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New Open Europe report: The European Parliament should be stripped of its right to increase the EU budget and veto trade agreements

14 May 2014

A new report by the Open Europe think tank concludes that, instead of repeating the same mistake of addressing the European Parliament’s failure to connect with voters by increasing MEPs’ power, boosting the role of national parliaments in EU decision making would return democratic accountability closer to voters.  

The common view that voter apathy is largely due to a lack of awareness or public ignorance is simplistic. Data from the European Commission’s own Eurobarometer public opinion surveys shows that, across the EU, there is no correlation between voter turnout and awareness of the European Parliament or interest in EU affairs.  

Many individual MEPs work hard and conscientiously for their constituents. However, despite its ever-increasing powers under successive EU treaties, the European Parliament has failed to gain popular democratic legitimacy. Open Europe research shows that, while the use of ‘co-decision’, under which MEPs have equal status with national ministers to pass EU legislation, has more than doubled during the last two decades – from 27% to 62% – turnout in European elections has fallen from 57% to 43%.  

The European Parliament’s brand of supranational democracy has been constructed from the top down, which is illustrated by the high degree of political consensus between the main party groupings sitting in the parliament. Despite representing national parties of different political traditions, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and centre-left Socialist and Democrat (S&D) party families have voted the same way 74% of the time in the 2009-14 parliament. This denies voters a genuine choice, thoroughly undermining the very objective the European Parliament is trying to achieve.  

The concept of ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ or lead candidates for European Commission President nominated by the various political families in the European Parliament is likely to be counterproductive due to the fragmented political landscape in Europe and the poor quality of the candidates.  

Open Europe proposes a twin-track approach to tackling the EU’s democratic deficit of boosting national parliaments’ role in EU decision making and reforms to the European Parliament itself. National parliaments should be able to group together to block proposed EU laws and amend or repeal existing rules. The European Parliament should be stripped of its right to increase the EU budget as it is national parliaments that are responsible for raising the revenue, In addition, MEPs should not be able to veto EU trade agreements agreed by national parliaments.  

Meanwhile, the €85 million spent on fostering a common European political identity through the party families in the parliament and their affiliated pan-European political parties and foundations should be cut. The 2009 reforms to MEPs’ allowances should be completed by requiring all allowances, such as the general expenditure allowance (worth €51,588 a year) which is vulnerable to misuse, to be conditional on the production of receipts.

Key findings:  

  • Turnout has fallen as MEPs’ power has increased. While the use of ‘co-decision’, under which MEPs have equal status with national ministers to pass EU legislation, has more than doubled during the last two decades – from 27% to 62% – turnout in European elections has fallen from 57% to 43%.

  • There is no correlation between voter turnout and knowledge of the European Parliament or interest in EU affairs. In Romania 81% and Slovakia 79% of people say they are aware of the European Parliament but only 28% and 20% turned out to vote in 2009. In the Netherlands, 61% say they were interested in European affairs – the highest in the EU – yet the turnout of voters at 36% is one of the lowest.

  • The main party groups in the European Parliament agree with each other three quarters of the time. Despite representing national parties of different political traditions, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and centre-left Socialist and Democrat (S&D) party families voted the same way 74% of the time in the 2009-14 parliament. Meanwhile, the average majority in co-decision votes in the 2009-14 parliamentary term is over 75% – the highest it has ever been.

  • In 2012, the European Parliament spent €85 million on fostering a common European political identity through the party groups in the European Parliament and their affiliated pan-European parties and political foundations outside the parliament.

Open Europe’s Pieter Cleppe said,  

“Despite its increase in power, the European Parliament has failed to capture public imagination across the EU. That the main groups in the EP vote the same way nearly three quarters of the time is a worrying indication that the EU’s experiment in supranational democracy remains too top down and artificial for it to serve as the link between the EU and citizens. It is surely time for a different approach.”  

“At root, the European Parliament’s failure to connect with voters is because across Europe, politics remains local. Boosting the powers of national parliaments in EU decision making would help close the gap between voters and politicians that has grown with every treaty that has increased the power of the European Parliament.”  

To read the full report, click here:

http://archive.openeurope.org.uk/Content/Documents/140513_European_Parliament_briefing.pdf

Notes for editors

1) For more information, please contact Open Europe Head of Brussels Office Pieter Cleppe 0032 477 68 46 08, Open Europe Director Mats Persson on 0044 (0)779 946 0691, Open Europe Research Director Stephen Booth on 0044 (0)7881 625 889 or the Open Europe office on 0044 (0)207 197 2333.

2) Open Europe is an independent think-tank calling for reform of the European Union. Its supporters include: Lord Leach of Fairford, Director, Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd; Lord Wolfson, Chief Executive, Next Plc; Hugh Sloane, Co-Founder and Chief Executive, Sloane Robinson; Sir Stuart Rose, former Chairman, Marks and Spencer Plc; Jeremy Hosking, Director, Marathon Asset Management; Sir Henry Keswick, Chairman, Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd; Sir Martin Jacomb, former Chairman, Prudential Plc; Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover KG, Life President, J Sainsbury Plc; Michael Dobson, Chief Executive, Schroders Plc; David Mayhew, former Chairman, JP Morgan Cazenove; Tom Kremer, Chairman, Seven Towns Ltd; Michael Freeman, Co-founder, Argent property group.  

For a full list, please click here:

http://archive.openeurope.org.uk/Page/Supporters/en/LIVE

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