EU must take advantage of the Coronavirus crisis to reform what is needed

Former European Parliament President Antonio Tajani explains why Europe, against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, must reform and revive the European project.
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By Antonio Tajani

04 Jun 2020

Twelve months ago, Europe’s citizens headed to the polls for the European Parliament elections. Those elections revealed a new picture.

On the one hand, the high turnout, the best since 1994, shows that citizens have a great desire to make themselves heard in Europe.

On the other hand, the growing consensus towards sovereignist or “rupturist” forces suggests that European citizens are calling for change.


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Although the process of European integration has brought peace, prosperity and growth over the last 70 years, a change of pace is needed to ensure that these continue to be guaranteed to Europeans in future.

The COVID-19 crisis, just like the migrant crisis that came before it, is expected to test people’s trust in Europe’s capacity to provide concrete answers to their needs.

I am confident that in the end, Europe will do everything it can and must do. But this isn’t enough. As it has done in the past, the Union must take full advantage of the crisis to reform whatever needs to be reformed and to complete whatever needs to be completed.

“At least there is one good thing to come out of these crises: they highlight the weaknesses of a system and generally indicate what needs to be improved”

For example, everyone is aware of the need for greater cooperation and the exchange of information at European level, through a European global strategy to manage health crises, and a new European Health Plan.

Ultimately, we may need to establish a European authority on public health. At least there is one good thing to come out of these crises: they highlight the weaknesses of a system and generally indicate what needs to be improved.

I am convinced that if we do the right things, Europe will emerge stronger and the European project will undergo a great revival.

As the only institution directly elected by citizens, the European Parliament has a fundamental role in this process.

If there is one thing all European citizens (both pro and anti-Europeans) agree on, it is the need to strengthen the European Parliament.

This is not surprising. Parliamentarism is in the genes of European political culture and is rooted in the need to limit absolute sovereign power and to monitor the work of the executive.

There is no doubt that the first thing to do in order to strengthen the European Parliament is to give it the right of legislative initiative.

As is well known, members of the European Parliament are currently prevented from directly proposing EU legislation - treaties give Parliament the right to request but not achieve specific legislation.

“Citizens should know that the European Parliament lacks one of the essential functions of major parliaments and the Union lacks the ideas and democratic input that could result from it”

By making use of its legislative monopoly, the European Commission can decide whether or not to take further action on requests made by Parliament. Consequently, the European legislator cannot propose legislation.

Citizens should know that the European Parliament lacks one of the essential functions of major parliaments and the EU lacks the ideas and democratic input that could result from it.

This state of a‑ airs must be remedied and I am confident that this is a battle that will be fought because it is fair and because I believe it can be won. Now is the time to do it.

There are also more “constitutional” reasons that support this theory, not least the development of the European Commission over the last few decades, which, as I pointed out before, continues to hold the monopoly on legislative initiative

 Former Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker proudly reclaimed the political nature of his Executive.

The administrative principle of “experts propose and politicians decide” was well suited to the Commission during the first few decades. Things work differently in a situation where legislation is proposed on a political level.

As a political place par excellence, the Parliament cannot carry on being deprived of this tool of democracy.

Naturally, it is not a question of excluding or hindering the Commission’s right of initiative since this must absolutely be retained.

Instead, it is about giving Parliament, under certain conditions, the “additional” right to propose legislative initiatives where necessary.

In her opening speech, Current Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pledged to follow up all requests made by Parliament that are supported by the majority of its members.

This is a historical starting point which Parliament needs to seize. By playing its cards right, Parliament could pave the way for a real right of parliamentary initiative.

It will start by establishing some kind of “de facto” initiative right, while waiting to someday obtain “de jure” recognition.

I believe this is the correct way forward and I’m confident that the work of the Committee on Constitutional A‑ airs will bring positive benefits.

We are already working in this direction. A colleague and friend of mine, Paulo Rangel, is due to present a report on the right of parliamentary legislative initiative which will undoubtedly be an excellent starting point for drafting a serious proposal.

We have also given a voice to a number of researchers and university professors who have made a significant contribution.

Given that the social and economic challenges of today and tomorrow call for a Europe that is courageous and capable of responding to events effectively, it is all the more necessary for the European Parliament to fulfil its role as a representative of the people and to have the appropriate tools to do so.

I am confident that the Constitutional Affairs Committee, which I have the honour of chairing, will soon announce the next steps to be taken and I hope that its contribution will be taken into consideration by the Conference on the Future of Europe.

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