Subsidiarity task force concludes work

Written by Martin Banks on 18 July 2018 in News

A special body set up to help make EU decision-making more efficient has wound up its work with the aim to give a stronger voice to local, regional and national authorities.

Photo credit: Press Association

The task force on ‘subsidiarity, proportionality and doing less, more efficiently’ was chaired by Commission first Vice-President Frans Timmermans and has now handed over its final report to the executive’s President, Jean-Claude Juncker.

The report seeks to respond to three questions put forward by Juncker, who launched the initiative last November.

These were: how to better apply subsidiarity and proportionality principles within the EU institutions; how to better involve regional and local authorities and national parliaments in EU policymaking and implementation; and whether there are policy areas where powers could be returned over time to member states.

The seven-strong task force made nine recommendations and concluded that a “new way” of working on subsidiarity and proportionality are needed to allow local and regional authorities and national parliaments to make a more effective contribution to EU policymaking and in the “design” of new legislation.

The proposed “new approach” would see subsidiarity and proportionality being assessed “more consistently” by all levels of government, on the basis of a "model grid" - comparable to a subsidiarity and proportionality checklist.

One of the recommendations is to “apply flexibly” to the eight-week deadline for national parliaments to submit their opinions on draft EU legislation, and raises the possibility of a future increase of the time available for submitting an opinion to 12 weeks.

It also recommends that the three EU institutions - the Parliament, Council and Commission - agree on a “focused” multi-annual programme that would “promote a rebalancing” of the EU's work in some policy areas towards “more effective” implementation of existing legislation and away from initiating new legislation.

The group comprised representatives from national parliaments and other EU bodies, but no MEPs.

It included three members from the Committee of the Regions - its President Karl-Heinz Lambertz and members Michael Schneider, from Germany and François Decoster, from France - and three members from national parliaments – Toomas Vitsut (Estonia), Kristian Vigenin (Bulgaria) and Reinhold Lopatka (Austria).

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani was invited to nominate up to three parliamentary representatives but did not to do so.

A Commission spokesperson said the findings “build on the introduction, by the Juncker Commission, of more targeted Commission work programmes and annual joint declarations agreed among the three institutions on the priority files for adoption that year.”

The task force members said they believe the new approach should be applied to the existing body of EU legislation and “to all new political initiatives.”

Commenting on the findings, Juncker said, "I want our Union to have a stronger focus on things that matter to our citizens.

“This is why this Commission has sought to be big on the big issues and small on the small ones and is why I set up a task force to make sure we are only acting where the EU adds value.”

He said, “I want to thank its members from the national parliaments and from the European Committee of the Regions for this important report. Our Union cannot be built without the active and equal participation of local authorities, EU institutions and every level of government in between.

“I will draw conclusions in my State of the Union speech on 12 September. I hope the leaders of the other institutions and national authorities will join me in putting these reflections at the heart of the future work of our Union."

The task force, in a statement, added, “We advocate a new way of working that gives a stronger voice to local, regional and national authorities in EU policymaking, to improve the quality and effectiveness of legislation. This means fully respecting the roles of the different EU institutions, national, regional and local authorities and national parliaments.

“We propose a new ‘active subsidiarity’ approach that will ensure the added value of EU legislation, benefits for citizens and will lead to greater ownership of Union decisions in the member states. We have presented our report to Juncker who has ensured us that he will work with the other institutions to take forward our recommendations.”

The CoR members welcomed the “wide-ranging” set of recommendations that, they said, would give local and regional authorities a greater say, alongside national authorities, on the preparation, adoption and implementation of EU policies.

This, they added, would “benefit citizens, increase EU efficiency and improve politics.”

The three said this could lead to "a new way of working" that would ensure the EU takes better account of the ideas and concerns of all local and regional authorities.

Lambertz said, “Timmermans has shown the Commission’s pragmatism and openness in developing a new way of working for the EU. This task force is about improving the effectiveness of EU policies by developing better teamwork and delivering real EU added value in the lives of our citizens. This report sets out ways to engage all levels of government and has the potential to transform the role of cities and regions in the decision-making process.

“The proposals are about putting citizens first: making the EU work for them, by reinforcing a bottom-up approach to EU policymaking. To use a football analogy, the task force wants a whole new ballgame - instead of just raising red and yellow cards when someone oversteps the mark, the ‘active subsidiarity’ approach looks to use the potential of both teams to ensure everyone gets a wins.”

More reaction came from Schneider, who is State Secretary for the Land of Saxony-Anhalt, who said, “The level of consultation and transparency in the EU decision-making process is greater than in national systems.”

He added, “But we are particularly pleased that the task force recommends broader and deeper input by local and regional governments, in line with their shared or exclusive competences as foreseen by their national legislation, diminishing the density of EU legislation, as well as ensuring a clearer added value of EU legislation.

“If accepted and implemented, these proposals would significantly improve the flow of information from local and regional authorities, and thereby increase their ownership and trust in the European project."

The third CoR member, Decoster, Vice-President of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie Regional Council, said, “The task force recognises that EU legislation must be more efficient and its added value made more visible by 'upgrading' the involvement of local and regional authorities.

“Under these proposals, local and regional authorities would be able to provide legislators with a clear assessment of the impact of EU legislation on the ground, have more influence in reviewing existing legislation and developing new laws, and offer a simpler way to ensure flexibility in EU legislation.

“They would have an opportunity to develop their relations with national parliaments, working together to assess the impact of EU legislation and be involved in the design and delivery of economic reforms."

The task force met a total of seven times since November and its recommendations will be sent to national parliaments, national, regional and local authorities, the European Parliament, Council, Committee of the Regions and the Commission.

The Austrian EU Council presidency will now organise a conference on subsidiarity in Bregenz in November designed to provide an opportunity to discuss the report and consider how to implement the nine recommendations.

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine

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