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15th Apr 2024

MEPs want to see fewer heads of state in plenary

  • MEPs want the House to become more political (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Parliament should dedicate less time to reports with no legislative power and be "more selective" when inviting heads of states to speak to the plenary, a taskforce on reforming the internal workings of the EU assembly has suggested.

In an interim report presented to the parliamentary group leaders on Thursday (20 September), the group tabled a list of over 25 concrete practical improvements for running the House.

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These are designed to "improve Parliament's working procedures and make them more transparent and to bring our institution more in line with what citizens expect of a European Parliament of today," says the report.

A key idea is to cut down debating time and the permitted length of so-called "own initiative" reports that present their authors' opinions on a certain subject but have no legislative effect in the EU.

In 2006, 92 own-reports were tabled, on issues such as women in international trade and politics, environmentally-friendly fishing methods or confiscation of automobiles by the Greek authorities.

The reform taskforce points out MEPs spend more time debating such reports (22%) than on real EU bills (18%) and calls for a reduction - in terms of number and length – of the non-legislative documents.

Some members had suggested there should be a cap on the number of amendments to the draft legislation with reports attracting too many to be shifted back to the parliamentary committees for further debate.

A total of 10,767 amendments were issued in 2006 and some MEPs argue it makes the voting too technical and likely to get influenced by lobbyists who tend to distribute their version of the voting lists.

But the suggestion did not make it to the final document by the reform taskforce.

Presidents wasting MEPs time?

MEPs also complain about the "recent practise" of frequent visits of heads of states from EU member states or third countries to the Strasbourg or Brussels plenary.

"With a view to reducing the overall number of such formal sittings parliament should also become more selective as to whom to invite to address the House," they argue, pointing out that the formal sessions interrupt the legislature's normal work.

The first concrete conclusion of the reform taskforce brings together contributions received from around 100 MEPs and it was adopted by the 8-member body unanimously.

"I'm optimistic about what we can achieve with this exercise," the chairwoman, German social democrat MEP Dagmar Roth-Behrendt told EUobserver, adding that she has been warned by parliament's veterans not to expect too much as it takes strong political muscle to push through significant changes in the House.

Liberal leader Graham Watson is more sceptical. "I doubt that the grand coalition of the centre-right EPP-ED and social democrats will allow a real reform of the parliament. There are a lot of inept conservatives in the system."

He himself stood down from the taskforce after - mainly the centre-right MEPs - voted down a proposal to add extra parliamentary debates about the up-to-date issues with the European Commission, which he had been pushing for to make the House more political.

Danish eurosceptic Jens-Peter Bonde would like to see more radical changes, such as clear thresholds on amendments and voting along political lines rather than on technicalities, and only on the issues where the EU parliament actually has legislative powers.

But he did vote in favour of the report, as "it is psychologically important to show that we want to become a more political parliament."

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