The European Parliament in the EU Policy-making Process
In the next European elections, for the first time in history, EU citizens will exercise real influence over the future shape of the EU. It is useful, therefore, to take a closer look at the competences of the EU’s only, directly elected institution.
Since its creation in 1952 the role and political significance of the European Parliament have been steadily increasing. Today, it is no longer merely one of the advisory bodies to the European Commission but possesses numerous important prerogatives. These include competences in the legislative process, budgetary power, as well as a role in the supervising of other EU institutions. The Lisbon Treaty that solidified and increased its political role, also contributed to the more pronounced presence of the European Parliament in European politics.
Pointing to the low voter turnout and the lack of citizens’ awareness as to its role within the EU, some commentators contend that the European Parliament lacks political legitimacy. These opinions are challenged, however, by the impact the Lisbon Treaty has on the role of the European Parliament.
The “ordinary legislative procedure” which replaced the former “co-decision procedure” grants significant legislative competences to the European Parliament. The parliament has now a say in more than 80 policy areas, which include justice, home-affairs and agriculture to name a few. Whereas the European Commission still is responsible for initiating the legislative proposals, the European Parliament has the power to amend and eventually accept or reject them. This represents a significant shift from what used to be the case before the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty. The parliament also retains its right to approve new member-states of the EU.
One of the most significant changes brought about by the Treaty of Lisbon is with regard to the budgetary powers of the European Parliament. The Treaty abolishes the distinction between the compulsory and non-compulsory spending which previously served to define the European Parliament’s role in this area. In the past, the European Parliament only had a say with regard to the non-compulsory expenditure. New, revised competences mean that, without its consent, the EU budget cannot be approved. The parliament has already made use of this power when deciding the budget for 2014-2020.
The Parliament and the Commission
Perhaps most importantly from the point of view of EU citizens is the influence the European Parliament gains over the appointment of the president of the European Commission. The new rules establish that the member states, when choosing their nominee for the office, have the obligation to take into account the outcome of the European elections. The candidate is then approved or rejected by the European Parliament. What this means in practice, is that EU citizens have a say in determining future presidents of the European Commission. They will exercise that influence for the first time in the May elections.
European elections and beyond
The outcome of the fast-approaching European elections, apart from establishing the new political make-up of the European Parliament, will have another important consequence. The voters’ turnout will be indicative of how strong the citizens’ stamp of approval is for the parliament’s new role. The questions over the political legitimacy of the institution have the potential for being answered once and for all, but a risk still exists that small turnout in the elections will enkindle the same doubts all over again.
In his statement on the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty, Jerzy Buzek, former president of the European Parliament, remarked that this institution now has “a set of democratic and efficient rules capable for providing answers for almost 500 million people, in 27 member states”. Just how democratic the European Parliament will prove to be depends largely on voters and their participation in the May, 2014 elections.