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Friday, March 06, 2009

National parliaments & the Lisbon Treaty: the myth

BBC Online is running a series of 'Viewpoints' on EU issues. This week it looks at the Lisbon Treaty, with arguments from us here at OE and from the Robert Schuman Foundation in Paris.

We argue that the provisions in the Treaty, which people always point to, that purport to give national parliaments more powers in the EU decision-making process, are pretty useless - as confirmed by both the President of the German Constitutional Court and the House of Common's cross-party EU scrutiny committee.

The President of the Robert Schuman Foundation, Jean-Dominique Giuliani, on the other hand, argues that "National parliaments will be able to challenge decisions that are the prerogative of member states. Under Lisbon, if one-third of the national parliaments agree on something, they can act together to oblige the Commission to cancel and review a wrong decision. They will also be able to refer the matter to the European Court of Justice."

This is plain wrong. National parliaments will be given no power whatsoever to "oblige" the Commission to "cancel" a proposal.

The Treaty says that, in the very unlikely event that a third of national parliaments - that's 9 - get together to oppose their governments on a piece of legislation, on the specific grounds of 'subsidiarity', and within an 8-week window, then the legislation would have to be reviewed, following which, it would be open to the institution which originated the proposal to choose whether to maintain, amend or withdraw the proposal.

So absolutely no obligation to cancel the proposal at all.

The Treaty also states that where the Commission originated a proposal and the proposal was subject to qualified majority voting and co-decision by the Council and the European Parliament (so most of them), in the supremely unlikely event that a majority of national parliaments (so 14!) object to it, again on the narrow grounds of subsidiarity, then again, it would be open to the Commission to maintain, amend or withdraw the proposal. The legislation would only have to fall if the Commission decided to maintain the proposal and then either 55% of the members of the Council, or a majority of the European Parliament agreed with the parliaments that it didn't comply with the principle of subsidiarity.

As the EU Scrutiny Committee has pointed out: "the decision on whether a proposal is compatible with subsidiarity will continue to rest with the EU institutions."

Which is why MEP Andrew Duff, who was involved in the drafting of the Treaty, admitted to the Scrutiny Committee that "It was understood by those of us involved in its drafting and, then, re-drafting that the mechanism, although a necessary addition to the system of governance of the Union, was not really intended to be used. It is, in Bagehot’s terms, more a dignified part of the European constitutional settlement than an efficient one.”

It may all sound pretty boring and complicated, but the bottom line is that, under Lisbon, Commission proposals can only be "cancelled" in the extremely unlikely event that 14 national parliaments all object to it, in a short 8-week window, and are then backed up by the majority of the Council or the European Parliament. Which is nothing like the argument put forward by our friend at the Robert Schuman Foundation.

Mr. Guiliani also believes "there is no particular need for national referendums on European issues. Those who ask for referendums want to vote against the EU and their own government." Not a particularly positive argument in favour of the Lisbon Treaty, is it?


Anonymous said...

"in the very unlikely event that a third of national parliaments - that's 8"

Nine, surely?

Open Europe blog team said...

Ah yes of course - will change - many thanks.