Thursday

23rd Nov 2017

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".

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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.

Mali blames West for chaos in Libya

Mali's foreign minister Abdoulaye Diop told the EU in Brussels that the lack of vision and planning following the Nato-led bombing campaign in Libya helped trigger the current migration and security crisis.

Commission warns Italy over high debt level

The Italian government must demonstrate it is making an effort, or the EU will consider launching a procedure. France and Romania are also under scrutiny.

Mali blames West for chaos in Libya

Mali's foreign minister Abdoulaye Diop told the EU in Brussels that the lack of vision and planning following the Nato-led bombing campaign in Libya helped trigger the current migration and security crisis.

News in Brief

  1. December euro summit still on, Tusk confirms
  2. EU calls for end to Kenya election crisis
  3. Report: Israeli PM invited to meet EU ministers
  4. French banks close Le Pen accounts
  5. Commission relaxes rules on labelling free range eggs
  6. Commission issues €34m fine over car equipment cartel
  7. Estonian presidency 'delighted' with emissions trading vote
  8. Mladic found guilty of genocide and war crimes

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Idealist Quarterly"Dear Politics, Time to Meet Creativity!" Afterwork Discussion & Networking
  2. Mission of China to the EUAmbassador Zhang Ming Received by Tusk; Bright Future for EU-China Relations
  3. EU2017EEEstonia, With the ECHAlliance, Introduces the Digital Health Society Declaration
  4. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement For All Families? Same Sex Couple Ask EU Court for Recognition
  5. European Jewish CongressEJC to French President Macron: We Oppose All Contact With Far-Right & Far-Left
  6. EPSUWith EU Pillar of Social Rights in Place, Time Is Ticking for Commission to Deliver
  7. ILGA EuropeBan on LGBTI Events in Ankara Must Be Overturned
  8. Bio-Based IndustriesBio-Based Industries: European Growth is in Our Nature!
  9. Dialogue PlatformErdogan's Most Vulnerable Victims: Women and Children
  10. UNICEFEuropean Parliament Marks World Children's Day by Launching Dialogue With Children
  11. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  12. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure

Latest News

  1. Mali blames West for chaos in Libya
  2. Orban stokes up his voters with anti-Soros 'consultation'
  3. Commission warns Italy over high debt level
  4. Mladic found guilty for Bosnia genocide and war crimes
  5. Uber may face fines in EU for keeping data breach secret
  6. EU counter-propaganda 'harms' relations, Russia says
  7. The EU's half-hearted Ostpolitik
  8. Glyphosate: 1.3 million EU citizens call for ban

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  2. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  3. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  4. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  6. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  7. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future
  9. EU2017EEHow Data Fuels Estonia's Economy
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Step Up Water Management Cooperation
  11. CECEMachinery Industry Calls for Joint EU Approach to Develop Digital Construction Sector
  12. EnelNo ETS Deal Means It Can Still Be Strengthened