A ten-point plan to strengthen Westminster's oversight of EU policy
One of David Cameron's EU reform demands is a greater role for national parliaments in the EU, in an attempt to make the Union more democratically accountable. Low turnouts in European elections have strengthened the British belief that the European Parliament is unrepresentative, and that national parliaments should have a stronger say.
Some suggest that parliaments should be able to club together to block a European Commission proposal, or to encourage the Commission to propose laws that would be in their interests. But the House of Commons' scrutiny of EU affairs is weak, and represents a missed opportunity to strengthen democratic accountability at the national level.
The Commons European scrutiny committee’s membership is mostly eurosceptic, and committee attendance is poor. EU proposals have an impact on many other select committees' business, but these committees do not always examine them thoroughly. And unlike the House of Lords, the Commons European scrutiny committee does not have much first-hand experience of working with the EU’s institutions.
This policy brief proposes ten steps that the British parliament and government can take to improve Westminster's engagement with the EU:
- The chair of the Commons European scrutiny committee should be elected by the whole house rather than by committee members, which could help to soften the committee’s euroscepticism.
- MPs should talk to their colleagues in the House of Lords more often, in order to benefit from their EU expertise.
MPs and peers should establish a joint committee on the future of Britain’s relationship with Europe, to provide scrutiny of Cameron’s reform process.
- British parliamentarians should invite MEPs more often to tell them their views on draft EU laws.
- Each departmental select committee should appoint a rapporteur on EU issues to liaise with the scrutiny committee.
- MPs should visit other parliaments to find out how they examine EU policy.
- The British parliament should swiftly identify proposals in the Commission’s programme that might breach the subsidiarity principle. This would give MPs more time to make use of the EU's ‘yellow card’ procedure, whereby national parliaments can make the Commission reconsider a proposal.
- The government should allocate more time for debates on EU issues.
- The prime minister should hold plenary debates with MPs before European Council summits, so they have a better idea of his negotiating stance beforehand.
- On sensitive matters, the government should hold off-the-record briefings with parliamentarians.