How to know what the Union is up to

Laws set made in the European Parliament affect us all. Sometimes people feel the Parliament is out of touch. They think the EU does things without checking to see if new laws are useful. I understand why people think this.

In this article, I will explain:

  • How our MEPs keep us in the dark when it comes to the agenda in Brussels.
  • How Brussels does its best to include us in the conversation.
  • That you can have better representatives in Brussels working for you, not a political party.

I

On the campaign trail I’ve met people in various organisations. Everyone has been helpful.

After some time most of them tell me the same thing – “We don’t know what’s happening in Brussels. Why don’t they inform us about things?”

I sympathise.

I’ve heard of new directives introduced into Maltese law without industry being aware of it. I’ve heard organisations complain they only get 2 days’ notice to provide feedback on new laws. The lack of involvement is shocking.

It explains why people feel Brussels is a remote and annoying bureaucracy.

Having worked in the Union, I know this is not (always) the case.

In simple terms, before a new directive arrives:

  • It starts off as a discussion within the Commission. There are many ways this can take place. Sometimes the Commission publishes a consultation paper or an impact assessment. Either way, your government can keep you in the loop if it wants to. The result of this step is a draft regulation or directive.
  • The draft legislation ends up in Parliament. It gets discussed by the committee responsible for it. Even if we don’t have an MEP of our own on that committee, our MEPs can still keep an eye on the agenda and keep you informed about things that affect your life. Government can too, if it wanted to. The Parliament can modify or reject the proposal.
  • After the Parliament comments or amends the directive, the Council takes a look. This is where the national governments can influence the proposed legislation. It can make changes but the Parliament, i.e., your MEPs, has to accept these.

(For the EU geeks in the audience, I know sometimes the topic bounces between Council and Parliament and there will be a second reading, even a conciliation committee. I’m trying to keep the discussion simple here.)

From the above, it looks like we should know when things are going to change.

So why don’t we?

II

I will lay fault for this in two places – our MEPs and our governments.

When the matter is being discussed by the Commission or in Council, our governments could let us know about this. They can consult with civil society organisations or with the public. For example, if they’re discussing a new law about building regulations, I’d expect them to involve the Kamra tal-Periti.

That makes sense, right?

Plenary session week 27 2017 in Strasbourg

After all, government needs to provide feedback to the EU. How can it provide feedback if it doesn’t consult? The government doesn’t know everything.

When the matter is being discussed in Parliament, our MEPs have the opportunity to let us know about this. They too can consult with civil society organisations or with the public. Using the above example, they too could speak to the Kamra tal-Periti for advice on how to handle the matter.

Even if our MEPs are not on the committee responsible for the matter, they still can contribute to the discussion in Brussels and help facilitate amendments that make sense for us.

This is their job.

When I explain this, some ask why Brussels doesn’t get in touch with civil society itself.

III

The Union doesn’t deal with individual civil society groups for several reasons. I can imagine it would be tough to deal with several hundred organisations. It is far simpler for each country to have a single voice, and for that country to figure out how to liaise with the necessary groups back home.

ASP entrance and Simone Veil esplanade of the European Parliament in Brussels

I like this approach because I’m not sure I’d want Brussels to bypass my own government. That’s not a healthy way of doing things.

Of course the implicit assumption is the governments know what they’re doing. And that they’re doing it well. This is where the model fails because those are two huge assumptions.

I would prefer it if the process includes a step where Brussels verifies the countries did what they should have. I’m not sure how it would work, and I admit it sounds like a teacher checking the children did their homework.

But we need a double-check somewhere to make sure that governments don’t hide things.

What about our MEPs?

IV

Our MEPs have less of an excuse because they represent us in Brussels in a way our governments do not. They are our voice in Brussels – and sometimes we should ask that voice to stand up for what we want.

Even if that is something our government doesn’t want.

Especially if that is something our government doesn’t want.

This is how the European Parliament can act as a check and balance on national governments. In the example above, the Kamra tal-Periti could have put its concerns forward through our MEPs.

And everybody wins.

On the campaign trail it feels like our MEPs don’t always do this sort of thing. It’s a shame because this is part of their job. I’ve pointed out we don’t have enough MEPs to cover all the bills the Parliament discusses. This is all the more reason for us to elect representatives who are on the ball, and prepared to work together.

References

  1. How EU decisions are made; European Commission website (Retrieved 2019-05-15)

All references were valid and correct when this article was published. Changes to referenced websites or web pages may render some references invalid. If this is the case, please leave a comment below.


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