Interinstitutional Struggle in the EU and the Role of the National Parliaments
(Speech at the international conference "The Lisbon Treaty: The European Parliament and Its New Powers" organized by the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Latvia and the European Parliament Information Bureau in Latvia)
The main aim of this report is to present a more conceptual perspective on the relationships between the EU institutions, and address the post-Lisbon Treaty role of the national parliaments. First of all, the term inter-institutional struggle implies the regularly ongoing bargaining process between different European Union institutions on an individual or several issues and legislative proposals simultaneously.
I would like to address the inter-institutional struggle as the central driving force of the European integration. Turf wars and attempts to legitimize, popularize and increase the influence of their institutional existence are the central reasons for the operational trends both intentionally and unintentionally are chosen by the representatives of each of the European Union institutions. The main European Union institutions concerned are the classical legislators – European Commission, the Council (including European Council) and the Parliament. Positioning oneself as a representative of a particular institution involves not only psychological ‘us and them’ aspect, but also the institutional loyalty and personal knowledge and level of expertise.
Inter-institutional struggle – bargaining process between the EU institutions affects not only the outcome of the legislative acts, but also the overall functioning and external perceptions about the performance of the European Union and its ability to make decisions. Inter-institutional struggle affects also each country’s abilities to lobby their national interests, because creation of highly efficient coordination mechanisms depends on personal as well as institutional profit maximization in each of the institutions.
The European Parliament, for instance, is a relative newcomer to the hard-core inter-institutional struggle as the institution has only gradually in the last decades acquired and increased its legislative rights. Since the December of 2009 of course, the directly elected European Parliament has gained historically the largest influence on international affairs in the region. This has been both a result of active bargaining and struggle for increased influence on the EU affairs as well as an additional instrument to increase its bargaining power in future.
The main question of this report, though, is the new role and the direct influence of the national parliaments on the EU matters and legislation. National parliaments have traditionally possessed indirect influence through parliamentary scrutiny procedures in the Nordic countries, for instance. In Latvia’s case, Saeima is the institution with the responsibilities of final approval or amendment of the national positions of Latvia defended in the Council. Similarly Saeima and its members have the right to follow and in various ways intervene in the position formulation throughout the national position coordination process both directly and indirectly. Saeima and other national parliaments in the EU are supreme legislative organs. This affects not only their possibility of this direct or indirect influence through intra-party interactions, government approvals, drafting of legislative acts etc.
Historically the influence of national parliaments has relied on their functioning as a part of national legislation rather than the EU level. Except, of course, for constitution of the European Parliament before 1979 and more increasing role in the JHA after the Maastricht Treaty. The Lisbon Treaty changed that, making the national parliaments part of the EU level actors and potential participants in the inter-institutional struggle.
National parliaments have their rights defined in the EU primary legislation that constitutes the basis of their functioning on the EU level. The central and main rights, mentioned and emphasized by most of the experts are rights for evaluation of the EU legislative acts for potential subsidiarity and proportionality principle infringements, evaluation of the EU policies in the framework of the area of freedom, security and justice, participation in Treaty revision procedures and inter-parliamentary cooperation.
Monitoring and ability to influence the EU legislation through subsidiarity and proportionality principle though largely depends on cooperation with and like-mindedness of other national parliaments. Thus it cannot necessarily be considered as the central instrument of a single national parliament on the EU legislation. At the same time, one should note that this ability to submit reasoned opinion on the legislative acts within 8 weeks of its transmission could be and has been used relatively active by national parliaments in post-Lisbon Treaty, successfully introducing some changes in the draft proposals. Saeima, though, has not been as active as parliaments of several other EU member states. It could be most likely explained by the insufficient administrative and technical capacity to draft qualitative and legally well grounded conclusions on time. Simply the Latvian Parliament lacks a secretariat or a subordinated agency that would be responsible for presenting opinion, information or proposals on the EU matters.
More important arguments and means in the hands of national parliaments are the potential veto rights through Treaty revision procedures, especially via the simplified revision procedure. Simplified revision procedure provides a single national parliament with veto rights to stop adoption of any amendments to the part 3 provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union through submission of opposition to the proposal. Similar and apparently instrumentally simpler way of influence is the ordinary revision procedure. In this case the national parliaments influence amendments to the Treaties through non-ratification of the proposals.
Thus, one of the central instruments that the national parliaments have had and still possess is the cooperation and interaction with the European Parliament and other national parliaments. Especially COSAC – Conference of Community and European Affairs Committees of Parliaments of the European Union with or without participation of the members of the European Parliament since 1989 is an essential framework where the actual agenda is discussed and where national parliaments can discover like-minded parliamentarians from other EU countries. Meetings organized by the Presidency are also essential not only as a forum for discussions, but also as an arena to express national dissatisfaction or opposition to the legislative proposals.
The role of the national parliaments within the EU inter-institutional struggle appears to be relatively low from the point of view of direct influences on every day decision making process. At the same time, the direct influences clearly depend on particular parliament’s activity, motivation and capacities. The indirect influences, though, appear to remain more significant instrument for national parliaments, especially for those with small apparatus and strong presence in the national legislation process.
Therefore I would like to conclude that the previously mentioned rights and influences of the national parliaments do not have strong affect on the EU legislation on regular basis. And this does not necessarily make the national parliaments equally influential players and decision makers in the EU’s inter-institutional struggle. National parliaments should be regarded as significant instruments for implementation of state or common European interests or even vetoing legislative proposals with unwanted consequences. At the same time, the national parliaments on the EU level are not active legislators. Rather they are having monitoring, early warning and emergency break role.
This makes national parliaments less significant in the overall legislative and lobbying procedure on the European Union level. At the same time, they usually perform a crucial role at the legislation on the national level, including the approval of the EU treaty changes.
The changes brought by the Lisbon Treaty appear to re-Europeanize the national parliaments on the European Union level, at the same time, a significant expansion of the role of national parliaments in the EU decision making is still possible in future.
Published 28 October 2011