Select Committee on European Scrutiny Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 78-79)




  78. Can I welcome Mr Leonard and Mr Arbuthnott; welcome to the European Scrutiny Committee. I am sorry we overran a bit, but I am sure you will appreciate it is because of the interest in the subject matter, and I cannot promise you that you will not run over as well, but we will try to keep to our timetable, as much as we can, but still be thorough in our questions to you. If I can ask the first question. National parliaments are only occasionally mentioned in your booklets; how important a role do you think they can play in `reconnecting' electorates to the European Union and enabling citizens to influence EU decisions?

  (Mr Leonard) I think that they can play a really important role, but one of the things that we have tried to do in our research is to look at the legitimacy problems facing the European Union within a much broader context of political disconnection, and actually to see whether changing the way that we think about democracy and accountability in Europe can actually enhance the role of national parliaments. So that we can see it as a two-way process, because often people start from quite a static conception of a democratic deficit in Brussels, and look at how one can plug that democratic deficit. We have some issues with the idea of a democratic deficit as well. I do not think that the problem is so much a democratic deficit as a deficit of consent and legitimacy, but we can talk about that further. But I think there are some very specific ways that national parliamentarians can play more of a role on the scrutiny side, some of which you talked about earlier, but also some ways of involving national parliaments in addressing some of the specific legitimacy problems, one of which is in the whole area of subsidiarity, which I think is one of the perceptions of the European Union as a one-way project, with policies all moving in one direction, with things not being reversed, and with a desire to advance, which seems to be more motivated by the ideology of ever closer union than by a desire to deliver effective results for people. And I think that, if we start rethinking subsidiarity, there is a very exciting, potential role for national parliaments, partly because national parliaments are one of the few institutions that do not have an intrinsic interest in seeing competencies shifted from a national to a European level. Secondly, because, if we start to think about subsidiarity in a different way, which is about delivery rather than about the perfect sort of organogram and looking at where things would be based if one started from a federal theory, then one has to think about ways of scrutinising the implementation of policies. And national parliaments can play a really important role, both in looking at the implementation of areas delivered under the open co-ordination method, which I think could be really powerful, because there is not enough pressure put on national governments to deliver on the objectives which they signed up to at Lisbon and in other areas. And one of the ideas we looked at is of national commissioners, potentially, presenting reports on the performance of national governments in different areas, where national parliaments could play more of a role in scrutinising that. Secondly, I think that there is an important role in terms of the areas which are not scrutinised by the European Parliament, and there is a very interesting French proposal which looks at the potential role for a second chamber, looking at scrutiny of the areas which are not covered by co-decision, rather than acting as a sort of second chamber in the areas which the European Parliament is active in, and I think that might be something which could have some potential in it. And the third area which I think could be quite interesting is this idea of creating more of a, following on from the ideas about subsidiarity, the idea of national parliaments, of a second chamber, either going through all of the legislation which is adopted in a year and suggesting a potential bonfire of regulations which go against principles of subsidiarity, or acting as a more specific subsidiarity committee in the process. I do not know if Tom wants to add anything to that.
  (Mr Arbuthnott) Not at this stage.

Mr Cash

  79. You say here, on page 52 of your paper "Network Europe": "We will deliver legitimacy by reinventing politics," which is a fairly sort of bold assertion, I would suggest. But I have got a very simple question, and that is, where do you think the power, by which I mean the full authority, backed by a legal framework, proper, real power, lies in Europe today, and where do you think it should lie?
  (Mr Leonard) I think it lies in national parliaments and national governments, who come together at a European level, as the European Council, which is the key body which has got the authority to set the agenda, I think that is appropriate. But what we are talking about there is the fact that the way that people have thought about politics, at an EU level, has often not reflected that process, so politics is almost ghettoised in the European Parliament, which is not a body which has the ability to set the agenda and which has the authority and the democratic legitimacy to have an agenda-setting role. And the Council and the way that it works is often not strategic enough, so the arguments within the Council are, quite rightly, often about different perceptions of the national interest, or arguments about whether we should have more or less integration, but they are very rarely seen as part of the political system which allows one to have the sorts of debate about issues which cut across those two axes.
  (Mr Arbuthnott) And it is possible, as well, in addition, looking at the Convention, which is likely to be set up on Friday, at Laeken, that perhaps a similar thing is going to happen there, it is clearly open to what happens there; but with national parliaments, the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers, government representatives and the Commission, all within their individual blocks, all as delegations, then there is a danger that each of those delegations will be taking their institution role rather than their political role in those discussions, over the next three years, on the future of Europe.

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