Open Europe Blog

We already knew that the Dutch parliament is a legislature that takes ‘subsidiarity’ seriously. But now it has really come out swinging.

In today’s press summary, we reported on a recently published position paper on the role of national parliaments in the EU from the Tweede Kamer – the lower house of the Dutch parliament – and it includes some seriously good ideas to increase national parliaments’ power over EU decisions (the report available in English here, though the translation is a bit awkward).

Amongst plenty of good ideas, building on the current ‘yellow card’ for national parliaments, there are two key proposals that would substantially bolster the role of national parliaments:

  • A ‘Green card’: This new mechanism would allow national parliaments to propose new policies to the European Commission, including the amendment or repeal of existing EU laws. This would make national parliaments ‘agenda-setters’ in the EU decision-making process, as opposed to the current situation in which they can only react to proposals originating in Brussels. At present, only the Commission can make proposals to scrap EU laws.
  • The ‘Late card’: This would give national parliaments the right to object to proposals at the end of negotiations between the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and MEPs. At the moment, national parliaments can only examine a proposal when the Commission has tabled it. However, the final product can often look completely different. For example, the bankers’ bonus cap was introduced by MEPs and wasn’t in the version of the proposal on capital requirements national parliaments received from the European Commission.

Dutch MPs also want to beef up the existing ‘yellow card’ system – whereby a minimum of one third of national parliaments can force the European Commission to reconsider a proposal if they think the proposal violates the subsidiarity principle. Since the Lisbon Treaty introduced the yellow card, it has only been triggered twice – most recently this week.

The Tweede Kamer proposes three ways to boost the yellow card – all of which are excellent:

  • Extend the period during which parliaments can object – at the moment national parliaments only have eight weeks from the date a proposal is published to submit their objections.
  • Broadening the grounds upon which parliaments can object to EU laws to proportionality and the legal base of the proposal (the latter is incredibly important). 
  • Lowering the threshold for the number of parliaments required to activate the yellow card – they don’t provide the ‘magic number’, but the Dutch report complains that it is always the same group of parliaments that raise objections.

The report also tries to address the important question of how to get national MPs to work more closely together and so act as a counterweight to the Commission’s and the European Parliament’s centralising tendencies.

It doesn’t, however, propose  a new ‘red card’ system to empower national parliaments to veto unwanted EU proposals – which we have long argued for. However, on the whole, this is a massively welcome contribution to the debate.

We look forward to the UK Parliament throwing its full weight behind these ideas.

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