Wednesday, July 06, 2005

A straw in the wind?

Following our post last night on the software patent directive, it now appears that the EU parliament is set to reject the commission’s proposal when it comes up for a vote today. According to Reuters this is despite a warning from the EU commission that it would not submit fresh legislation.

The news comes after political group meetings yesterday evening when members of the PSE and the EPP – the two dominant groups in the parliament - both decided to throw out the directive, saying it would be safest to kill a bad proposal that pleased nobody. The two groups combined have 468 MEPs, easily passing the threshold needed to kill legislation in the 732-member parliament.

Earlier in the day, the smaller ALDE liberal group, with 89 members, said it would also vote to reject the bill and it also seems that the Greens/ALE, with 42 MEPs will join the opposing forces. That should make the vote almost unanimous.

To add to this, two days ago the commission, braving the ire of environmental groups, announced that it had decided to postpone the adoption of a sweeping package of measures to fight air pollution after an internal study suggested that the measures could cost member state economies about €12bn (£8bn) a year.

The plan, drawn up under Stavros Dimas, the environment commissioner, was to tighten up emissions legislation not only for vehicles but also small combustion plants, ships and aircraft. It would also promote scrapping schemes for older road vehicles. Other measures included a "crackdown" on petrol station emissions that contribute to ground level ozone, and charging drivers according to the amount of air pollution damage they cause.

Then, just over a week ago (27 June), the transport council failed to reach agreement on a proposed new EU-wide credit card-shaped driving license. A compromise proposal had been hammered out between the commission and the EU parliament in February, but a political agreement between the transport ministers of the member states became "impossible", according to Luxembourg's transport minister, Lucien Lux, who chaired the meeting.

Within the space of less than two weeks, therefore, each of the three EU institutions responsible for the legislative process will have rejected (or postponed) a major piece of proposed EU legislation. And, while all the institutions at various times have done this – not least, famously the Council's recent rejection of the Services Directive - for all three to have done so in such a short space of time is unprecedented.

This may be a coincidence, but it could also be a straw in the wind. Is the EU, following the French and Dutch rejection of the constitution, losing the will to legislate? Or is it just keeping its head down?

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