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22nd Jun 2018

'Yellow cards' from national EU parliaments not very effective

  • Westminster, UK: National parliaments worry more about finished law proposals than about drafts. (Photo: UK Parliament)

New tools national parliaments received five years ago this month to influence EU lawmaking are not very effective, a research requested by the Dutch national assembly found.

The report - "Engaging with Europe" - by Radboud University in Nijmegen was presented in The Hague on Wednesday (3 December).

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Since the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon on 1 December 2009, national parliaments in EU member states have the right to raise a “yellow card" if they think that a proposed law should actually be dealt with on at the national level.

After the European Commission has published a legislative proposal, parliaments may send a so-called reasoned opinion. If at least a third of the parliaments have a negative opinion about the proposal, the commission should reconsider it.

However, according to the researchers, national parliaments think Brussels does not reply quickly enough. And when they get the reply, it often “simply comes down to repeating the argumentation from the original draft legislative act”.

Another problem is that there is no objective way to define if a rule falls under the principle of "subsidiarity".

Subsidiarity is, in the words of the EU, “the principle whereby the Union does not take action ... unless it is more effective than action taken at national, regional or local level".

The researchers however found that national parliaments “give the principle their own interpretation, and also put forward several, and often contradictory, political arguments”.

“As such, it is not only unnecessary, but also impossible for the commission to satisfy the demands of all national parliaments.”

The researchers suggest that a clarification of the principle of subsidiarity could be sought by making a case with the European Court of Justice.

The report also notes that national parliaments are mostly concerned with laws that have already been fully proposed.

In 2013, just 28 of the 621 contributions that the commission received from national parliaments, were about so-called Green and White Papers or public consultations.

“The Commission advises parliaments to provide input at an early stage, because changes can be more easily implemented when the legislation is still in the preparatory phase”, the report writes, adding that only “the Swedish parliament is involved in the early phase of law-making on a structural basis”.

The authors of the report expect that the new commission and European Parliament "will listen more carefully to the standpoints of the national parliaments".

"The limited influence of reasoned opinions so far may be discouraging, yet if national parliaments really want to have their voice heard in Brussels, they have to persist."

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