A SECOND PARLIAMENTARY CHAMBER FOR EUROPE:
AN UNREAL SOLUTION TO SOME REAL PROBLEMS
PART 3: THE CASE FOR A SECOND
22. Those of our witnesses who put the case for
a second chamber mainly did so on the basis of the option put
forward by the Prime Minister (see paragraph 19 above). Officials
from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office stressed that the Prime
Minister's proposal had been intended to "launch debate"
rather than provide a blueprint for a second chamber. They did,
however, flesh out the Prime Minister's proposal to some extent.
The second chamber would consider Commission proposals against
a new statement of principles setting out the competencies of
the various levels of government in the EU (and thus, it can be
inferred, ensuring respect for the principles of subsidiarity)
but it "would not be another legislative institution"
and would not get involved in the details of legislation. Sitting
three or four times a year it would ensure the direct involvement
of national parliaments in European decision-making. The second
chamber would also provide an opportunity for national parliamentarians
"to come together" in a political forum to summon and
question national governments and the presidency (QQ 12, 15, 17;
23. Lord Norton of Louth outlined some other
arguments in favour of a second chamber. He stressed that proposals
for a second chamber were very serious: "It is far more on
the agenda now, not least because of who is advancing the idea"
(Q 56). He noted that a second chamber would have a different
perspective from the European Parliament; would answer some of
the difficulties involved in the individual workings of national
parliaments; and would tackle some of the issues arising from
the so-called "democratic deficit"(the term is explained
in paragraph 26 below) by involving the representatives of the
nations in decision-making alongside the representatives of citizens
(the European Parliament) and the Ministers in Council (Q 40,
pp 15-16). Lord Norton's overall conclusion was, however, that
a second chamber was not realistic in practice and that the expectations
of those advocating it might not be met (Q 60).
24. An alternative argument in favour of a second
chamber was put by Mr Peter Ludlow, of the Centre for European
Policy Studies. He saw the need for "a parliamentary counterpart
to the European Council setting the overall strategy and guidelines"
on how the Union will develop, before or after each European Council.
This would be a job for an authoritative advisory body of senior
parliamentarians who would be attracted to serve on a body whose
function was to scrutinise the important work of the European
Council. A side effect of creating such a body would be that
a group of national parliamentarians would be created "who
are plugged much more directly into EU affairs, who influence
each other, learn from each other and, therefore, when they go
back home are more effective in controlling their executive"
(QQ 141, 143, 147). The second chamber could also follow up the
implementation by national governments of decisions taken by the
European Council (Q 154).
25. Jean-Pierre Cot, a former member of the National
Assembly in France and of the European Parliament, gave some more
arguments in favour of a second chamber, arguments arising from
the benefits that would follow from having parliamentarians with
a "dual mandate" in their own parliament and in the
new second chamber. "National-euro MPs" with such a
mandate would "ensure the two-way flow of information and
advice". National MPs would ensure that national points
of view, and the views of ordinary citizens, were taken into account
in Europe's decision-making. Dual mandate MPs would also bring
"inside knowledge of European affairs" to the debate
in national parliaments. The witness remained doubtful, however,
about the validity of these arguments (p108).
26. At the root of all of the proposals for a
second chamber there seems to lie a perception that there is a
problem with the democratic legitimacy of the EU and its institutions
(see p108). This is often referred to as a "democratic deficit"
although the problem can better be expressed as a lack of connection
(a disconnection) between the individual and the institutions.
Evidence from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office stressed that
a second chamber would "serve to reconnect national parliaments
and national parliamentarians with decision-making in Brussels"
(p 1). Other witnesses agreed that such a problem exists, although
they defined it in different ways. The broadest definition was
given by Lord Norton of Louth, who thought that the problem derived
from "the limited input into the law-making process of the
EU by directly elected representatives of the people" (p13).
The Federal Trust (p112-3) identified three general uses of the
term "democratic deficit":
- A formal lack of representation in the decision-making
- Frustration felt in some national parliaments
at their lack of control over ministers when taking decisions
in the Council (but this varies greatly between Member States)
- More loosely - the term reflects the low turn-out
at elections at all levels: this leads to the conclusion that
the parliaments which result are less legitimate than they otherwise
27. Commissioner Patten has identified
five problems with democratic legitimacy, which he describes in
terms of public alienation from the EU:
- Uncertainty over the destiny of the EU, and a
feeling that people have no control over that destiny through
the democratic process
- The decline of parliamentary sovereignty- people
are looking less and less to Parliament to redress their grievance
- The feeling that "Brussels" is a remote
and alien administration
- The shortcomings of European administration
- The problem of building support for international
institutions, in his view "the most serious and the most
interesting" aspect of the democratic deficit. "It
is a puzzle that desperately needs a solution. The depth of feeling
evident in the muddled movement against globalisation shows the
fragility of institutions that do not have democratic underpinning".
28. Commissioner Barnier told us, very clearly,
of the "risk if we continue to create a Europe for the citizen
but without the citizen
That method has reached the
limits of its acceptability" (Q 131). It is clear that
all these arguments on democratic legitimacy are pressures behind
proposals for a second chamber. We see the force of many of these
arguments. We now turn, however, to the problems with proposals
for a second chamber.
15 "Sovereignty and Democracy in the European
Union" - Chatham Lecture delivered at Trinity College Oxford,
26 October 2000. Back