EU lawmakers press Brussels for more democracy, respect for rule of law

·4-min read

The European Parliament this week adopted three resolutions aimed at streamlining the democratic process within the EU's complicated bureaucracy. It wants to get rid of the power of veto, improve rule-of-law mechanisms and hand Brussels broader control over national policymaking. But it's still a long way off before the measures will be accepted by EU member states – especially Poland and Hungary, who dislike too much interference from Brussels.

The parliament on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a resolution urging the EU Council to “urgently” amend European Treaties. The aim: get rid of the paralysing requirement of bloc unanimity on certain decisions, including sanctions. A total of 355 MEPs voted in favour, while 154 were opposed.

The move precedes an EU Council meeting scheduled for 23-24 June. During a debate with MEPs prior to the vote, French EU Affairs Minister Clément Beaune promised to prioritise the issue at the upcoming talks. But despite his pledge many EU leaders remain sceptical. The council's summit will be the last during which France holds the rotation presidency.

The debate on EU treaty change has been going on for several years and stems from the frustration that a single member state has the right to derail even small decisions, including issuing joint EU statements.

The latest example is Hungary, which singlehandedly slowed down decisions on sanctions against Russia after it invaded Ukraine.

But the parliament's resolution is only a first step in an arduous, bureaucratic process. After the treaty reform proposal is submitted, it has to go through a revision procedure, after which the European Council decides (by simple majority) if it will be examined.

This may then lead to a "convention", called by the council president. Ironically, the final recommendation is subject to consensus by member states, before the revised draft treaty goes to the intergovernmental conference. If that's approved, it's up to individual member states to sign the final ratification.

Rule of law

A second vote, also taken on Thursday, dealt with rule of law.

MEPs voted 506 to 150, with 28 abstentions, in favour of a resolution to take the EU executive to the European Court of Justice for dragging its feet over applying a new regulation – technically in force since 1 January – that makes EU governments' access to funds conditional on their respect for the rule of law and democratic norms.

The MEPs fear in particular that inaction by the commission will boost the re-election chances next year of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's nationalists, even though Brussels has long accused them of eroding democratic freedoms in Hungary.

Hungary and Poland, who are both under formal EU investigation for breaking the rule of law, stand to lose billions of euros in EU funds when the new regulation is applied.

"People in Poland, Hungary and elsewhere need to know that the commission is on their side and will fight for their rights as EU citizens," Greens MEP Terry Reintke said in a statement.

"We are taking action against the commission to make them do their job and defend the rights of European citizens."

Proposing legislation

In a third vote, the parliament adopted a resolution aimed at granting MEPs the right to propose legislation. Within the existing EU structure, only the European Commission has the "right to initiative" to propose legislation. MEP's may merely "suggest" proposals to the commission.

In a statement, the parliament argued that "as the only directly elected EU institution, MEPs must have the right to propose legislation", adding that "MEPs say the council and the commission have obstructed parliament’s already 'insufficient' indirect legislative rights and its limited right of initiative".

A report comprising the parliament’s proposals was adopted with 420 to 117 votes and 35 abstentions on Thursday, following a debate on Wednesday afternoon.

In a first reaction, Hungarian MEP Laszlo Trocsanyi, of the ruling Fidesz party, argued that giving the European Parliament the right to directly initiate legislation would contravene the spirit of the EU's treaties.

“This would curb the powers of the European Commission,” Trocsanyi was quoted as saying in the Budapest Times.

“It would also upset the institutional balance ... The bearers of sovereignty are national parliaments, not the European Parliament."

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting