Super Parliament, but not Superman
Friday 26 June 2009
When established in 1957, the European Parliament had neither duties nor responsibilities. In 1979, it became the only supranational parliament in the world to be elected by direct suffrage. As one treaty replaced another, its coverage in the media expanded and Parliament took on a growing role as co-legislator. Its new political clout enabled it to push the Santer Commission to a collective resignation in March 1999, to reject the nomination of two commissioners in 2004 and to thoroughly rewrite the Bolkestein Services Directive. Its influence in the European institutional arena is certain to grow in the next five years.
In terms of media coverage, there should be more news about the EP, if only because of the many challenges described by the
Europoliticsteam in the first part of this special edition.
Legally, its powers will once again be expanded if the Lisbon Treaty is adopted, as detailed in the second part of this edition. Since the European Parliament will be involved in three-quarters of Europe’s legislative acts, and since the majority of national bills are now the transposition of EU laws, this legislative period is expected to take the development of European democracy to a new level.
Even without the Lisbon Treaty, but especially with it, the European Parliament will be certain to play its role of democratic scrutineer of the other institutions. It will have escaped no one’s notice, in June 2009, that the Council of the European Union appointed its candidate for the European Commission presidency but that it placed his fate in the hands of the European Parliament for consultation and a subsequent vote “in the spirit of the Lisbon Treaty”. Politically and institutionally, this is another qualitative leap forward.
What is paradoxical is that this European assembly has less and less legitimacy among citizens as fewer voters go to the polls to elect their representatives. The average rate of absenteeism has continued to rise with each European election, culminating this year at nearly 60%. The causes should be sought in the shortage of leadership of this nascent European democracy. The responsibility lies primarily with elected representatives, member state leaders who do not always respect the decisions adopted at EU level, the political machines that once again this time around placed on their ballots figures who needed to be pushed out of the national political arena and who will not necessarily be outstanding in their work on committees or in their contributions to the European debate. This Super-Parliament, unrecognised and underrated, does not have the aura of Superman, who illustrates our cover. But it will have five years to grow into its new clothes – the Lisbon Treaty – which will give it greater powers to defend ordinary citizens and win them over to its cause. And to take initiatives that will make it more recognisable and relevant because it belongs to the people and addresses their concerns.