Why the European Parliament should be given the right of initiative

The EU would not be acting out of character by granting the European Parliament this right, suggests Charles Goerens.
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By Charles Goerens

08 Jun 2020

In our Western democracies, national parliaments have a triple function: the right to vote on laws, the right to control the executive and the ability to instigate policy.

It seems appropriate then to recall that the prerogatives of our national parliaments are the outcome of a very long evolutionary process.

The European Parliament is no exception. The European Parliamentary Assembly, consisting of representatives of national chambers and the precursor of the present European Parliament, had, so to speak, only consultative powers.


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Everything changed after 1979. The legitimacy of the European Parliament resulting from the first elections with universal suffrage was too great for it to be satisfied with mere consultative powers.

This state of affairs had to change. If the newly-elected members were not yet in a position to put an immediate end to the rather academic character of their assembly, they were nonetheless unwilling to reconcile themselves to it.

Altiero Spinelli quickly emerged as the spearhead of a reforming movement that was not going to be stopped so easily.

“The European Parliament will not give up on the right of legislative initiative. True to its reputation, it is ready to take every opportunity likely to improve its position”

In a report bearing his name, he managed to rally a majority of elected members around his ‘Draft Treaty Establishing the European Union.

It is interesting to note that, in his treaty proposal, Spinelli had already foreseen the European Parliament’s right of proposal, specifically in Article 11: “On the proposal of the Commission, the Council of the Union, the Parliament, or one or more Member States, the European Council decides, following consultation with the Commission and approval of the Parliament, to submit these matters to the exclusive or concurrent competence of the Union.”

The matters in question are those concerning cooperation among Member States and they may become the subject of joint actions.

Spinelli had already conceived of the subject of the report in question during the Second World War, only to see it adopted forty years later during the Cold War, with a landslide majority of 231 votes in favour, 31 against and 43 abstentions.

These days, we can only dream of such a balance of power within the European Union. In the meantime, the European Parliament has indeed acquired important rights such us joint decision-making in legislative matters, however the right of legislative initiative remains beyond its remit as the sole preserve of the European Commission.

Beyond political divisions, the large political groupings currently represented in the European Parliament reject the status quo in this area

Certainly, there has been progress since 1979. Indeed, the Maastricht Treaty marked a small advance in the European Parliament’s right of legislative initiative, by granting it the power to ask the Commission to submit a proposal.

The Lisbon Treaty restates this provision, requiring the Commission to follow up any decision taken by a majority in the European Parliament to take a legislative initiative.

Even if we are still far short of the target, it has to be admitted that some progress has nonetheless been made.

“In some Member States even professional associations have the right to present draft laws. I would argue that that the European Parliament is far from being excessive in its demands”

In the meantime, the European Parliament will not give up on the right of legislative initiative. True to its reputation, it is ready to take every opportunity likely to improve its position.

Hence, in parliamentary hearings for candidates to the von der Leyen Commission, it did not fail to explore new avenues in matters of parliamentary initiative.

The Committee on Constitutional Affairs quizzed the then future Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight Commissioner, Maroš Šefcovic about this.

Restating things that Ursula von der Leyen had said, he made it clear that he was in favour of a strengthened right of initiative for the Parliament in matters concerning “Parliamentary decisions adopted under Article 225 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, by a majority of its members by means of an act that the adoption of a legislative decision, while fully observing the principles of proportionality and subsidiary, [...] and the better lawmaking Agreement.”

Let us also recall the renewed undertaking of the Commission to work in concert with the Parliament at every stage in the design and examination of these resolutions.

Moreover, Šefcovic has undertaken to submit every resolution, once taken, to the panel of Commissioners for it to be discussed at the highest political level.

Let us remember the goodwill of the Commission which, as defender of the Treaties and hence of its monopoly in matters of legislative proposition, does not use the Union’s inability hitherto to amend the Treaty as a pretext for not taking a step in the Parliament’s direction.

The European Union would not be acting out of character by granting the European Parliament the right of legislative initiative, 70 years after the Schuman Declaration.

By so doing, it would merely be filling a gap in parliamentary prerogatives which, moreover, do not exist in most of our national parliaments.

In some Member States, even professional associations have the right to present draft laws. I would argue that that the European Parliament is far from being excessive in its demands.

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