Open Europe Blog

National Parliaments’ should be allowed
to show the EU the red card

This is an idea that’s very close to our hearts – and an idea that we have promoted for a very long time.

The first bits of UK Europe Minister David Lidington’s interview with German daily Die Welt have just been published on the paper’s webpage. We’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see the full version. But from what we can see so far, Lidington’s interview is likely to reverberate quite a bit across Europe.

He said,

“Perhaps we should lower the threshold for national parliaments to take action against initiatives from Brussels; perhaps we should introduce the principle of a ‘red card’ so that a given number of national parliaments can block initiatives from the [European] Commission.”

Sounds familiar? Well, the ‘red card’ was first advocated by Open Europe in 2011 in our report ‘The case for European Localism‘. And again by Lidington’s PPS Tobias Ellwood MP in a publication for Open Europe in December 2012, where he argued:

“Any future [EU] Treaty change should include some system of the red card system with the right quota and powers.“

A red card is an improvement over a yellow

Open Europe’s Director Mats Persson pushed the idea in the Telegraph here in January. Under the Lisbon Treaty, if a third of national parliaments show the Commission the current ‘yellow card’, the Commission is obliged to reconsider its proposal and explain why it wants to change it, scrap it or push ahead with it. To date, the Commission has withdrawn a proposal in only one case after being shown the ‘yellow card’ – the so-called ‘Monti II’ Regulation on the right to strike.

However, this provision has several weaknesses. First, it doesn’t oblige the Commission to actually drop the proposal, but only to reconsider it. So it’s a far cry from a veto. Secondly, it’s only supposed to happen on ‘subsidiarity’ grounds – and not on ‘proportionality’. Thirdly, a third of parliaments are supposed to agree within an eight-week window, meaning that if the Commission tables a proposal in August or September – when most parliaments are in recess – it can basically push ahead with anything.

In other words, it really doesn’t do that much to close the EU’s infamous democratic deficit. Nor to strengthen the powers of national MPs – an aspect which, as we’ve argued repeatedly, is absolutely vital if the EU is to regain democratic legitimately.

Therefore, a ‘red card’ provision giving a certain number of national parliaments acting in unison (the threshold needs to be discussed) an actual veto right, would be an absolutely massive improvement. This is also an area where the UK will have support from Germany and others if it pitches it right.

In the interview, Lidington also pointed out that several times in the past,

“the content of [EU] treaties has been interpreted in a way which was not desired or expected at the time the treaty changes were decided on. Sometimes, the European Commission or the European Parliament try to expand the boundaries of their competences.” 

The Europe Minister also stressed that the EU’s single market for services is “painfully underdeveloped”. echoing similar remarks on the importance of deepening the single market before. However, this time they come after he said that Open Europe’s proposals to reignite the EU’s services sector and boost EU-wide GDP by up to €294bn were “interesting” and “worth exploring”.
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