24th Sep 2023

National parliaments rebuff MEPs on constitution

Three national parliaments have in a strongly-worded letter made clear that they refuse to cooperate in a proposed European Parliament-led series of debates aimed at reviving the EU constitution.

The presidents of the Austrian, Finnish and German parliaments in a letter to the European Parliament's president Josep Borrell on Monday (16 January) attacked key parts of a draft report aimed at resuscitating the EU constitution, which is up for a vote by MEPs on Wednesday.

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Austria, Finland and Germany hold the EU presidencies in 2006 and 2007, with their national parliaments coordinating European national parliamentarians' common activities.

The European Parliament report, presented last week by UK liberal MEP Andrew Duff and his Austrian Green colleague Johannes Voggenhuber, contains provisions defining the role of national parliaments during the period of reflection on the constitution.

The reflection period was agreed by EU leaders in June last year after French and Dutch voters rejected the charter.

The Duff-Voggenhuber report envisages national parliaments' participation in a series of parliamentary forums in 2006 and 2007, which should form the basis of a revised constitutional treaty to be put for approval by EU citizens in 2009.

The report proposes that "the European Parliament and national parliaments jointly organise conferences – Parliamentary Forums - in order to stimulate the debate and to shape, step by step, the necessary political conclusions."

Already after a first parliamentary forum in May, "comprehensive conclusions" on the fate of the charter should be presented to EU leaders in June, the MEPs suggest.

But although the Austrian, Finnish and German parliaments said in the letter that they "highly appreciate that the European Parliament seeks the cooperation with the national parliaments," they refuse to accept the terms of the cooperation.

No appendix to European Parliament

Andreas Khol from Austria's Nationalrat, Paavo Lipponen from the Finnish Eduskunta and Norbert Lammert from the Bundestag indicate they only want to schedule one meeting with the European Parliament in May, with possible further meetings only to be agreed at a later stage.

Moreover, the May gathering should merely be an "exchange of views" and not be aimed at presenting a common position with the European Parliament to EU leaders.

"Due to the fact that 13 countries have already ratified the constitutional treaty and 12 countries have not, the national parliaments have very different approaches towards the debate on the future of Europe and there is neither a need nor a mechanism to find a joint strategy of national parliaments on how to engage in a lasting debate," the letter states.

The writers of the letter added that they "would not like to be seen just as an appendix to the European Parliament in such a process."

An insider explaining the background of the move told EUobserver "we are not there as a legitimation of the European Parliament's own interests."

Show of strength

The national parliaments' show of strength in the face of the EU institutions comes after an announcement of a deal last autumn, backed by all 25 national parliaments except the Italian one, for stronger oversight of EU law.

Parliaments are currently involved in drawing up a common list identifying legislative proposals in the European Commission's annual work programme for 2006, that are potentially in breach of the principle of "subsidiarity."

The subsidiarity principle, enshrined in the EU treaty, states that the EU shall only take action when action at member state level is ineffective.


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