Extending the legislative powers of the European Parliament - now or never?

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European politicians in Brussels make decisions which increasingly influence the lives of the EU citizens in their daily routine. Those who are concerned, however, often feel excluded - some people are calling this a democratic deficit. Is it wise to increase the legislative competence of the European Parliament?

Extending the powers of the European Parliament for a more democratic Europe

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05/27/2013 - 19:26
The citizens of Europe are represented by the European Parliament. However, its rights to participate are still limited despite numerous reforms over the last decades. In order to create a stronger, a more efficient and a transparent Europe, the people’s representation must be given more powers.

The history of the European Parliament is closely linked to the advancement in the integration process of the European Community as a whole. Before changing its name in 1962, the European Parliament was called the „Common Assembly“. It was established during the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and its role was limited to that of an advisor. Also, the members of this institution were delegates called in by the member states instead of being elected representatives by the people.

The first direct elections for a „Europe by and for the people“

In June of 1979, for the first time the citizens of the EC member states were able to cast their votes in an open election for the European Parliament. This election marked a milestone in the democratic legitimization of the European project as it transformed the citizens not only into European voters, but also into voters for Europe. From early on, the heads of the member states realized that Europe would only be a success if the people were actively involved.

How much power does the Parliament possess at present?

The Lisbon Treaty enabled the European Parliament to exert influence on approximately 90 political fields - compared to around 40 before the ratification of the treaty. The extension of the Parliament’s power resulted in a considerable gain of influence within the institutional body of the European Union. The increasing influence of the Parliament can be witnessed especially in the Common Budget and the trade policy. Before signing and ratifying an international trade agreement, the Parliament must be “informed and consulted in every stage of the negotiations” (Brok, 2010). Not only did the treaty of Lisbon award greater legislative powers to the European Parliament, but also greater responsibility.

Why does Europe need a strong Parliament?

The European Parliament is at the centre of a strong, citizen-friendly Europe capable of acting. Those demanding more democracy and transparency within the Union must be willing to give more power to the European Parliament. Fundamental decisions of European politics should not entirely be made behind closed doors. Therefore, more responsibility must be given to the European Parliament. For it is of great importance to have a Parliament able to proposing laws itself. Only then will there be a Parliament which does not only react, but act.

 

This article deliberately presents only one of the many existing points of views of this contorversial subject. Its content is not necessarily representative of its author's personal opinion. Please have a look at Duel Amical's philosophy.

Denying further rights to the European Parliament - not dismissing the idea of a European democracy

Translator
05/27/2013 - 19:26
The European Parliament - being the people’s representation - in the long term must take over the central role within the European democratic parliamentary system. At present, however, its structural and institutional capabilities are too limited. Therefore, this is not the time to increase its competences and power.

The European Parliament (EP), the European Council as representative of the national states and the European Commission as genuine representative of the EU formed the original institutional triangle of the EU. During the early years of the European Community (EC), legislative and executive competences were distributed unequally. This mirrored the political reality in Europe. The will of the people was defined by national context and political participation took place on a local, regional and national, but hardly ever on the European level. State representatives gathered with their European colleagues in order to solve problems they could only solve by cooperating. In the beginning, there was the issue of securing peace in Europe. Later, the regulation of the European Single Market became an important matter. By now, it has come to a point where an ever growing number of issues directly linked to each other need to be discussed.

Extending competences – right intention, wrong result

Experts of the national governments and their colleagues within the European commission have always been the crucial actors in these situations. The EP, while directly representing the interests of the European citizens, at the same time struggles to get more power. Until this day, however, there has been a structural division between the EP and the citizens it represents. Therefore, giving additional institutional powers to the Parliament is the wrong step as it would clearly miss its target: to strengthen democracy.

Taking into account the needs of society, it is up to the members of the EP to establish a policy which is capable of addressing a majority in all of Europe. In order to achieve this, they are depending upon the expert knowledge of others. However, civil participation on the European stage remains low. Also, certain political groups manage to communicate and put into effect their interests far more effectively than others. Therefore, increasing the power of the EP would result in the disproportionate influence of a few lobbies on European legislature. The legislative measures resulting from this would benefit the interests of a few and weaken the general European welfare. As long as political participation of our civil society and participation in European elections remain at a low, increasing the power of the EP is the wrong step.

Which approaches are at hand?

A solution to the democratic deficit within the EU is to not increase the competences of the EP, but the possibilities for the citizens to participate. Expressing and forming political ideas in Europe will need to take place on a European level more often and no longer on a national level only. Increasing the transparency of political processes as well as retransmitting popular debates on the European level through mutually accepted personalities and programs need to be the bases of this solution. Keeping in mind the domination of the EP by national political parties, one will realize that this is still far from being reality in Europe. Political parties are still elected via national lists. Also, they still represent national instead of European interests. Therefore, they are unable to change the status quo of nationally defined prejudices and barriers which were once shaped in the old nation states.

What matters is the political culture of Europe

In the EU is many different national concepts of how politics are to be comprehended and how these ideas are to be implemented meet and interact. If the current European political system is to be turned into a real political space, there is one thing it needs more than anything else: time. Only the identification of political issues which require a discussion on a European level (such as energy or environmental issues, immigration policies, defense, employment policies, financial and economic policies…) can lead to the establishment of politics not defined by national bias and differences, but by social criteria. Without this process, it will be impossible to create a European political culture, which in turn is absolutely necessary to form a real European parliamentary democracy. If this can be achieved, the European Parliament will find its role in a natural political way instead of being forced constitutionally.

 

This article deliberately presents only one of the many existing points of views of this contorversial subject. Its content is not necessarily representative of its author's personal opinion. Please have a look at Duel Amical's philosophy.

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