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Enlightened Europism

European affairs of the present and future

Reform #2: Political system (vol. 2) – European Parliament

Introduction

As discussed in my previous article (see Reform #2 vol. 1), the European electoral system would go through a radical reformation, which affects the composition and working dynamics of the European Parliament (or EP) profoundly. Based on the figures of turnout and election results, the pan-Europarties and their national branches are going to reshape the face and the purpose of the EP of the Republic of the United Europe, enhancing legitimacy and competence on a European scale.

In this article, I am going to focus on the transformation of the European Parliament as the second volume of the reformation of the European political system. However, before introducing the new EP, I would like to begin with the provision of a brief and general overview of the EP in its current state – highlighting its strengths and weaknesses, whilst proposing solutions.

 

The European Parliament of the European Union

Officially, the European Parliament represents the European citizens, and forms the democratic basis of the European Union. During the last decades, the EP became gradually more powerful, and is considered to be the main agenda-setter of the EU. The first significant step to increase the EP’s authority was granted by the Maastricht Treaty, which provided the institution the power of final approval of the membership of the European Commission (including its President), meaning political control over the institution responsible for being the guardian of European laws. As a second important step on this path, the Amsterdam Treaty extended the co-decision procedure to most areas of legislation, granting the EP the same importance as the European Council has. Most recently, the Nice Treaty and Lisbon Treaty further extended the scope of co-decision – now known as the ordinary legislative procedure –, and became the most widely used decision-making procedure.

The European Parliament has ratification powers, and participates in the legislative process (e.g. ordinary legislative procedure, consultation, assent, initiation). Since the Lisbon Treaty, the EP is involved in the budgetary process from the preparation stage (e.g. general guidelines, type of spending), it adopts the budget, and monitors its implementation. Also, the EP keeps the European Commission in check, and has the right to appeal to the Court of Justice. Besides its official powers, the EP has an enormous indirect influence through non-binding resolutions, committee hearings, and the media based in Brussels.

Since 1979, the MEPs are directly elected on European elections. The European Parliament has 705 representatives, distributed amongst the 27 member states as follows: Germany 96; France 79; Italy 76; Spain 59; Poland 52; Romania 33; the Netherlands 29; Belgium, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, and Sweden 21-21; Austria 19; Bulgaria 17; Denmark, Finland, and Slovakia 14-14; Ireland 13; Croatia 12; Lithuania 11; Latvia and Slovenia 8-8; Estonia 7; Cyprus, Luxembourg, and Malta 6-6.  The total number of seats is allocated in accordance with the size of population; however, more populous member states agree to be under-represented in order to favour greater representation of less populous member states (degressive proportional apportionment).

The European Parliament’s political bodies comprise the Bureau (the President and fourteen Vice Presidents), the Conference of Presidents (the President and the political group chairs), the five Quaestors (responsible for the members’ administrative and financial business), the Conference of Committee Chairs, and the Conference of Delegation Chairs. The President of the European Parliament – elected for two and a half years – oversees the functioning and work of the EP. The EP has 22 committees and 44 delegations, and also sends a delegation to the Joint Assembly set up under the agreement between the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) states and the EU. The EP organises its work independently, in accordance with its Rules of Procedure, acting by a majority of its members.

Theoretically, the political groups are defined by political affinities and not by nationalities, which secures the transnationality of the European Parliament. A political group must comprise members elected from at least a quarter of the member states, and must consist of at least 25 members. The European parties in existence (as of 2021) are the European People’s Party (EPP), the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the Renew Europe, the Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA), the Identity and Democracy (ID), the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), the Confederal Group of the European United Left-Nordic Green Left (GUE-NGL), and the independent Non-attached Members (NI). Supranational parties work in close co-operation with the corresponding political groups in the EP.

In my view, the European Parliament of the European Union has numerous shortcomings, of which the strong national tone, the deficiency in legitimacy (e.g. degressive proportionality, low turnout), and the costliness and inconvenience of multiple locations of sessions (Brussels, Luxembourg, Strasbourg) and of multilingualism are the most distressful. The EP of the EU is neither legitimate nor transnational to that extent as it would be desirable and expected; moreover, it is distant from its citizens and unnecessarily expensive. In addition, due to the seat allocation being based on national features (e.g. size of population), and the European parties are pursuing national interests, the competence of the EP as the parliament of Europe is also questionable – not to mention certain representatives, who are executing orders taken from unelected individuals. It would be rather harmful and dangerous, if this EP with its obvious defects would receive further authorities and responsibilities. As the context of the Lisbon Treaty would not allow to reform or further increase the power of the EP anyway, being stuck in a dead end, the solution is to accomplish the reformation of the European Parliament in the frames of the Republic of the United Europe (or RUE).

 

The European Parliament of the Republic of the United Europe

Before I would introduce my own idea, let me bring to attention the most popular theory of reforming the European Parliament. According to this envisage, the federal Europe should consist of two chambers: Lower House and Upper House. The Lower House would include directly elected MEPs, who are the members of their own national parliaments at the same time, aiming to eliminate discrepancies between the EP and the national parliaments, and to reduce potential conflicts between Europe and nation-states. The idea of the Upper House’s structure would be somewhere between the model of the Senate in the US and the Bundesrat in Germany. In the US, every state directly elects two-two senators, whilst in the Bundesrat, the number of the votes varies depending on the size of population. In my opinion, the two-chamber system would make the already stammering European decision-making even more sluggish and indecisive. Also, the European Council would de degraded to the role of forming an Upper House, which could be bypassed and overruled by the directly elected President of the European Commission, who would be the de facto president of the EU at the same time. Besides, this theory would not encourage the formation of true European parties along European issues; on the contrary, pressing issues would stick on the level of nation-states, which are incapable to solve them. Instead of overcoming the challenges of indecision and illegitimacy, the dysfunctional mechanism of the EP – thus the entire Union – would be rather cemented in the two-chamber system. Therefore, I fully reject this idea.

Another theory, which emerged after the failure of the Spitzenkandidaten process after the EP elections in 2019, would allow voters to vote for a preferred candidate for the position of President of the European Commission, enhancing European parties to put forward a joint programme and a single coalition lead candidate. The establishment of a European Electoral Authority is on the table with ideas, such as remote voting, lowering the voting age to 16, common admission, and campaigning and funding rules. This theory argues that transnational lists would increase the transparency of European political parties and movements, whilst supporting the establishment of collective responsibility for the European Commission and the transformation of the European Council into a second EU legislative chamber (also attempting to degrade its current role). This idea has positive elements, but altogether proposes nothing extraordinary or altogether constructive.

In my view, the EP has some features, which are worth to keep, and some require only small adjustments. The European Parliament of the Republic of the United Europe has to be formed along the principles of reformed suffrage and European electoral system, which results in a fundamental transformation. Despite the enormous structural changes, the EP could keep all of its powers it enjoys now, which could be expanded even further by widening its authority and responsibilities.

The new European Parliament would consist of 800 seats, which are allocated based on the new European electoral system (see Reform #2 vol. 1). The MEPs would continue to serve five years terms. For the sake of simplicity and cost effectiveness, the EP’s official languages should be English, French, and German – perhaps Latin in the future (especially in administration) –, whereas the sessions should be held at one location only (e.g. Brussels). The European Parliament – as a fully authorised parliament – has to be in the centre of European decision-making. It shall remain in the EP’s full authority to decide about and accept the budget of the RUE, but for the coming three years – instead of seven. The EP is accountable to the citizens of Europe, and its rule of law should apply to the entirety of the Republic of the United Europe, meaning that it outranks the national parliaments in the legal hierarchy. Should there be a legislation made in the European Parliament, it must not be ignored or contradicted in the member states. It is in the duties and authorities of the EP to propose penalties on any of those member states that breach the constitution of the RUE. The measures of penalty would be decided by the ECJ and executed by the European Government.

As I intend to introduce the European Government of the Republic of the United Europe in the next volume of the reformation of the political system (volume 3), I mention only loosely that it is going to be formed by the pan-Europarties that got elected to the European Parliament. These pan-Europarties would form coalitions and factions as they please in order to increase their influence on legislation, which is going to lead to the formation of a European government ultimately. In this process, the EP appoints the Prime Minister, who is ideally the leading candidate of the winning pan-Europarty. After appointing the PM, the President of the RUE (will be introduced in volume 4) has to approve it as well, as he or she possesses the right to veto the person of the PM once.

The European Parliament would control and supervise the European Government, and would form committees along areas of expertise, helping legislation. Regarding the EP’s current structure and daily working routine, I do not see a reason for fundamental changes (e.g. political bodies). The most important committee I find vital to introduce is the European Accountability Committee (or EAC), which would be a committee independent from the EP, but would work together with it and with the European Court of Justice (ECJ) tightly. The EAC’s duty is to investigate every MEP and minister after their terms of office are over, but also during their terms, if the third of the Parliament agree (at least from four different parties). It is an essential body, which should tackle issues, such as misuse of power, corruption, incompetence, series of wrong decisions, ineffectiveness, inactivity, etc. The members of the EAC would vote and decide unanimously, preparing and sending their report to the ECJ, which would start a legal investigation regarding the case, making its judgement eventually. Should a minister or MEP proved to be guilty, they must get a stricter sentence than an ordinary citizen. It is imperative that only politically inactive and proven experts (e.g. former ministers or representatives) are to be approved to be the members of the EAC.

 

Conclusion

The reformed European Parliament would be significantly more legitimate, focusing on European issues and solutions, and representing the citizens of Europe. The cornerstones of its power should be the oversight of other European and certain national institutions, the supervision of use of the European budget, and the implementation of law. In the complex European political system, the European Parliament is going to be the bastion of Europe, influencing European legislation and its execution – latter through the formation of the European Government.



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