In this article, Antonio Martinez Gil discusses the case of an empty Parliament in an important debate and the need to reinforce the idea that it defends and protect citizen’s interests.
July 4th, European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, expressed his deep when just 30 MEPs appeared at the chamber, than a 5% of the total 751. Juncker stated that the European Parliament is ridiculous and not serious. He also declared that if the Prime Minister of Malta, who was appearing at the chamber, had been Angela Merkel or Emmanuel Macron, the chamber would have been full. Immediate critiques have come from different European personalities, by adducing an excessive harshness and inappropriate manners.
It may not be worth to give too much importance to that situation. However, Juncker’s statement might revive the classic debate on the purpose of the European Parliament, that had been less of a priority during recent times because of Brexit and the general elections in Austria, the Netherlands, France or Germany.
Now that it seems that anti-European parties have lost a lot of their power, the European project, without the United Kingdom, is likely to go on, so what Juncker has identified as an important issue should be tackled when the current tumultuous period finishes. If the European States, parties and institutions intend to prevent our Union from being put at stake again, they must entrust citizens with the European Union’s destiny as they once did. It is precisely the lack of power of the European Parliament that should be corrected to recover people’s trust.
It is commonly said that, whereas the European Council defends the interests of the Member States and the European Commission defends the common one, the European Parliament is destined to protect the citizens’ interests. Nevertheless, as it might be well-known, the main functions assigned to the European Parliament are passing of the budget, the political control of all the institutions, the investiture of the President of the Commission and some legislative roles, but none of them allows the Parliament to take the legislative initiative, which means that the only body that is directly chosen by the citizens doesn’t have the tools to accomplish its task.
All the Member States, except France, Portugal and Romania, are organized under the form of parliamentary republics or monarchies, in which the citizens elect the parliament instead of an executive president. Despite this fact, almost everybody believes the political system of their countries is democratic. However, such a consideration does not extend to the Union according to a very high percentage of the European people.
It is easy to believe that there is an apparent contradiction on the collective previously mentioned, but there is an explanatory reason. Regimes with unelected executives have a strong legislative power that brings balance back.The European Parliament does not have this.
If the Parliament was given more power, critiques of the Commission would decrease, since its president would be invested by a more legitimized European Parliament and, as a result, people’s trust would increase in both the Parliament and the Commission.
On the other hand, we must not forget that the European Parliament has managed to consolidate a really efficient control of the Commission activity, as a result of the need to consult the Parliament before passing the most relevant pieces of Community legislation. It means that in case the reform suggested in this article was enforced once, the European Parliament could become as legitimized as the national parliaments.
In conclusion, I believe that Juncker’s indignation is understandable and fair, and pro-Europeans should consider criticism from within and not just from those who attempt to throw away such a common project. The European Union deserves to be improved, and considering that the support of citizens is crucial in order to make reforms succeed.
Antonio Martínez Gil