The representatives of the national parliaments of EU Member States discussed strengthening political dialogue, during the 54th meeting of the Chairpersons of the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union (COSAC) which was held on 13 July 2015 in Luxembourg. Chaired by Marc Angel, chairman of the Committee on Foreign and European Affairs, Defence, Cooperation and Immigration of the Chamber of Deputies of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, the specific aims of the discussions were to introduce a "green card" procedure and the improvement of the reasoned opinion ("yellow card") procedure via the introduction of voluntary guidelines. Frans Timmermans, Vice-President of the European Commission, who, in particular, is in charge of improving regulation, attended the meeting.
By way of explanation, national parliaments may contest the compliance of draft legislation under the subsidiarity principle, in accordance with their role as "watchdogs" of this principle whereby the EU should not intervene unless it is able to act more effectively than the Member States. National parliaments should then formulate a reasoned opinion within a time-frame of eight weeks. If compliance is contested by a third of the votes allocated to national parliaments ("yellow card"), the Commission is required to review its proposal and decide whether to maintain, amend or withdraw the act in question, giving reasons for its decision.
National parliaments are seeking greater involvement in the legislative process via a "green card" which would enable them to make suggestions. The "EU Select Committee" of the House of Lords, the upper chamber of the United Kingdom Parliament, put forward this initiative in a report in 2014 and sent a letter to the national parliaments of the other Member States inviting them to sign a green card initiative, addressed to the European Commission, on a particular issue: food waste.
During the 53th meeting of the COSAC Chairpersons, which took place in Riga from 31 May to 2 June 2015, a mandate was given to the Luxembourg Presidency to set up a working group to strengthen political dialogue through the introduction of a "green card" as well as the improvement of the "yellow card" procedure, as the contributions at this meeting show. According to this text, the "green card" "would improve existing political dialogue and encourage national parliaments wishing to take a proactive role to submit constructive and non-binding suggestions on policy measures or legislative proposals to the European Commission, without prejudicing its right to initiate legislation".
Marc Angel expressed his "great enthusiasm" vis-à-vis the fact that the majority of national parliaments support this approach. He also expressed confidence that the green card "would further contribute to the better working" of the EU and that it would "reinforce the positive role of national parliaments, often unfairly labelled as obstacles to European integration". The Luxembourg Presidency "intends to pursue the discussions on consolidating political dialogue", notably by setting up a working group, he pointed out. "Strengthened political dialogue is a concrete way for national parliaments to assume their role in driving policy forward and taking an active role in decision making", he concluded.
Paulo Mota Pinto, Chairman of the Parliament of the Republic ofPortugal'sEuropean Affairs Committee, stressed that national parliaments should play a constructive role: "It is not enough to say no". He suggested to improve the content of the replies of the European Commission to reasoned opinions and to ensure regular visits of the commissioners to all national parliaments.
Lord Timothy Boswell, Chairman of the UK Parliament's House of Lord's "EU Select Committee", announced that the House intends to send a letter on the "green card" initiative to the European Commission at the end of the month, signed by fourteen other parliaments, in addition to the House of Lords, he stated. He said that he was "extremely grateful" for the replies from the national parliaments, while pointing out that some parliaments were unable to indicate support, either for constitutional reasons or because they were not in favour of the text on food waste. He stressed the importance of the working group and stressed that the green card procedure will be informal, which for him is a "genuine attempt" to "make constructive proposals reflecting the views of parliamentarians and the people they are representing across the EU". The "green card" could help national parliaments to "express their views in the framework of political dialogue", he said. "Democratic control is never just about saying no, it is also about being responsive to the needs of our citizens", he added.
Although the Vice Chair of the Committee, Frans Timmermans, affirmed that he appreciated the "philosophy" of the House of Lords initiative – of wishing to say yes and that national parliaments no longer act only at national level – he ruled out any change to the Treaties or the balance between institutions. "The European Commission will not abdicate its exclusive right to introduce legislation. There cannot be any misunderstanding on this issue", he stressed. Still, he said that the "green card" could be introduced "in compliance with the Treaties" and at a "political level" and that the European Commission is ready to respond "politically in a positive way" if there is widespread support from national parliaments. He also felt that this initiative may only be introduced in accordance with the different Constitutions of the Member States. He again insisted on the willingness of the European Commission to reinforce dialogue with national parliaments, citing the 160 visits made by Commissioners since the Juncker Commission took over, something that was "never done before" and will "continue". In summing up, the Vice Chairman called for cutting red tape and reviewing "out-dated" legislation.
During the debate, some parliamentarians noted that the "green card" procedure initiative would not be in compliance with their Constitution and made it clear that they were against "formalising" the procedure. Others criticised the late arrival of responses from the European Commission on reasoned opinions, that they were "too general" and did not take into account the comments of national parliaments. As to the criticism that the eight week lead-time for a reasoned opinion would be too short, Frans Timmermans pointed out that this lead-time was written into the Treaties and that it couldn't be changed.