Select Committee on European Union Seventh Report



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; pp 1-2).

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 process
  • 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 might be.

27.  Commissioner Patten has identified[15] 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

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