It is clear to see that the European Union is under stress. Brexit is looming and the British have only really started negotiating a year after triggering article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the right wing Eurosceptic parties have manifested all over Europe and been shockingly successful. Finally, the outgoing Junker Commission are in a scandal of their own due to the promotion of Martin Selmayr alongside other careerist promotions such as Alessandro Chiochett as sources like Politico have revealed (1). It seems that the Commission has a lot on their hands and could be taking too much jurisdiction for only one of the institutions of the EU.
The Parliament, while technically the first institution listed in Article 13 of the Treaty of the European Union, has not been as lucky as the Commission to wield the democratic power that they have without full legislative or budgetary authority. This is owing to their role in the ordinary legislative position being split with the Council of the European Union, budgets only being approved and not written by the Parliament. However, I will argue that in these darker times, the Parliament has all the skills necessary to restore the balance of power within the European Union and restore the trust that has been evaporating in the European Union.
Firstly, we see with Brexit that the European Parliament has taken initiative away from the commission with their newest 13 page document (2) which is the closest document so far truly proposed a new way forward for the EU and UK. Whilst it does not give the UK everything it wants, it is also important to note that the European Parliament does not even have a formal role in the negotiations. The Parliament’s Brexit team run by Guy Verhofstadt highlights how if you remove the self-interested commission and council, maybe some real negotiations can get done. This is as opposed to the current back and forth that perpetuates the Brexit apocalypse.
When we look at the resurgence in right wing or Eurosceptic parties, we usually find two common traits, disinformation and misunderstanding. The European Parliament, being the most flexible of all the institutions of the EU, is in the best position to address the grievances that Eurosceptic parties lay at the European Union's feet. The very nature of a parliament requires parties who can adapt to the will of the people, something which many citizens of Europe are sceptical of from the other institutions. Therefore, we should be looking to the Parliament to fulfil its role as the voice of the people in a way that the Commission or Council cannot, especially with the greater possibility of youth involvement similar to how national parties run their campaigns.
The appointment of Martin Selmayr only fulfils fears that many in Europe have had for a long time, favouritism and nepotism at the highest levels of an institution already criticized for being largely unelected. Whilst the president, commissioners and budget of the Commission all have to be approved by the Parliament, the incredibly low turnout of the MEP elections combined with the low turnout of Parliament members to these hearings seems rather akin to an air of democracy rather than real accountability. The politics of the EU is being unceremoniously played in the Commission; where it by definition should be in the parliament. The commission, being made up of commissioners from each Eu country, make decisions that should reflect the debate that the other institutions partake in. Too often, it seems that only through battles between Parliament and the commission, such as in 2004 where the Parliament voted down a commissioner, does the Parliament really get included in more matters. What should logically occur is a commission that listens more to the parliament, meaning these fights need not happen.
This commentary also links to a broader theme of what we want the European Union to do. The claims of a European-wide citizenry cannot be fulfilled should there not be a manner by which the Parliament obviously reflects the citizens of each country. The cries of elitism and bloated Eurocrats will never stop until it is clear that the institution of the European Union is used for, and in the hands of, the European people. The Parliament Is in the best position to echo the voices of Europe and hopefully should it continue to navigate its way cleanly and concisely with the crises mentioned above, it could be recognized that it deserves the responsibility it as a parliament should have. There are of course problems with the Parliament itself, the low turnout is not for nothing, the domination of parliament by certain individuals, one of which I mentioned earlier, can be considered demeaning to this whole idea of further power to parliament. However, with greater responsibility the European Parliament shows itself to be worthy of citizens’ thoughts and prayers, and over time become the democratic regime to hold up the European Union high in a global time of autocracy, unlimited term lengths.
Philippe Lefevre is the Vice-Chair of the Institute for a Greater Europe and a second year History and Politics Student at the Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.
(1). https://www.politico.eu/article/european-parliament-top-posts-klaus-welle-martin-selmayr-appointments-brussels/ [Accessed May 6, 2018].
(2). Motion for a Resolution to wind up the rebate on the framework of the future EU-UK Relationship, Published 5/3/18 found at https://goo.gl/ojuwx9
Anon, Brexit. Available at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/unitedkingdom/en/ukevents/brexit.html [Accessed March 15, 2018a].
Anon, The powers of the European Parliament - European Studies Hub. European Studies Hub. Available at: http://hum.port.ac.uk/europeanstudieshub/learning/module-1-understanding-eu-institutions/the-european-parliament/the-powers-of-the-european-parliament/ [Accessed March 15, 2018b].
Boffey, D., 2018. Angry MEPs attack Juncker over elevation of his “monster” Selmayr. The Guardian. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/12/nasty-political-games-row-over-top-eu-appointment-martin-selmayr [Accessed March 15, 2018].
de La Baume, M., 2018. European Parliament outlines its post-Brexit vision. POLITICO. Available at: https://www.politico.eu/article/european-parliament-brexit-guy-verhofstadt-outlines-its-post-brexit-vision/ [Accessed March 15, 2018].
de La Baume, M., 2018. European Parliament accused of political stitch-up over top posts. POLITICO. Available at: https://www.politico.eu/article/european-parliament-top-posts-klaus-welle-martin-selmayr-appointments-brussels/ [Accessed May 6, 2018].
European parliament, 2018. MOTION FOR A RESOLUTION to wind up the debate on the framework of the future EU-UK relationship. Available at: https://g8fip1kplyr33r3krz5b97d1-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/PARL-Draft_Resolution_4_0503-1930.pdf.