Montesquieu Institute: from science to society

National parliaments and the European Union: It takes time to get used to new arrangements.

Friday, March 30 2012, 9:34

On March 8, 2012 the students of the Montesquieu Masterclass were the guest of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament. The role of the Second Chamber and other national parliaments in the EU was the subject. Hans van Baalen, MEP, was one of the politicians that expressed concern about the gap between European politicians and the Dutch electorate. A need had arisen to give national parliaments more influence on EU policies.  This, the assumption is, would contribute to a reduction of this gap. A public debate and more monitoring of EU policies will contribute to an increase of legitimacy of EU policies.

The role of national parliaments in the EU has increased through the Lisbon Treaty. From now on national parliaments can by way of a yellow or orange card influence EU policies if they think that new legislation does not comply with the notion of Subsidiarity. This gives national parliaments a means to state that draft legislation and proposed policies on the EU level are not more effective than if they are made on a national or regional level. Link:

The European Commission informs national parliaments of all it proposed legislation. A national parliament has to form an opinion about these proposals within eight weeks. It a national parliament wants to team up with other national parliaments in the EU this period of eight weeks presents a problem. First of all the period is short for the individual parliament and second the time needed for consultation between the parliaments is another barrier for cooperation. There is little time to first analyse the proposals and then come to an agreement about the content of the remarks to be made to the Commission. By teaming up the chance of real influence in the EU would increase considerably. Another raod of influence the Second Chamber has is through debating the subjects that are scheduled to be discussed at each ECOFIN-Council. Through this the minister is informed about the opinion of the Dutch parliament.

The main question is: how fast is this process in case of a crisis? Will there be enough time and manpower to effectively and efficiently put issues on the agenda? Another problem is that the schedules of Brussels and The Hague are not parallel. All this means the a lot of consultation and fine-tuning is needed and that new power of national parliaments could be an improvement. On the other hand tension is felt between the speed by which crisis have to be dealt with and the care that has to be given to policies and legislation. This takes time. If both get insufficient attention and the quality suffers it is disastrous for legitimacy.

During the discussion legitimacy popped up again. The question towards the scope of the EU was raised. The conclusion was that legitimacy should always, irrespective of the scope of  the EU, be guaranteed. If this is not constantly emphasized this will have negative consequences for the gap between the electorate and the politicians, whether in The Hague or Brussels or Strasbourg. Getting used to new roles and arrangements is an ongoing process. The power of the EC and the new (counter-)power of national parliaments should still find a balance.