EUforum asked Eva Kjer Hansen, chair of the European Affairs Committee of the Danish Parliament, how she qualifies the role of the Danish Folketinget in the deliberations of the (European) Council. Can strengthened democratic control at national level increase the legitimacy of EU decisions?
In general, the European Affairs Committee of the Danish Parliament has a well established scrutiny procedure in place since Denmark’s entry into the European Community in 1973. The scrutiny procedure is continuously reformed over the years in order to best serve its purpose. Government Ministers appear before the Committee prior to each Council Meeting thereby involving national members of parliament in the European decision-making procedure. Items of major signiﬁcance require the Minister to secure a negotiating mandate from the European Affairs Committee before a binding decision is taken in the Council. The Prime Minister equally appears before the Committee prior to the European Council Meetings. The European Affairs Committee’s meetings are in general open to the public, streamed and TV-broadcasted.
The importance of this procedure is evident. Members of national parliaments, being close to citizens, have a crucial role in increasing the legitimacy of EU decisions by establishing links between citizens of the member states and European decision-making.
Democratic control with national governments is all the more important as the European Union’s response to the crisis has been driven by increased inter-governmentalism at the expense of the community method on the one hand, and parliamentarism on the other hand. The creation of the European Semester and the gradual move towards an integrated budgetary and economic framework touches upon the very heart of national parliamentary democracy. The European Semester process, which to some extent “Europeanises” national economic policy processes and decisions, has changed the relationship between the EU institutions and national parliaments in relation to economic governance.
New tools in the toolbox are needed in order for the national parliaments to fulfill their role as democratic watchdogs. That is why we in the Danish Parliament shortly will introduce a “National Semester”. The European Affairs Committee and the Budget Committee will jointly debate three important steps in the European Semester with Government Ministers:
- The launch of the Annual Growth Survey by the Commission,
- The Government’s submission of the National Reform Programme and Convergence Programme,
- The Council deliberations on the Country Specific Recommendations.
No 'one size fits all'
As chair of the European Affairs Committee, the role of national parliaments in European decision-making has been my main priority and I have actively raised the issues of democratic legitimacy, accountability and the role of parliaments in various inter-parliamentary fora, e.g. COSAC. Raising awareness of the role of national parliaments and exchanging best practices among parliamentarians are important aspects of this work, since there is no “one size fits all” across the 27, soon 28 different parliamentary cultures.
National parliaments must enhance the political dialogue with the EU institutions, not least the European Commission. National parliaments should be more effectively involved in the legislative process of the European Union. Not just as the guardians of the subsidiarity principle through the early warning mechanism, but also as more proactive players in shaping EU law in a more positive sense than just being able to block decision-making of the EU. My proposals would be the following two specific instruments for involvement of national parliaments.
Firstly, it might be considered to allow a specified number of national parliaments (e.g.1/3 of national parliaments) to invite the European Commission to table legislative proposal which they believe to be necessary.
Secondly, it might be considered to allow a specified number of national parliaments (e.g. 1/3 of national parliaments) to invite the Commission to review a legislative proposal if they disagree with substantial elements of the proposal. The Commission should be obliged to respond adequately to any of these requests at a COSAC-meeting and give its reasons for taking or not taking that action.
Finally, I find it of utmost importance to examine how the role of parliaments might evolve further in the event of future treaty changes.