Monday

3rd Aug 2020

Analysis

Listening to Britain on EU reform

  • More power for national parliaments? (Photo: UK Parliament)

'Listening' was the watchword of William Hague's speech at the Koenigswinter conference last Friday, an understated - and welcome - approach after the fire and brimstone that has dominated recent debate on the UK's membership of the EU.

"Too often, the British people feel that Europe is something that happens to them, not something they have enough of a say over, said Hague, adding that "the EU is happy speaking but does not seem interested in listening".

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The contents of the speech should not have come as a surprise. Hague's colleague David Lidington, the UK's Europe minister, had laid the ground work in his own speech in Berlin several weeks earlier, contending that the most effective way to listen to electorates was by giving national lawmakers greater control in the EU decision making process.

The idea is not particularly controversial or eurosceptic. Greater engagement of national parliaments with EU law making is not a new idea. Most parliaments actually do a pretty poor job in scrutinising EU legislation and their government's actions in Brussels and most would do well to follow the example of Denmark, Finland and Germany, all of whom keep a close eye on the EU's institutions.

In particular, Hague spoke about making it easier for parliaments to call back legislative proposals that breach either the principles of subsidiarity or proportionality, specifically by reforming the so-called 'yellow' and 'orange' card procedures.

The 'yellow card' procedure, which allows a European Commission legislative proposal to be sent back to the EU executive for review if two thirds of the 27 national parliaments, is one of the more useful innovations in the Lisbon Treaty and has been used several times.

A step up is the so-called 'orange card'. Under this procedure, if a majority of national parliaments vote that a proposal breaches the subsidiarity principle the Commission has to re-examine the proposal, with the proviso that if it chooses to maintain the draft unamended, the EU executive has to justify itself through a 'reasoned opinion'.

It sounds good, but it could be strengthened further. Parliaments only have a small eight week window in which to complain about a proposal. Moreover, even if the proposal is sent back to Brussels to be reviewed, the treaty states that the commission can "maintain, amend or withdraw" it.

Hague's speech drew a swift riposte from Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the European Parliament's Liberal group, and critic of David Cameron's government. Writing in the Huffington Post, the former Belgian prime minister claimed that Hague was talking about a "reckless and counterproductive" return to the era of unanimity and single country vetoes, leading to "complete and utter stagnation and inaction when everyone is calling on the EU to show more decisiveness and efficiency."

However, speaking with EUobserver, a UK source played down claims that the red card idea could give individual national parliaments a veto:

"This is about extending the current ability of a group of parliaments to work together, and making the EU more democratically responsive."

Defending the idea of reforming the 'yellow card' procedure, the source added, "it's about making it easier for national parliaments to work together, for example by giving parliaments more time to consider the draft law and lowering the thresholds needed to pull the commission back."

The problem with being perceived as constantly sniping from the sidelines, people stop listening, even if what you are saying is sensible.

The groundwork for renegotiation comes at a time when the UK government is distinctly embattled, in large part at its own making, but also because it doesn't feel like the EU institutions are listening to it. Last week, the commission revealed that it was taking the UK to court over its rules on social security tests for foreigners, an explosive issue.

The UK is also unhappy about the current direction of travel for a large part of the EU's financial regulation, taking legal action over the proposed financial transactions tax (FTT) which, as currently drafted, would affect the UK's financial sector.

It also has fears about the implementation of limits on bank bonuses and about the provisions requiring national resolution funds in the resolution and recovery aspect directive currently being negotiated. UK officials involved in the negotiations talk of a "lack of understanding" from their compatriots around the table.

The UK could do with being listened to if its government's plans to renegotiate the terms of its EU membership - and reform the EU, into the bargain - are to get off the ground. In this case, it probably deserves to be.

Hague makes case for minimalist EU

British foreign minister Hague has made the case for a politically minimalist European Union as it prepares to audit its relations with Brussels.

Opinion

The three 'Elephants in Room' in EU-India relations

A revamping of Indian and EU strategic priorities - coupled with wariness of Chinese expansionism in the absence of American leadership - is pushing them both to seek like-minded partners elsewhere.

News in Brief

  1. France imposes new Covid-19 tests on visitors
  2. Brussels closes all mosques for Eid festival
  3. Amsterdam and Rotterdam tighten face mask measures
  4. UK tightens lockdown measures in north England
  5. EU banking watchdog warning on 26 banks
  6. 60,000 rally in Minsk ahead of Belarus election
  7. 'Better Regulation' is key for EU policy-making, auditors say
  8. Polish tribunal to examine EU gender-violence treaty

Six 'LGBTI-free' Polish cities left out of EU funding

Six Polish cities that declared themselves as "LGBTI-free zones" have been denied funding under the EU's Town Twinning programme for failing to meet the standards of "equal access and non-discrimination".

Opinion

Why is building renovation 'Cinderella' of EU Green Deal?

The renovation of old buildings will be crucial to the success of the European Green Deal and a clean, robust economic recovery. Unless there is serious commitment from policymakers, we risk the Green Deal turning into a pumpkin.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  3. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  5. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis

Latest News

  1. EU mishandling corona-travel, Belgian expert says
  2. France wants rule of law sanctions on recovery budget
  3. The three 'Elephants in Room' in EU-India relations
  4. First use of new EU sanctions against Russia, China hackers
  5. Six 'LGBTI-free' Polish cities left out of EU funding
  6. EU's new Security Union Strategy is a good first step
  7. US 'cavalry' leaving Germany to go back home
  8. Why is building renovation 'Cinderella' of EU Green Deal?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us