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A role for national parliaments

Posted by Richard Sunday, June 20, 2004

One of the lies already being broadcast about the constitution is that it gives a greater role for national parliaments, thereby increasing the accountability and democracy of the European Union.

The basis of this mendacity is the "Protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality". This provides that if one third of the parliaments of the member states object to a draft legislative proposal from the Commission, on the grounds that it does not comply with the principle of "subsidiary", then "the draft must be reviewed".

But, following that review, the Commission "may decide to maintain, amend or withdraw the draft". In other words, the national parliaments have no power in this matter. The Commission can carry on as before, ignoring entirely the views of the parliaments.

That, in itself is bad enough, but what has not generally been pointed out is how this affects the stature of national parliaments.

In the broader scheme of things, national parliaments are sovereign over their own nations and territories. As sovereign parliaments, they already have the right to reject any proposals from the Commission, and refuse to enact them into national law.

But this protocol changes that relationship. It denies them the power to reject outright any Commission proposals and casts the parliaments in the role of supplicants. They are allowed to approach the Commission and say "pretty please", will you be ever so kind and reconsider one of your proposed laws?

The Commission is then cast in the dominant role. It is not obliged to withdraw its proposal and the parliaments have no powers to demand that it does so. In other words, within the terms of this protocol, democratically elected parliaments are subordinated to the unelected Commission.

Far from increasing the accountability and democracy of the European Union, therefore, this is a profoundly federalising provision which relegates national parliaments to a junior, subordinate position in the hierarchy of the Union. Parliaments will have exchanged their powers for a mere "role" as beggars and supplicants.