Publications / Reports

Westminster and Europe: Proposals for Change - the Role of National Parliaments in the European Union

1 Apr 1997

This 1997 paper reviewed the proposals on national parliaments in the EU being made in the context of the 1996-97 Inter-Governmental Conference. It said that the proposals should be supported by the UK government, suggested further elements that might be included, and made proposals for significant reforms of the UK Parliament's European scrutiny system.

In the context of concerns about an EU 'democratic deficit' following the Maastricht Treaty debates and referendums, the role of national parliaments in the European Union was a key topic in the EU Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC) launched in 1996. The IGC process led to the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam.

In this paper, Graham Leicester, Director of the Scottish Council Foundation for Public Policy and a former UK diplomat, reviewed the proposals for national parliaments that were before the IGC and considered the position that the UK government should adopt towards them.

The paper was based on two seminars held jointly in 1996 by the Hansard Society and the European Poicy Forum, with the support of the UK office of the European Parliament.

The paper concluded that:

  • The UK should continue to press for the inclusion in a revised EU Treaty of the Irish presidency's draft protocol on the role of national parliaments, even though it goes further than some might wish. The protocol will make sure that Union procedures provide both the time and the information that governments need to allow national parliaments to conduct adequate scrutiny. If adopted in its present form, the protocol will also formally establish a Treaty-based forum to help national parliaments ensure that the sum of their individual efforts is harnessed (through COSAC, the Conference of European Affairs Committees) for maximum effect on the Union's processes and policies. Both elements should be welcomed. The UK should make common cause with France to see that they are adopted.

  • There are additional modifications and other elements which might be included either in the protocol or elsewhere in the Treaty to improve national parliaments' effectiveness. A definition of the "scope" of a Commission proposal to control the range of possible amendments would be a significant improvement. A detailed urgency procedure for legislation to ensure speed does not become a routine excuse for avoiding scrutiny should also be included.

  • In order to make best use of the Treaty provision and to increase Westminster's - and the British people's - confidence in EU decision-making, the scrutiny procedures of the House of Commons should be improved, notably to extend scrutiny to the Inter-Governmental pillars. National parliamentary scrutiny should be an integral part of Inter-Governmental cooperatlon.

  • Parliament also needs to find new ways of scrutinising the EU budget. In preparing for the negotiation of the new medium-term financial perspective to run from 2000, the UK government should give special consideration with other member states to improving the involvement of national parliaments in that crucial decision.