see what his record is by the next European elections.

*The first 2.5 years of the Parliament presidency was held by Jerzy Buzek (EPP) - the two biggest political groupings traditionally make a pact to share the presidency between them during the life of the Parliament.

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