Friday

21st Jul 2017

EU parliament has 'surplus' of democracy

The European Parliament should make more of its "democratic surplus," its leading official has said in an attempt to counter the prevailing narrative that the EU assembly is not equal to national parliaments.

Klaus Welle, secretary general of the parliament, said that talk of a "democratic deficit immediately gives the impression that somehow we are lagging behind national parliaments and that somehow we have to catch up."

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.

  • "This time is different," is to be the slogan of the information campaign ahead of next year's EU elections (Photo: European Parliament/Pietro Naj-Oleari)

"[But] democracy in Europe also has elements which are further developed," he told an audience at the Centre for European Policy Studies last week (26 June).

One of the "elements of democratic surplus" is MEPs having more leeway to vote as they see fit as party discipline at the EU level is "much lower."

National parliamentarians meanwhile are "very often limited by their own executive" because if the government loses a majority then it has to resign and "that's the end of the story."

EU decision-making - a permanent state of negotiation based on consensus politics - means that unlike in the national arena where a government has a desired result, there is "no prejudged outcome," said Welle.

But he admits that all is not well with EU decision-making - a problem he attributes to a tendency by EU leaders, pushed by the urgency of the economic crisis, to take far-reaching decisions behind closed doors.

The normal answer to such deficiencies is to change the treaty - an arduous process requiring unanimous agreement - but this is to overlook the "unused potential" within the current Lisbon Treaty.

Different this time?

Topping the "unused" list is the election of the commission President.

Next year's EU elections will mark the first time that European political parties put forward a candidate for the job and EU leaders propose a person "taking into account" of the elections.

This has widely been assumed to give leaders some leeway in their nomination but Welle notes that a little-known declaration (No. 11) attached to the treaty means MEPs and EU leaders have to consult one another before governments can finally nominate a person to the post.

This change will be reflected in the slogan - "This time is different" - for the information campaign ahead of the May 2014 elections.

EU officials are keen to emphasise that citizens' votes can make a policy impact as turnout falls lower with each election.

Pointing to other possibilities within, Welle also says there is room to harmonise national electoral laws, particularly to have "one common election evening" to give a sense of a shared political event.

By the time the last results are in, "northern Europeans have already gone to bed," he notes.

He admits that the parliament is falling behind in holding the executive to account and argues it should be doing more relevant tasks such as scrutinizing the troika, the officials from creditor institutions that oversee reforms in bailed-out Eurozone countries.

The quest for more extensive scrutiny powers and as well as the parliament's greater law-making role is pushing change within the assembly's bureaucracy as well.

It is having to employ more policy experts than ever before. And from next year, it will have its own research service, with 200 staff, to provide MEPs with their own "independent and scientific advice."

On the perennial question of how to give national parliaments a raison d'etre when so many state-linked decisions - to do with domestic budgets and economic policies - are taken at the EU level, Welle believes the task division is clear.

National MPs should be keeping an eye on the Council of ministers - where member states are represented - while euro deputies should hold the EU institutions to account.

European elections marked by record low turnout

The turnout in the 2009 European elections was the lowest ever since direct elections for the house started thirty years ago, with Slovakia getting the lowest score for the second time in a row. Updated 8 June 4pm

Poland 'leaving EU community of values'

Leading MEPs and legal watchdogs have raised the alarm on Polish judicial reforms, but the European Commission declined to speak out so far.

Cyprus talks up in the air

A week after the failure of negotiations to reunite the islands, Greek Cypriots are calling on Turkish Cypriots to reaffirm their commitment to the process.

News in Brief

  1. Polish parliament adopts controversial justice reform
  2. GMO opt-out plan unlikely to go anywhere in 2017
  3. Slovak PM threatens to boycott inferior food
  4. France takes Google's 'right to be forgotten' to EU court
  5. Turkey accuses German companies of supporting terror
  6. Israel's Netanyahu caught calling EU 'crazy'
  7. UK does not collect enough data to expel EU nationals
  8. Polish president threatens to veto justice reform

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  2. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  3. ECPAFood waste in the field can double without crop protection. #WithOrWithout #pesticides
  4. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  5. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  6. Martens CentreWeeding out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  8. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Episode 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  9. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  10. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  12. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School

Latest News

  1. Dutch coalition talks lengthiest in 40 years
  2. Polish parliament steps up showdown with EU
  3. EU urges UK to clarify its Brexit positions
  4. Law expert: direct EU powers have become too complicated
  5. Winter is here for Spitzenkandidat, but he'll survive
  6. Mafia money pollutes the EU economy
  7. Central Europe should be wary of Brexit stopping
  8. Poland's 'July coup' and what it means for the judiciary