European Commission: National Parliaments

Part of Deregulation Bill (Programme) (No.3) – in the House of Commons at 5:11 pm on 10th March 2015.

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Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 5:11 pm, 10th March 2015

Last night we debated the similar issue of the Commission’s work programme for this year. The programme expresses commitments to better regulation and to focusing on the big things that the European Union needs to do, and that leads us to the issues of subsidiarity and proportionality. Over the years, there has been much talk in the European Union of subsidiarity—a concept whose origins lie in Catholic social teaching—but few would claim that the EU has abided by the notion that it should act only when it has to, and should otherwise leave things to the Governments of member states.

The Minister gave the example of the agency workers directive. In fact, the CBI reached an agreement with the TUC on that directive, and I think that the record should show their participation in order to present the complete picture.

As the Minister said, we are debating two reports, the one on subsidiarity and the one on relations with national Parliaments. They concern the interaction between the EU and national Parliaments, and, specifically, the use of reasoned opinions on EU proposals when, for instance, Parliaments come together to invoke the yellow card procedure—that is, to ask the Commission to think again about one of its proposals. According to the reports, 621 written opinions, including reasoned opinions, were submitted by national Parliaments in 2013, down slightly from 663 the year before. The most common subjects were the proposal to establish the European Public Prosecutor's Office, regulations covering the manufacture and sale of tobacco products, maritime spatial planning, access to ports, and matters relating to Europol. Opinions from 20 Parliaments were received on the EPPO proposals, of which 13 were reasoned opinions, triggering the yellow card procedure.

The European Scrutiny Committee has understandably voiced its frustration that the triggering of that procedure did not result in the Commission’s either withdrawing the proposal or changing it radically. That has, of course, prompted further debate about a range of different procedures going by the names of differently coloured cards—not just yellow but orange, red and even green cards, which will allow Parliaments to initiate proposals if they so wish. If a system is established whereby national Parliaments are given a voice and can come together to lodge reasoned opinions or objections, it is important that those objections are taken seriously and not simply ignored.