How to Put Parliament in Charge of Europe



One of the reasonable demands David Cameron is presenting to the rest of the European Union is that national parliaments should have more say in how Europe is run. There are roughly 10,000 national parliamentarians – lower and upper houses – in the 28 EU member states.

Instead 750 members of the European Parliament claim exclusive elected and parliamentary oversight and jurisdiction over any legislation emanating from Brussels.

Given that about up to 150 of the MEPs are – to use Nick Clegg’s immortal description ‘nutters, anti-semites and homophobes’ – the assertion that the rest of the MEPs represent the European demos is not convincing, all the more so as participation in European Parliament elections has fallen at every election since the first one in 1979.

There are many dedicated and skilled men and women in the European Parliament and there are more women MEPs as a share of the total than there are women MPs in the Commons, so Westminster is in no position to lecture.

British Labour and Tory MEPs, and in their time Lib Dem MEPs are particularly assiduous, hard-working and promoters of the UK national interest as well as wider European needs.

But there are also able national MPs who could contribute to European Policy making and ensure that the House of Commons and other national parliaments to do not feel excluded from decisions taken at an EU level which impact their constituents.

Of course the idea that every national parliament can veto any bit of EU legislation is does not like (even if 27 other member states are content) is a nonsense. The UK has formed coalitions to force through EU directives and laws that supersede national customs and practices, often protectionist.

If each of 27 national parliaments could veto EU measures in Britain’s interests the UK would be the first to protest.

The call by the CBI for more single market or the proposed Capital Markets Union which the UK Commissioner, Lord Jonathan Hill, is working on cannot happen without more Europe, in the sense of rules from Brussels which take precedence over national laws and practices.

But here are ten measures David Cameron, working with Speaker John Bercow and the all Commons parties could introduce tomorrow to give the British parliament more power.

1) Re-introduce the full-day debate on the EU at the time of the EU Council meeting. This was oddly abolished by Cameron when he became Prime Minister.

2) Ensure that all Select Committees have a EU sub-committee properly staffed and that Ministers go before such committees before travelling to vote in Brussels on EU policy and directives.

3) Create working parties of MPs and MEPs to produce reports on specific problems like handling migration, car emissions, policy towards Russia and so forth. These can be laid before the House and be factual investigations avoiding either party polemics or pro- or anti-EU position taking.

4) Increase support for bi-lateral All Party Parliamentary Group with the 27 other EU members states or widen it to include Council of Europe member states. Most of these groups consist of the same people on the same circuit with only as much support as some outside sponsor will provide. MPs should be tasked to become knowledgeable about the politics of other EU member states.

5) Provide European short-style money for all parties in the Commons to strengthen inter-party links. The main parties are woefully under-staffed and under-funded for doing core party networking with sister parties in the EU. Germany, France, and Nordic countries all provide modest public funding for this work as a way of increasing the political knowledge base of their parliamentarians and parties.

6) Stop treating any trip by an MP abroad as a junket or suspicious. Under extended travel provisions, MPs can go on any number of visits inside the UK to places where they have an interest and of course use the different allowances to hire staff or buy in research on domestic issues.

7) Invite MEPs to sit on Select Committees as non-voting members.

8) Encourage language learning with time off the whip, save in emergencies to go on insertion language training courses paid for as part of a professional training scheme.

9) Place younger MPs with a future on the Council of Europe delegation as a way of learning about other European nation-states and their politics.

10) Put copies of main European newspapers in the tea-room newspaper racks as well as weeklies like Politico. Le Monde is available but if you want to find out about Germany, Spain, Italy it is difficult.

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