On May 26, King’s hosted a workshop on The European Parliament in the new Europe: Institutional Power and Policy Influence. Below are some reflections on the theme by Edoardo Bressanelli and Margherita de Candia.
Since 2009, the institutional development of the European Union (EU) has been marked by fundamental tensions. A key one concerns the European Parliament (EP). On the one hand, the Treaty of Lisbon re-branded co-decision as the ordinary legislative procedure, extended the legislative powers of the EU’s only directly elected institution to new policy areas, strengthened its role in the budgetary procedure and, as everyone soon discovered, withdrawal treaties.
On the other hand, the different crises that hit the EU in the same period – the economic and financial crisis, the migration crisis, and eventually Brexit – have, in the eyes of several observers, made the EU more intergovernmental. The activism of the European Council, the stipulation of international treaties outside the EU framework, and the contestation of the EU by the national publics have arguably led to the consolidation of a “new intergovernmental Union”.
With both the implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon and the different Eurocrises unfolding in parallel, the discussion on the institutional reform of the EU has been exceptionally lively. Within the context of this debate, however, the EP has seldom taken centre stage.
To address this gap in the academic literature, and shed light on this institutional tension, the Department of European & International Studies has organised the workshop “The European Parliament in the new Europe: Institutional power and policy influence?”. The event was financially supported by UACES and by a Network Grant of the Faculty of Social Science and Public Policy at KCL.
Its key objective was to comprehensively assess the EP’s role in EU decision-making post-Lisbon. Under what conditions is the EP more influential in policy-making? Does the EP use specific strategies to make its voice heard? Have the crises constrained the use of its new powers? To answer these questions, early-career researchers, more established scholars and EP practitioners gathered together in this one-day event at King’s College London.
Formally, the EP is entitled to legislate on equal footing with the Council in most policy areas under the ordinary legislative procedure. Yet, during the crisis, emergency measures have often been adopted outside its framework. Additionally, when the stakes for the member states were high, or when (national) money was discussed, notwithstanding the EP’s co-decision powers its influence was limited. In such cases, the only red lines that really mattered were established by the member states, and followed by the EP.
Looking at the variation in the influence of the EP across policy areas, the workshop echoed the findings of recent research, which indicates that the member states have kept a strong grip on ‘core state powers’. For instance, member states were successful in establishing a ‘policy core’ in migration policies, while the activism of the European Council set tight constraints in the reform of economic governance.
Notwithstanding the important role of the member states, the EP was able to partly compensate for its relative lack of substantive influence with procedural gains and institutional rewards: for example, its enhanced powers of scrutiny towards the other EU institutions under the Economic Dialogue.
All this is relevant to the Brexit negotiations. The Lisbon Treaty has equipped the EP with a de facto veto power on the withdrawal agreement. Yet, the credibility of the EP’s threat to use it can be disputed. The EP has become a more responsible and mature player in inter-institutional negotiations. A more pragmatic and constructive attitude has generally replaced the radical position that the EP used to have when it was merely a ‘talking shop’.
The EP will hardly remain silent during the negotiations, demanding its full institutional involvement. It will also make use of every tools at its disposal to make its voice heard, and signal its position through resolutions and public declarations of its leaders.
However, in the case of the EP, power has come with responsibility. In both law-making and beyond, the EP constructively engages with the other institutions, and rarely embraces more extreme, ideological position to the very end of the negotiations. From what we know on Europe’s Parliament, and from what this workshop has shown, it seems reasonable to expect that the EP will take every opportunity to show its teeth, but it will not eventually bite on the Brexit agreement.
Edoardo Bressanelli in a Lecturer in European Politics in the Department of European and International Studies. Margherita de Candia is a PhD researcher in European Studies in the same Department.