21st Sep 2017

Portuguese MPs most active in monitoring EU law

The Portuguese parliament has been by far the most active in commenting on legislative proposals coming out of Brussels, while the parliament of its Iberian neighbour, Spain, has not sent a single remark to the EU capital since the process was put into place in 2006.

The latest figures from the European Commission, obtained by EUobserver, show that Portuguese MPs have sent 102 comments on draft EU laws and position papers over the past three years - a fifth of the total 505 comments seen from all 27 member states.

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  • The European Commission sends its legislative proposals and consultation papers directly to national parliaments when they are published (Photo: Photo: Xoe Cranberry)

The next busiest were the French Senate, with 58 submissions since 2006, the German upper house (48), the Swedish parliament (44) and the British House of Lords (39).

The most active of the former Communist states that joined the EU in 2004 is the Czech Republic, whose senate has submitted 41 remarks.

At the other end of the scale, the parliaments of Spain, Malta and Romania have sent no comments to Brussels. Assemblies in a total of 15 member states have made 10 or less remarks since 2006.

Introduced exactly three years ago, the comment scheme sees the European Commission send its legislative proposals and consultation papers directly to national parliaments when they are published.

The move was supposed to bridge the gap between Brussels and EU citizens, with parliaments asked to look in particular into whether the European Commission really was the best level at which to act (the subsidiarity principle) and whether it was acting proportionately.

Past proposals attracting attention from parliaments - who also sometimes just comment to say they approve of a plan - include a law regulating divorce in different countries and one on liberalising postal services.

National deputies' opinions are then "duly considered" by the commission, but it is not obliged to change its proposals.

Looking to the Lisbon Treaty

The underwhelming response does not bode well for the slightly more powerful mechanism contained in the EU's proposed new set of rules, the Lisbon Treaty.

Under the treaty, yet to be ratified in all EU states, the commission must review - although not necessarily withdraw - a proposal if at least one third of national parliaments (nine) claims it breaches the subsidiarity principle.

If a simple majority of parliaments continue to object to the proposal, but the commission maintains the draft as it is, then member states and the European Parliament have to decide if they agree or not with the national objections.

The proper functioning of this article, hailed at the time as a big step toward involving national parliaments in EU decision-making, depends on MPs in the various member states forming a position within the eight-week deadline and galvanising other assemblies to act.

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