National parliaments 'not best' for EU's interests
By Honor Mahony
A new ideas paper on progress towards further EU integration highlights the shifting power sands for national parliaments as the European Parliament is set to become the principle democratic guardian of a future EU.
The paper - put together by EU council president Herman Van Rompuy and published Thursday (6 December) - lays out a loose time framework for achieving "genuine economic and monetary union."
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In a section entitled democratic legitimacy and accountability - the section itself is an acknowledgement of the how the issue has moved up the political agenda - the paper notes that the one of "guiding principles" is that democratic control should happen at the "level at which the decisions are taken."
It points out that while state budgets are at the "heart" of parliamentary democracies, national assemblies "are not in the best position" to take the "common interest" of the union into account.
"National budgetary policies are a matter of vital common interest," says the paper.
It will be the European Parliament that "first and foremost" will be given more oversight powers as more economic and monetary powers are given to the EU level.
Meanwhile, MPs will need to carve out a role for themselves in the two-way dialogue between member states and the European Commission on how national budgets should best be spent and what reforms needs to be undertaken.
EU officials believe that all euro states should eventually be obliged to sign up to reform "contracts" as a way of ensuring that unpopular structural changes are made - building still further on the already powerful budgetary oversight powers that the European Commission has been given since the onset of the financial crisis.
These contracts would be the result of "intense dialogue between each member state and EU institutions" and would run to several year - although they could be changed if the government changed.
It says parliaments would have to approve the contracts in order to ensure "national ownership" and the arrangements themselves would have to be detailed and specific enough for MPs to be able to tickbox the reforms being made.
However there are few concrete suggestions in the paper for how to entwine national parliaments in an EU where decisions on areas generally connected to being a state will increasingly be taken at the European level.
The paper suggests that national and European MPs cooperate more, referring to a part of the EU treaty that foresees deputies from relevant committees meeting for interparliamentary conferences.
But anything of this nature would have to be established by both the national parliaments and the European Parliament, with the latter itself keen to beef up its EU scrutiny powers.