Thursday, January 10, 2008

What are they for?

I had a fascinating meeting today with a couple of people from the Palace of Westminster. We were talking about how quickly the Government were pushing through the ratification of the Constitution/Reform Treaty.

It appears that the Commons will finish their work by the end of February and it will be in the Lords in March, which is fair shifting. Apparently Gordon Brown has decided that the short, sharp shock treatment will work, a couple of weeks bad headlines that can be weathered.

Obviously as we were talking to representatives of Westminster the Yellow card clause (pg 184) of the Treaty came up,

ARTICLE 71. The European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, and, where appropriate, the group of Member States, the Court of Justice, the European Central Bank or the European Investment Bank, if the draft legislative act originates from them, shall take account of the reasoned opinions issued by national Parliaments or by a chamber of a national Parliament.
Each national Parliament shall have two votes, shared out on the basis of the national Parliamentary system. In the case of a bicameral Parliamentary system, each of the two chambers shall have one vote.

2. Where reasoned opinions on a draft legislative act's non-compliance with the principle of subsidiarity represent at least one third of all the votes allocated to the national Parliaments in accordance with the second subparagraph of paragraph 1, the draft must be reviewed. This threshold shall be a quarter in the case of a draft legislative act submitted on the basis of Article 61 I of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union on the area of freedom, security and justice.

After such review, the Commission or, where appropriate, the group of Member States, the European Parliament, the Court of Justice, the European Central Bank or the European Investment Bank, if the draft legislative act originates from them, may decide to maintain, amend or withdraw the draft. Reasons must be given for this decision.
What they mentioned is that the European Scrutiny Committees of both houses are concerned with the technical detail rather than with the broader political aspects. This of course explained why the Commons scrutiny committee lambasted the Treaty and laughed at the red lines, but refused to endorse a referendum.

But Westminster is very concerned at the implications of this article. It purports to give national parliaments a chance of blocking European legislation but in effect it does no such thing. This we know already. However by reducing national parliaments to a function of checking whether this or that piece of European legislation breaches subsidiarity then they will slowly no longer see themselves as a legislating chamber at all, but merely a checking chamber. Policy debates will become irrelevant or at best very rare. After all the EU legislates in most areas of policy and this increases with every year and thus the increase in paper stamped 'Brussels' will drown out UK policy work.

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