Wednesday

27th Oct 2021

MEPs await large extension of powers

  • Europa statue - in the front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg (Photo: EUobserver)

MEPs are awaiting next week's entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty with impatience as the new institutional rules give the EU assembly a say in an array of new areas, including the EU's money-eating farm policy and its long-term budget.

While the new EU foreign policy chief and council president represents a shake-up for the external face of the bloc, the internal shake-up, placing further substantial co-legislative power into the hands of euro-parliamentarians, is widely seen as the more profound change.

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Come 1 December, the parliament will gain a say on, amongst other areas, legal immigration, judicial co-operation in criminal matters, police co-operation, structural funds, services of general economic interest [euro-jargon for public services], structural funds, transport, personal data protection and intellectual property rights.

The rise in legislative powers represents almost a doubling in power, with the instances where deputies will work on proposed laws on an equal footing with member states rising from around 40 to almost 90.

Of these, the most important areas are seen as energy security, common commercial policy and farm policy, with the last policy area accounting - contentiously - for around 40 percent of the EU's budget.

This comes atop the already substantial powers the EU legislature has in internal market and environment legislation, which in recent years saw it significantly water down a law on opening up the services markets and tighten up rules on registering chemicals in everyday products, a hugely important law with implications for companies around the globe.

MEPs' consent will also be needed for the bloc's longterm seven-year budget, where agreement is normally preceded by a bunfight amongst member states on money and priorities, while the parliament will have co-legislative powers on the annual budget.

"It's a real win for the parliament. MEPs will, legislatively-speaking, virtually be everywhere," remarked an EU official.

Underestimated?

Analysts believe the changes have been underestimated by member states.

"I think there'll be a moment of: 'My God, what the hell have we done?' I think there will be that after ten years or so. There will certain be successors to today's prime ministers turning around and going: 'How did we ever agree to that?'" says Hugo Brady from the London-based Centre for European Reform.

But he warned that MEPs should use their new powers wisely rather than charging around like "blunderbusses." This will lessen the impact of the awakening member states will have down the line about parliament's power.

On the other hand, the fact that the EU assembly now has so much say over money and will be able to "influence" how the EU budget is spent over the longterm is a great opportunity. "Now has its hands on the purse-strings, which is the beginning of all great parliaments."

In budgetary terms, a key moment, for both parliament and member states, is likely to be in 2013 when governments are set to agree the next multi-annual budget beginning the following year.

According to Jorge Nunez Ferrer, an expert at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels, the fact that money for farm policy will no longer be "untouchable" may spur MEPs to take a more active interest in it.

"Now that the parliament can participate fully on both the policy and on the budget, other parliamentarians may decide it is worthwhile putting their time into agricultural issues if they want money from the agricultural part to be distributed in areas that they are interested in," he noted.

A move in this direction would change the parliament from being a rather anti-reformist assembly in this respect to a promoter of change.

This could have important implications for both the reform of the common agricultural policy and the next agreement on the long-term budget, with the EU budget policy - now up for an overhaul - long seen by critics as not focussing on the real challenges of today such as climate change, and the need for innovation and more R&D.

Reimer Boege, a member of the parliament's budget committee, noted that rules for parliament on the budget are "much, much stronger," saying that it "forces us all (member states and MEPs) to find common agreements."

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