Select Committee on European Union Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Emma Clua-Vandellos, Research Student at LSE


A EUROPEAN SECOND CHAMBER? THE SCOPE OF THE DEBATE

  On 6 October 2000 in Warsaw, Prime Minister Tony Blair delivered a speech underlining the role of the United Kingdom in the debate about the future and launched a proposal for the creation of both a Statement of Principles and a Second Chamber for the European Parliament.

  The idea of a European Second Chamber is not a completely new one. In fact, it has recently been outlined by Charles Grant in a pamphlet entitled EU 2010: An Optimistic Vision of the Future[1], which is considered to be one of the sources of inspiration for Tony Blair's speech.

  At the same time, not all the other Member States are completely unfamiliar with the idea. Some of them have also launched proposals about the creation of a Second Chamber, although sometimes the purposes and contents of such proposals have been quite different from the British one.

  For instance, Guy Verhofstadt, whose country will hold the EU Presidency in July 2001, proposed that the Council should be the Second Chamber of a EU legislature, an idea that according to the Financial Times would reflect the thinking of Jacques Delors. In the Belgian Prime Minister's opinion, the creation of a legislative body with two parts—the European Parliament and a Second Chamber comprising the Council—would act as a counterbalance to a strengthened Commission, the President of which should be directly elected and have more power over its members[2]. This position is very close to the classic federal model, which posits that the citizens should be able to elect the Commission and that the European Parliament should become the true legislative body, while the Council becomes a sort of Senate. Notwithstanding this proposal, Belgium is in favour of increasing the role of the Council.

  The position of the French National Assembly seems to be much closer to the British proposal than to the Belgian one, while German politicians tend to show interest in the federal option (though they may prefer other alternatives to a Second Chamber, eg reinforcing the Committee of the Regions).

  The Spanish Foreign Ministry has praised the opening of the debate in this direction and has acknowledged the good intentions of the British proposal in order to increase the legitimacy of the EU institutions[3]. Despite that, it considers that the debate is still at a very early stage and prefers to employ a strategy of "wait and see" until the proposals evolve a bit more. Despite this lack of a clear official pronouncement, Mr Josep Pique commented that the Spanish government has "a more pragmatic vision" about the issue[4].


  Another interesting element to consider for the future is the opinion of the states about to accede to the EU—the candidates. After all, they will also count after enlargement if the proposal goes through. To give an example, in an interview in Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Hungarian representative Janos Martonyi declared that the current institutions must be strengthened, particularly the Commission, and that, in order to provide more democratic legitimacy to the European Parliament, it should also be strengthened with a Second Chamber[5].

  On the supranational side, the EU common institutions welcomed the speech as an important contribution to the ongoing debate on the future of Europe[6]. This debate has acquired a special dimension after the Treaty of Nice, leading to the creation of several forums for discussion[7].

  Despite the consensus on the importance of the contribution, the reactions to the substance of the proposal have been diverse and even contradictory. Some members of the Commission have applauded the idea of "giving national Parliaments a role by creating a Second Chamber of the European Parliament, composed of national parliamentarians, to police more rigorously what is done at national and what is done at European level"[8]. Nevertheless, the predominant position at the Commission seems to be the opposite one.

  Indeed, some Commission representatives have considered the idea to be "very unconvincing", qualifying it more as an instrument used to produce an agenda drift (ie an answer to the need to bring a new idea, whatever it is, to the political arena) than as a real option[9]. The possibility of a Second Chamber has also been described as the worst way of addressing the issues raised at Nice—eg clarification of competences, subsidiarity, role of national Parliaments in the EU, etc[10].

  On the other hand, Mr Brok MEP said that the European Parliament could accept a Second Chamber made up of representatives from national Parliaments only if the role of the Council of Ministers was diminished[11].

  Furthermore, members of both the Commission and the European Parliament have reiterated the idea that under the Treaty there is already a Second Chamber—the Council[12].

  Also some media have launched their own proposals. For example, in October 2000 The Economist proposed the creation of a Council of Nations, consisting of representatives drawn from the Parliaments of Member States, and allocated with reference to population. The Council of Nations should act as a constitutional council and should have power to overrule the ECJ. It should be able to strike down legislation and should act by a simple majority of the votes cast[13].

  Finally, it is interesting to make reference to some of the opinions gathered in civil society. A report sponsored by the European Movement International, which includes consultation with civil society in 20 European countries—eight EU Member States, ten candidate states and two non-candidates—has reached the following conclusions:

    "The participants of the Member States have rejected the proposal for a Second Chamber. The participants of the Candidate States have not pronounced on the topic. The reports submitted to date show clearly that all the participants states estimate, in consonance with the Committee of Regions, that a Second Chamber should have a strong regional colour[14].

  Taking into account that the overall results of the report are quite positive towards the EU and the process of reform (especially if we compare them with results in other surveys and in the media), this reluctance to accept a Second Chamber is not very encouraging. But this is a response to a general question, which does not deal with the nature or functions of the Chamber, so the results might not be capable of extrapolation.

WHAT CHAMBER? INSTITUTIONAL AND ORGANISATIONAL ELEMENTS

1.  COMPOSITION

  It is not clear what the composition of the Second Chamber should be. The question as to whether the Second Chamber should be formed only by national representatives or should also include representatives of ECOSOC and the Committee of the Regions has already arisen. Mr. Darroch has even suggested that the two latter institutions could be replaced if a Second Chamber was created, but such a proposal is potentially very controversial. There are also other elements to think about.

Should the members be the same parliamentarians who operate at the national level or should they be an additional group of parliamentarians (ad hoc), specially elected to fulfil this task and, consequently, with full-time obligations towards the Second Chamber?


In the first case, what would happen in those states that have bicameral systems? Which national Chamber would better represent national Parliaments at the EU level?

  That might not be an issue in several countries (especially those with unicameral systems, as in the case of the Scandinavian countries), but it could create sensitivities in others. For example, some of the Second Chambers in the Member States represent regions or nationalities and they might wish to claim their share of representation. Furthermore, some countries have regional Parliaments that could feel threatened by the initiative in terms of "representativeness", even though other elements of the proposal might potentially benefit them (eg clarification of competences). The point is, would they be content with the limited regional representation proposed by Mr Darroch (particularly if we consider the possibility of suppressing the Committee of the Regions)?

  Belgium and Spain seem quite likely to be very affected by problems of this kind; Germany too—the Länder are particularly strong. Even countries like Ireland (County Councils) and UK may find themselves having to negotiate in this field. On the other hand, Portugal might be quite free from such constraint, because it has formally rejected decentralisation through a referendum.

In the second case, to what extent should they be EU specialists?

  In the case of the Second Chamber as defined in the proposal, choosing an EU specialist instead of a national politician might be seen as counterproductive, in part because of the aim of maintaining strong links with the national political scene. However, this is not necessarily so.

  Taking the example of the European Parliament, there seems to be an increasing tendency at the EU level in favour of selecting politicians with experience of EU affairs. Despite that, the MEPs maintain strong links with their national party because, after all, they are elected on a national basis and the national party decides their presence in the party lists.

  As Mr Barnier has noted, Europe's political parties have a role to play in co-ordinating the opinions expressed in the European Parliament with those expressed at national level[15]. Similarly, if a Second Chamber is created, they might have also had a role to play in resolving similar tensions.

  Still, there is no guarantee that the Second Chamber would not incur the danger of reproducing patterns that have already been identified in the European Parliament (eg the so-called "dinosaurs" or "EU-one-night-stand" politicians with aspirations at the national level).

Would they be directly elected or, as suggested by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, indirectly elected by the representatives of national (and regional) Governments[16]?

  If we take the elections to the European Parliament as a point of reference, it can be said that, for many reasons, direct representation at the EU level has proved to be a failure in terms of participation—a Second Chamber might not be able to get better results.

  Mr Darroch has suggested that it should be the national Parliament that appoints the members of the Chamber. Indirect election, however, might not make any difference to people's perceptions, thus failing to achieve one of the presumed objectives of the proposal (ie increase legitimacy).

  An alternative option would be to hold a double election during the national campaign, but that would make things far more complicated than they already are. Note that in countries like Spain, there are already processes of double election (for both chambers at the same time, or for EU and local elections in some autonomous communities) and citizens tend to find it confusing. Adding a further electoral chore might not go down well.

How would elements such as time, resources and, in particular, political incentives to become involved and committed be organised with the Chamber?

  If we take the example of the European Parliament again, we find that many of the MEPs are aware that their performance at the EU level is not considered to be crucial to aspects such as their permanence in the party lists. Domestic factors and internal elements within the party seems to be more decisive.

  This lack of political return, when transposed to a Second Chamber, appears to be particularly problematic. Moreover, in those countries with high records of Euroscepticism, involvement could even be interpreted in negative terms, not only among the parliamentarians but also among the public.

  On the other hand, Mr Kinnock, expressed the fear that, even if they were very energetic and committed to the tasks, we would have a group of politicians who "would not have much to do and would be travelling around Europe without knowing what is going on at the EU level[17].

  In this matter, Mr Barnier was concerned that parliamentarians would have to "juggle with the problems of holding a dual mandate". According to him, during the period prior to 1979, before the direct election of the European Parliament, parliamentarians were already finding it very difficult to combine their national duties and European responsibilities. He doubted that they would find it any easier today, given the extent of European integration since then[18]. Mr Darroch and Mr Lapsley have mentioned the possibilities offered by IT services and the changes which have occurred during the last few years, but still the problem remains.

II.  SIZE AND TIMING

  At the moment, the European Parliament has 626 MEPs for 15 Member States. The Treaty of Amsterdam set the maximum limit at 700 but, with the prospect of enlargement to 27 Member States, it was estimated that that ceiling would certainly be exceeded. As a result, the Treaty of Nice foresees that the number of MEPs could be increased up to 732 MEPs. Even if it is highly probable that the limit of 732 will not be reached during the first round of enlargement (2001-04), it might be temporarily exceeded if new countries joined the EU later on, even though such a change is not likely to happen until the legislative period 2004-09. By the time that the European Parliament is completely re-elected in 2009, all new countries will have joined the Union and the number of seats might become an important issue.

  Considering the already existing problem, it seems difficult to decide what should be the appropriate size for the new Chamber, especially taking into account the wider context of enlargement. Membership could oscillate between 270 and 500, though Mr Darroch has suggested 300, arguing that it is still half the size of the European Parliament. But the fact is that this number is in addition to the other, so the EU might end up having around 1032 Parliamentarians hanging out Brussels, plus their staff. And, even then, would there be enough room for the representatives of national Second Chambers or minority parties (not only government parties or majority parties)?

  Furthermore, it would be necessary to define the patterns of representation. According to the German politician Johannes Rau, "any federation with so many Member States of different size and total population needs a double system of the representation: one in which each citizen counts, and secondly one in which each Member State is represented equally without reference to size and number of inhabitants[19]. In this framework, it is pertinent to ask whether the new Chamber should be on a basis of parity and non-proportional, following the model of the US Senate[20], or whether it should be proportional to the demography of each country, as other current EU institutions are. The British proposal seems to point to the first option.

  Finally, there is concern about the number of times that the Chamber should meet. Darroch suggests three or four times a year, while the major part of the work could be done at home using Internet networks. Still, there is a danger of it becoming a virtual chamber or having insufficient members to cope with the amount of work.

III.  MATERIAL ELEMENTS

  Launching the Second Chamber would require a significant effort in economic terms, especially if we count additional support staff, trips, etc, that would be necessary to make it workable[21]. Accordingly, it would require new expenditure in terms of salaries, pensions, buildings and equipment.

  The total operational expenditure of all the European institutions in 2000 came to EUR 4.7 billion, or 5 per cent of total expenditure. The institutions had a staff of 32,000 officials in the year 2000, equivalent to the public service of a city such as Vienna or the staff of the French Agriculture Ministry[22]. For the year 2001, the appropriations for administrative expenditure at the Commission amount a total of EUR 4.904.274 million (an increase of 3.8 per cent over 2000), to finance 400 new posts for the Commission and external staff. For the other institutions, the total budget is EUR 1,683.843 million.

  The new Chamber would suppose an increase in those figures and, therefore a new burden on the capped EU budget, which is based on contributions of 1.27 per cent of the GDP of each member state for the period 2000-06. Bearing in mind that the EU budget is already under pressure to cope with both existing (eg CAP, cohesion/structural funds) and future (eg enlargement) economic demands, a new increase in bureaucratic expenditure would probably not be welcome to the budgetary authorities (the European Parliament among them). Besides, public opinion in the different Member States is not likely to be pleased that their taxes are being swallowed by the institutions instead of being invested in policies (especially in countries where tax is an issue in itself).

  There are also logistic questions to consider: should the new body share buildings with the existing European Parliament? (The new building in Strasbourg, is already too small to accommodate an enlarged Parliament though it might be adequate for a smaller Chamber). If not, where should the new seat be located? (Luxembourg had traditionally claimed for a role as host of common institutions—though not always successfully[23].


WHAT IS THE CHAMBER FOR? FUNCTIONS AND AIMS

I.  FUNCTIONS

1.  Testing subsidiarity within the First Pillar.

  One of the main tasks of a Second Chamber would be controlling the agenda and reviewing the EU work at an early stage. In practical terms, it would examine the annual work programme for the EU (drawn up by the Commission and approved by the European Council and the European Parliament) and the Commission's proposals derived from it. This inspection would be done in the light of the Statement of Principles or Charter of Competences, a political (not legal) document that would clarify the scope of competences corresponding to each level.

  Within the Commission, Mr Patten shared the view that there is a need to examine who does what at what level in the Union, and the division of responsibilities between EU institutions and national governments, and in many cases regional Governments[24].

  Among the Member States, a broad consensus exists about the need to define what has to be done at each level. The Nice Declaration about the future of the Union seems to be evidence of that, and the IGC 2004 is likely to offer the next opportunity to press for this demand.

  So far, the UK and Germany have been the most active in their demand for clear limits to the powers of the EU. In fact, it is commonly known that the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schro­der, has been pushing for the idea under strong pressure from Germany's 16 regional Governments, who want to prevent any further erosion of their powers by Brussels[25].

  Most of the competences given to the regions tend to fall within the scope of the EC. This overlapping situation is likely to raise up sensitivities among those regions with a relatively strong position within their own state, as in the German case. However, the majority of regions in the Member States do not enjoy such a privileged bargaining position, and the regions often find themselves in more ambiguous terrain. The principle of subsidiarity to national governments is seen as a double-edged sword—the re-nationalisation of policies might imply the risk of going back to new forms of centralisation at domestic level. In such cases, defending competences in the hands of the EC institutions becomes at least as important as framing possible alliances with the EC in order to overcome the central authorities and enhance their own role. Consequently, it is not clear in which direction those regions will wish to direct their lobbying efforts.

  Nevertheless, Siedentorp's theory [quoted by Mr Darroch] suggesting that the alliance between the Commission and the regions "could weaken national democratic cultures without replacing them", is not completely fair. It does not take into account the possibility that regional democratic cultures, with their own democratic institutions, might be as legitimate as the national ones in order to interact at the EU level.

  The Commission has also perceived the regional factor as a potential problem. Michel Barnier, who declared himself in favour of a delimitation of competences, admitted that it could lead to internal problems between regions and Member States[26].

  At the same time, there is not a common view about how the clarification of competences should be done. Several questions arise: What should the contents of the document be? Should it be a general or a detailed document? Should it be legally binding or just have a political/advisory status? Should it be a Charter or a Constitution?

  It is not going to be easy to decide what is competences should correspond to each level. It seems equally difficult to reconcile the differences between countries on other items. The difficulties encountered by the Charter of Fundamental Rights suggest the likely negotiating environment for a Charter of Competences[27].

  According to the proposal, the UK is likely to push for a generalist and political (non-legally binding) approach, on the bases of the Edinburgh Declaration and the Amsterdam Protocol, while Germany—and maybe Italy—are likely to ask for a detailed description of competences and for a legally-binding document. Nonetheless, the real danger (or the optimal solution, depending on the approach) is of ending up with an undefined status. After all, if Member States have not been able to define clearly the status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, why should they do better with the Charter of Competences?

  Designing a Constitution for Europe is without doubt one of the most sensitive issues. According to some assertions, the European Constitution should consist of three elements: the much debated Charter of Fundamental Rights, a new Catalogue of Competences, and a clearer division of power within the European Institutions[28]. After the approval of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in Nice, the proposal for a Statement of Principles seems to bring the second element closer to reality. This process would put the EU's core principles into a separate document and might eventually be a backdoor route to a European Constitution.

  There are many supporters who favour a Constitution, among them Michel Barnier[29], Daniel Cohn-Bendit[30], Chris Patten, Joska Fischer and Jacques Chirac. The later two are representatives of countries with a strong constitutional tradition, with high significance in symbolic terms. The idea has also the backing of some renowned media such as The Economist, which some months ago published its own draft for a Constitution[31].


  On the other side, we can count on the UK as the major opponent, not only because of its incipient scepticism about the EU, but also because of its lack of (written) constitutional tradition in the continental sense of the word. In the fact, the Charter of Competences is, from the British perspective, more an alternative to a Constitution for Europe than a preliminary step towards a constitution. That is why, instead of a single, legally binding document, the UK suggests creating a Charter at the political level and continuing to use the treaties, laws and precedents at the legal level.

  All the underlying elements are relevant in order to decide who should be entitled to implement or enforce the document, as well as its status. In the case of constitutionalisation, especially if the Charter takes the form of a legal document, there would be the possibility that the ECJ (or a court annexed to it) might develop a role as European Constitutional Court. Obviously, that would increase the power of the ECJ, which already enjoys an important position and relative autonomy when interpreting EU issues on the basis of the treaties. There are reasons to suppose that the ECJ would also have a stronger tendency to extend the reach of EC law than would a Second Chamber. It is not necessary to point out that many Member States—whether they support the Constitution or not—would firmly disagree with such option. But even if the ECJ was not entitled to take on this role, what would be the impact of the Charter in the ECJ decisions in the legal sphere?

  Alternatively, Tony Blair's proposal stipulates the necessity of political review by a body of democratically elected politicians (ie Second Chamber), instead of judicial review by a European Constitutional Court. That might exert some control over the political role (the so-called judicial politics) of the ECJ when deciding the scope of EU competences. Moreover, a Second Chamber would presumably be more inclined to favour the national interests—perhaps not in all cases—acting as a policeman of subsidiarity, as described by Mr Darroch. On the other hand, the political nature of the document could generate uncertainty (which is already a problem), because it gives room to many interpretations depending on the Parliamentarians' views about subsidiarity. So, maybe the legal nature of the Charter should be considered as a possibility, even if implemented by the Chamber.

  In any case, competition between the new Chamber and the ECJ may arise. Even if they act at different stages of the process (the first, before the legislation has been approved, and the second, once it has been adopted), the activities of one would affect the powers of the other.

  It would also lead to competition with European Parliament. The proposal underlines the complementarity between a Second Chamber looking at the general principle and a European Parliament looking at the detailed legislation once it has gone through the Council. However, it is difficult to imagine how to stop the Parliamentarians of the Second Chamber from keeping an eye on the detail of legislation and interfering in the role of the other Chamber. Moreover, the new Chamber might be entitled to do things that have been denied to the Parliament (see paragraph below).

  Finally, there would probably emerge friction with the Commission. After, all, the efforts to control the work programme and the proposals at the beginning of the process, when the Commission put them forward, are clear (and legitimate) attempts to interfere in the agenda-setting powers of the Commission and to reduce its tendency to expand its competences. According to Blair's proposal, it is the European Council who should set the agenda, show strong leadership, and require the Commission to execute the Council's wishes.

  Mr Patten said that he saw no contradiction between calls for a strong, independent Commission and for an enhanced role for the European Council in setting the political agenda in a way that was more in tune with national electorates responsive to them[32].

  Apart from that, National Scrutiny Committees and even COSAC might find themselves dealing with things that are already being scrutinised. In this sense, the possibility that the Second Chamber might limit the existing scrutiny role to subsidiarity only—should be considered.

2.  Controlling the Second and Third Pillars

  The other function of the Chamber would be to carry out a collective and democratic oversight of the second and third pillars, areas of EU activity that go beyond the traditional work of the EC.

  This function can also be interpreted as an attempt to keep under national control the tendencies towards the expansion of qualified majority voting (QMV) and the enhanced participation of the Commission in those pillars (especially in CFSP). The detractors of the system tend to regard the adoption of QMV and the sharing of some powers (eg initiative) with an unelected body as an abandonment of democratic control and loss of democratic accountability before the electorate. It is also seen as a threat to their countries' sovereignty.

  Attributing to a Second Chamber the role of controlling CFSP and JHA, can be seen as an attempt to solve such a democratic deficit, even before it has been threatened in practice. After all, the tendency to maintain the status quo on unanimity has been preserved (despite its potential negative effects in terms of bureaucratic or legislative paralysis), to the relief of those who oppose weakening the national veto and the extension of QMV.

  While the other functions of the Chamber affect particularly the Commission (control of the proposals) and indirectly the European Parliament and the ECJ (possible competitors), this one affects the Council as well. Would the Chamber have a real power to control the Council in these matters? In relation to this question, latent conflicts with the Council and, by extension, with the national Governments may come to the surface. This issue is examined in the paragraph below.

II.  AIMS

  The two main aims of the proposal would be to help to define the limits of EU competences and to devolve powers downwards.

    "Une Seconde Chambre devrait pouvoir assurer ce contrôle [referring to limits of competences] et serait en quelque sorte garante du principe de la subsidiarité[33].

  There is not an immediate correlation between the definition of competences—as discussed above—and the reinforcement of subsidiarity and proportionality. As experience has shown after Edinburgh and Amsterdam, the devolution of powers requires more than a statement of principles. It requires additional struggles and also a clear will to do so.

  Mr Brok MEP, said that the European citizens are not interested in competences, they are interested in solutions. If the EU has the competence, it needs the instruments to provide solutions, otherwise is better not to have them. To give competences without the means to use them and to blame Brussels afterwards for the problem is absurd[34].

  A third aim would be to re-connect national parliamentarians with decisions made in Brussels and to give more direct voice to national Parliaments in ensuring that the institutions deliver on the EU's political priorities.

  Mr Barnier has agreed that it is necessary to make the national Parliaments feel attached to the EU institutions, since "national Parliaments have things to say[35]. The composition of the Second Chamber, with representatives of national Parliaments, is supposed to help to achieve this goal.

  The presence of parliamentarians might help to increase the awareness of national realities at the EU level (though they should already be fairly represented by the Council). However, there is no guarantee that such participation could work the other way round—ie making parliamentarians feel more attached to the EU than they were (or were not) before.


  Furthermore, it raises the issue of whether the Parliaments should have a direct voice at the EU level or whether, instead, they should have more weight at the national level. During the last few years, the balance of power between Parliaments and Governments has tilted towards the executive, in part because of the configuration of the EU structures, which require the presence of Ministers and Heads of State and Government as major national players. The Scandinavian countries, with their tradition of strong parliamentary control, might be the exception.

  According to Mr Brok MEP, many national Parliaments have rejected the idea of a Second Chamber, for a very simple reason: the European Parliament controlled the EU bodies and the national Parliaments controlled their national Governments. In this direction, the European Parliament would like to see national Parliaments exert greater control over their Governments' actions in the Council of Ministers. This would require an opening up of the Council process so that it was more transparent to citizens and the media. "There should be no right any more for any specialised Council of Ministers meeting to take any legislative decision," he said. "They should act as committees to `prepare' such legislation as is done in every Parliament"[36].

  In this context, several questions have to be considered, and some of them acquire special relevance when it comes to the function of the democratic oversight of the second and third pillars, which are mainly intergovernmental. For example, if the Second Chamber were used as a forum to exchange views that coincided with the Governments' views expressed in the Council, wouldn't it be repetitive and unnecessary? And if the views disagreed, could that be a source of conflict and distrust between the national Parliaments and their respective Governments? Would that not help to "export" domestic inter-institutional problems to the already complex EU arena? Furthermore, might that not lead to disputes among parliamentarians and government representatives from different Member States?

  Some representatives of EU institutions have suggested other ways of achieving the same goals. They have proposed that:

    —  National Parliaments should be better informed. This element has already been defined in the protocol annexed to the Amsterdam treaty. However, it depends on the prerogatives granted to each parliamentary chamber, which each Member State defines independently. According to Mr Barnier, even if the Commission could co-operate, the proper functioning of the system was primarily the responsibility of the national Governments. So, as soon as this system was truly common to all Member States, it might be possible to give it a degree of legal formality[37].

  Debates which take place at the same time as the meetings of Foreign Ministers, might permit the Minister of a Member State to accompany a representative of the national Parliament[38]. They could also be present at the next IGC, for example.

    —  National representatives could acquire a better understanding of the EU institutions through their presence in the European Parliament as MEPs (eg future members of the Council, before getting into the Council)[39].

  Last, but not least, the fourth aim of the proposal has to do with the search for legitimacy.

  There appears to be an open agreement between the Member States and the Commission on bringing the EU closer to the citizens of Europe. In this direction, the Commission is preparing a White Paper on that topic and President Romano Prodi has given the matter high priority on the Commission agenda[40]. There have been many examples of this commitment among the Member States (not only Mr Blair, but also the Swedish and Belgian Presidencies for this year and the Spanish Foreign Ministry[41] have expressed their concern, just to mention some of them). But it is clear that not all the countries have to face the same difficulties: for example, Britain's Tony Blair and the Sweden's Go­ran Persson must cope with much more sceptical electorates than other countries.

  Mr Blair's proposal for a Statement of Principles responds to the urgent need for clarity, simplicity and accessibility for EU citizens, while a Second Chamber is based on the idea that Parliamentarian elected by the people can increase the legitimacy and "representativeness" of the EU institutions. This view is shared also by other politicians:

    "Ne sont pas les gouvernements qui seraient représéntes aux Parlements, qu'il s'agisse de la premiére ou de la seconde Chambre, mais nous aurions affaire exclusivement a" des parlementaires élus par le peuple. Situation qui, non seulement renforcerait leur légitimité démocratique, mais consoliderait également l'identification des hommes a" leurs représentants"[42].

  Nonetheless, several voices have emerged calling for alternative means of achieving this aim. Despite public support for the European Parliament and the Commission being at an all-time low, the majority of them ask for an extension of the role or reform of those institutions. The most significant propositions are the following:

    —  Reinforcement of the European Parliament. Since it is elected democratically, it already has democratic legitimacy and should be taken more seriously. That would imply changing its procedures in order to define its activity and make it more confident[43].





    —  Blair's proposal does not disagree with the idea of giving more authority to the European Parliament, even though it also asks for an increase in the power of the European Council.

      Democratisation of the Commission. There are two proposals in this respect:

      (a)  German MEP Elmar Brok has actively developed an idea of Delors' for a "European president", arguing that the political parties should float candidates for the Commission presidency and that voters should have the right to decide through direct elections.

      (b)  During the 1996 IGC, the Parliament argued that the President of the Commission should be directly elected by the Parliament on the basis of a list submitted by the Council. By extension, a parliamentary role in the nomination of Commissioners is likely to be a further issue.

  It is unlikely that Governments will envisage such far-reaching reform, mainly because that new legitimacy would make stronger the Commission's bargaining position with the Council in times of disagreement. But with the role of Parliament already considerably enhanced (eg co-decision), calls for deepening links between the democratic process and the nomination of the Commission President are likely to continue[44].

SOME FINAL REMARKS

  The creation of a Second Chamber requires a Treaty reform and, consequently, the agreement of the other Member States. Even if the proposal is developed sufficiently to be debated in the IGC 2004, it seems doubtful that an agreement could be reached given that the idea is still at an embryonic stage. The more we wait, the more difficult will be to agree, because the number of Member States that need to be convinced is going to increase after enlargement. But the proposal is non-prescriptive and can be seen as a means of stimulating debate.

  The following dimensions are crucial in order to assess the possible reactions of the Member States: position in the axis federalism/inter-governmentalism, attitude in relation to the constitutionalisation of the Union, degree of scepticism among the population about the current EU institutions and the way they work, the degree of centralisation and the power of the regions, the strength of the national Parliament within the domestic system, etc.

  If these variables are important it is because, even if Mr Blair's plan is presented under the umbrella of the aims agreed at Nice, the contents of the proposal have implications in institutional terms and in terms of development of the acquis communautaire which are not commonly shared by all. Indeed, the proposal of a Second Chamber has many things to do with the goals of reducing the democratic deficit, increasing the involvement of national parliaments and clarifying the division of competences. But, because of the way it attempts to address these goals, it offers above all a shift towards inter-governmentalism, a reinforcement of subsidiarity and a limit to the powers of the Commission, at least, in theory, because the functioning of the Chamber might lead to unintended consequences depending on the performance of the parliamentarians involved.

  We have also noted that establishing a Second Chamber would involve a lot of problems to solve and things to think about. It is likely to complicate matters rather than make them simpler. In order to compensate for those efforts, a Second Chamber would need not only a strong legitimacy, but also enough powers to justify its raison d'être. Giving it only a power of delay would please neither the detractors of the idea nor its supporters—except in the case of those who contemplate Euro-paralysis as a positive and intended consequence—but doing less or going further would be a source of controversy as well.

  At the same time, the more powers the Chamber was given, the more difficult it would be to place it in the interinstitutional arena without creating tensions with the other institutions. The Chamber would definitely disturb the balance of power within the EU architecture, although this is not necessarily a bad thing.

  In fact, there is nothing to prevent the new Chamber from carrying on a role that helps to clarify the division of powers within the EU institutions. Improving existing structures and clarifying their role is appealing because they will have to be examined and reformed anyway to prepare them for enlargement. In this context, maybe the concepts of "deepening instead of widening" and "less and better" can find a place when considering the possibility of institutional proliferation, instead of emerging only when the activities of Commission and the EU policies are at stake.


1  
Charles Grant is the director of the Centre for European Reform, correspondent/defence editor for The Economist, and also author of the famous book Delors: Inside the House that Jacques Built. The pamphlet quoted above is available at the website of the mentioned think-tank: www.cer.org.uk. Back

2   Guy Verhofstadt-Prime Minister of Belgium-in Euobserver 27/10/2000 (see www.euobserver.com). Back

3   Gonzalo de Benito Secades-Director General of the Cabinet of the Spanish Foreign Minister-, 28/2/2001. Back

4   Josep Pique i Camps -Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs-in a conference at the LSE, 24/1/2001. Back

5   Janos Martonyi-Hungary's Foreign Minister-in Euobserver, 16/11/2000. Back

6   Michel Barnier-Commissioner for Regional Policy and Responsible for the Institutional Reforms of the EU-in Euobserver, 10/10/2000. Back

7   For further information about the debate, see www.europa.eu.int/futurum. Back

8   Chris Patten-Commissioner for External Relations-, speech to the Association of Private Client Investment Managers and Stockbrokers, in Euobserver 10/10/2000. Back

9   Neil Kinnock -Vice-President of the Commission-in a conference at the LSE, 2/2/2001. Back

10   Romano Prodi -President of the Commission- in Euobserver 18/1/2001. Back

11   Elmar Brok MEP-Chairman of the EP Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights and CFSP-in the "Breakfast Meetings" of the European Policy Centre ( www.theepc.be ), 19/10/2000. Back

12   Michel Barnier in El Pais 1/2/2001 and Elmar Brok MEP in the "Breakfast Meetings" of the EPC, 19/10/2000. Back

13   The Economist, "Our Constitution for Europe" (art. 6), 28/10/2000 (www.economist.com/opinion). Back

14   In "Rapport final et recommendations. Dialogue transnational du mouvement européen sur l'élargissement de et la reforme institutionelle", October 2000. The full report is available at the website of the European Movement Ireland (www.europeanmovement.ie/news ). Back

15   Michel Barnier. "The Future of the Union and the National Parliaments of the Member States". Meeting with the National Parliaments of the Member States in Brussels, 20/3/2001. Back

16   Daniel Cohn-Bendit MEP (les Verts), conference (Stichting Van Der Leeuw-Lezing) pronounced the 3/11/2000 in Groningue (Basc Country), in Le Monde 4/11/2000 (www.lemonde.frpar). Back

17   Neil Kinnock at the LSE, 2/2/2001. Back

18   Michel Barnier. "The Future of the Union and the National Parliaments of the Member States". Meeting with the National Parliaments of the Member States in Brussels, 20/3/2001. Back

19   Johannes Rau-German Bundes Präsident-in Euobserver, 10/10/2000. Back

20   Daniel Cohn-Bendit MEP in Le Monde 4/11/2000. Back

21   "A Second Chamber would be very expensive and we would have to pay MPs trips to Brussels" Neil Kinnock at the LSE, 2/2/2001. Back

22   European Commission (2000): The budget of the EU. How is your money spent? 2000 edition. Back

23   Lorenz in Hill, 1996. Back

24   Chris Patten in Euobserver 10/10/2000. Back

25   In Euobserver in 8/12/2000. Back

26   Michel Barnier in El Pais, 1/2/2001. Back

27   In fact, following the Laeken Declaration, the whole debate on the future of the Union should be based on a model inspired by the Convention which drafted the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Back

28   Johannes Rau in Euobserver, 10/10/2000. Back

29   Michel Barnier in El Pais, 1/2/2001. Back

30   Daniel Cohn-Bendit MEP in Le Monde 4/11/2000. Back

31   The Economist, 28/10/2000. Back

32   Chris Patten in Euobserver 10/10/2000. Back

33   Daniel Cohn-Bendit MEP in Le Monde 4/11/2000. Back

34   Elmar Brok MEP in the "Breakfast Meetings" of the European Policy Centre, 19/10/2000. Back

35   Michel Barnier in El Pais, 1/2/2001. Back

36   Elmar Brok MEP in the "Breakfast Meetings" of the European Policy Centre, 19/10/2000. Back

37   Michel Barnier. "The Future of the Union and the National Parliaments of the Member States". Meeting with the National Parliaments of the Member States in Brussels, 20/3/2001. Back

38   Michel Barnier in El Pais, 1/2/2001. Back

39   Neil Kinnock at the LSE, 2/2/2001. Back

40   Chris Patten in Euobserver 10/10/2000 and also Romano Prodi in Euobserver 18/1/2001. Back

41   Gonzalo de Benito Secades, Director General of the Cabinet of the Spanish Foreign Minister, 28/2/2001. Back

42   Daniel Cohn-Bendit MEP in Le Monde 4/11/2000. Back

43   Neil Kinnock at the LSE, 2/2/2001. Back

44   Spence (2000): "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose? Attempting to Reform the European Commission" in Journal of European Public Policy 7:1 March 2000 (www.tandf.co.uk/journals). Back


 
previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001