Parliament wants equal powers over EU economic governance
Warning that the "democratic credibility" of the EU has been damaged in the eyes of citizens as economic integration proceeds apace with little input from ordinary people, the European Parliament has demanded that it be given equal powers to the other EU institutions over national budgetary control.
"The democratic credibility of European integration has suffered enormously from the manner in which the euro crisis has been dealt with to date," reads a strongly worded resolution passed with a strong majority in the chamber on Thursday (1 December).
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The steady accretion of powers over national budget-making by unelected European actors has been criticised by a number of commentators as putting the interests of the markets ahead of democratic decision-making. Eyebrows have also been raised over the installation of technocratic governments in Greece and Italy.
The EU parliament now seems to be increasingly of a similar opinion, even on the right of the chamber, which gave its strong endorsement to the resolution drafted by French Socialist Pervenche Beres, who criticised "unilateral action" by EU actors involved in the crisis response.
"The lack of transparency in decision-making and opinion forming processes, particularly in the European Council and the Council of Ministers, is undermining citizens’ trust in European integration and the democracies of the European Union and is hindering the exercise of active, constructive control by citizens," continued the declaration, backed in the house by 501 to 106.
"Parliamentary debate on economic policy guidelines is the cornerstone of any democratic system."
"EU economic policy coordination will work only if it becomes more democratic and less technocratic," read a statement following the vote.
While the house has no power to impose its will in this area, the scale of the cross-chamber support for the ideas shows that the parliament has decided to stake out its claim for a decisive role in the construction of European economic union ahead of any discussion of treaty changes.
The key demand of the parliament is to be given what is called "co-decision" - equal powers with the Council of Ministers, which represents the member states - in approving the commission's oversight of national budgets.
"The commission is not elected, yet it is able to intervene in national budgets even before a national parliament has seen it. Where is the democratic control?" said Solange Helin Villes, spokesman for the Socialists and Democrats in the parliament.
MEPs expect to win this battle, saying that there is already a strong precedent in this area with the chamber's co-decision powers over the EU budget.
The commission for its part said that democratic input is necessary but that the parliament already has been awarded a larger role in the process.
Deeper integration of economic policy making requires "enhancing the democratic scrutiny of decision-making at the EU level, both by national Parliaments and the European Parliament," economic and monetary affairs spokesman Amadeu Altafaj-Tardio told EUobserver.
"[Legislation that] will soon enter into force has already considerably reinforced the role of the European Parliament, precisely to address concerns of transparency and democratic accountability of the type to which Madame Beres refers," he said, referring to a new 'economic dialogue' under which the economy commissioner, the president of the European Council and the head of the eurogroup as well as finance ministers of member states can be grilled by the parliament.
An EU finance minister
A second resolution called for the creation of a European finance minster and the establishment of a EU Treasury in the medium term. Finance ministers at the national level are normally responsible for the drafting the of budgets, taxation and economic policy.
Again, the chamber said that the finance minister should be made "democratically accountable to the parliament."
However, what this means precisely remains open.
The term "finance minister" normally describes an office inhabited by an individual drawn from a parliament, but the chamber is not so bold as to suggest that an EU finance minister be an MEP.
According to those close to the parliament's conception of what it would like to see, the minister could be drawn from the commission so long as the chamber was able to vet his or her work.
Whether this individual could be dismissed by a vote of no confidence in the parliament, or could only be dismissed along with the whole of the commission "will be fleshed out later on," said one official.