Thursday

17th Aug 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 and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  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.

News in Brief

  1. Mixed Irish reactions to post-Brexit border proposal
  2. European Union returns to 2 percent growth
  3. Russian power most feared in Europe
  4. Ireland continues to refuse €13 billion in back taxes from Apple
  5. UK unemployment lowest since 1975
  6. Europe facing 'explosive cocktail' in its backyard, report warns
  7. Danish police to investigate misuse of EU fishing rules
  8. German constitutional court questions ECB's €2tn spending

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceDoes Genetics Explain Why So Few of Us Have an Ideal Cardiovascular Health?
  2. EU2017EEFuture-Themed Digital Painting Competition Welcomes Artists - Deadline 31 Aug
  3. ACCABusinesses Must Grip Ethics and Trust in the Digital Age
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Welcomes European Court of Justice's Decision to Keep Hamas on Terror List
  5. UNICEFReport: Children on the Move From Africa Do Not First Aim to Go to Europe
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersWe Need Democratic and Transparent Free Trade Agreements Says MEP Jordi Solé
  7. Counter BalanceOut for Summer, Ep. 2: EIB Promoting Development in Egypt - At What Cost?
  8. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  9. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  10. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  11. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  12. ECPAFood Waste in the Field Can Double Without Crop Protection. #WithOrWithout #Pesticides

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  2. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  3. Martens CentreWeeding Out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  5. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Ep. 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  6. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  7. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  9. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School
  10. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCloser Energy Co-Operation Keeps Nordic Region on Top in Green Energy