Thursday

9th Dec 2021

Opinion

The struggle for democratic oversight in the EU

  • Rome is hosting the third meeting of the 'Article 13 Conference' of MPs and MEPs (Photo: Giampaolo Macorig)

Hundreds of parliamentarians from across Europe, both from national parliaments and the European Parliament (EP), are gathering in Rome on Monday (29 September) in a bid to improve parliamentary oversight of EU policy making.

The occasion will be the third meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Conference on Economic and Financial Governance of the European Union (IPC-EFG) – nicknamed the “Article 13 Conference” – to be hosted by the Italian parliament’s Camera dei Deputati.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

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

... or subscribe as a group

The IPC-EFG, which meets twice a year, was created in 2013 to enable parliamentarians to discuss and oversee the new system of governance that was created to respond to the EU’s ongoing economic and financial crisis.

The impetus for the IPC-EFG came from Article 13 of the Fiscal Compact treaty of 2012. This foresaw that “the European Parliament and the national Parliaments… will together determine the organisation and promotion of a conference… in order to discuss budgetary policies and other issues covered by this Treaty.”

The main point of the Fiscal Compact was to entrench a system of fiscal rules and to delegate the European Commission, an unelected body, as their principal enforcer. Article 13 gave this system a token of parliamentary oversight.

If ever there was a system crying out for greater parliamentary oversight it is this one – because by any objective measure, the EU’s economic governance regime is failing. Six years after the economic crisis began, the eurozone economy is still stagnant, and may even be heading for yet another downturn, which would be a “triple-dip” recession.

Even the basic goal of price stability has not been achieved, as the eurozone is now in peril of slipping into outright deflation.

Improved parliamentary oversight could at least provide parliaments with an opportunity to “watch the watchers.”

After all, the new EU economic governance has involved the creation of a system of “fiscal surveillance” designed to compel member states to balance their budgets.

This system places severe constraints on how national parliaments exercise their fiscal powers, often pushing them to carry out ruinous austerity policies. The IPC-EFG could turn the tables by enabling national parliaments (along with the EP) to scrutinize this new system of surveillance and to challenge its attendant policy dictates.

Unfortunately, the early meetings of the IPC-EFG were instead dominated by acrimonious internal disagreements – in particular between national MPs and MEPs – over how the conference should be organized.

Most national MPs wanted to create a robust forum for wide-ranging policy debate, with at least a minimal ability to take collective decisions. On the other hand, the MEPs, with support from the members of a few national parliaments (including, crucially, the German Bundestag), preferred a marginal conference of limited substantive scope that takes no decisions.

Disagreements

These disagreements were evident at the first IPC-EFG meeting in Vilnius, in October 2013.

The host parliament, the Lithuanian Seimas, had drafted an ambitious agenda for the meeting. Whereas the EP would have preferred that the conference focus solely on issues related narrowly to the Fiscal Compact (i.e. the scrutiny of national budgets), the Seimas proposed the discussion of a wider array of economic and financial issues, including some not mentioned in the treaty – e.g. banking union.

Moreover, the Seimas proposed that the first IPC-EFG should debate and formally adopt two documents, an internal Rules of Procedure and a set of political Conclusions; these were effectively vetoed by the EP.

Why? The EP as a body has always been strenuously opposed to the creation of any new assembly that could rival its position as the pre-eminent parliamentary forum in the EU. In a 2012 report, it categorically rejected the idea of a “mixed parliamentary body,” combining both MEPs and national MPs, as ineffective and undemocratic.

The EP is in favour of strong parliamentary oversight at the EU level but only if it is centralised in the EP, rather than exercised jointly with national parliaments.

The meeting in Italy – one of the member states hardest hit by the crisis – offers a fresh start to resolve some of these outstanding questions and get on with the business of overseeing the economic governance of the EU.

With the new Commission yet to take office, this is an opportune moment to resolve internal organizational issues – such as the draft Rules of Procedure, which will finally be debated in Rome. Perhaps MEPs from the newly elected parliament may prove more amenable than their predecessors to compromise with their national counterparts. The need is urgent: the crisis is not over.

The writer is a Research Associate at the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge. This article is based on a longer working paper, which is available here:

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

The search to fix the EU's democratic deficit

The EU has woken up to its democratic deficit but it is still failing to take into account how an average European perceives the EU. It lacks emotional intelligence, according to a new report.

'Agriculture as sovereignty' under the French EU presidency

One of the challenges for the French EU presidency is to convince its European counterparts that Paris's demand for harmonised standards covering agricultural imports is inseparable from the EU's flagship Green Deal, and the core concept of European sovereignty.

Using Istanbul Convention to stop online abuse of women

Although legal instruments have been developed, no universally-agreed definition of gender-based violence against women online or via technology exists - and this Council of Europe recommendation aims to fill that gap.

News in Brief

  1. No US troops going to Ukraine, Biden said
  2. UK's Johnson apologises in Christmas party scandal
  3. Kaczyński harming LGBTI people's mental health
  4. Scholz sworn in as new German chancellor
  5. Corporate due diligence delay 'unacceptable,' NGOs say
  6. Triple shot of BioNTech, Pfizer 'effective' against Omicron
  7. 80% of products sold online 'breach chemicals laws'
  8. Saudi man released over Khashoggi killing

This 'Black Friday' is a turning point in corporate accountability

Much supply-chain abuse remains hidden from plain sight – not only to consumers but to the companies themselves, who have built increasingly longer, more complicated, and more opaque supply chains, which have become harder to monitor, control and account for.

The South China Sea should be of concern to Europe

If China is allowed unimpeded to break the law of the sea in the South China Sea, think about the repercussions elsewhere. It could ricochet into Europe's High North. In the Arctic, Nordic nations have overlapping claims with Russia.

Latest News

  1. 'Agriculture as sovereignty' under the French EU presidency
  2. EU leaders to raise alarm on eastern 'destabilisation'
  3. Commission plan allows police to shoot suspects in other EU states
  4. Caruana Galizia family urges EU not to fund 'corrupt' gas pipeline
  5. EU banks finance destructive Chinese dam builder in Congo
  6. EU plans new trade defence tool to deter economic coercion
  7. EU to announce new mandatory rules on child sexual content
  8. WHO warns mandatory vaccination 'absolute last resort'

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us