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Relancer l'Europe : Retrouver l'esprit de Rome - version anglaise

22 février 2017 : Relancer l'Europe : Retrouver l'esprit de Rome - version anglaise ( rapport d'information )

III. FOR A COMPRENHESIBLE EUROPE, CLOSER TO THE CITIZENS

Refocusing Europe on the essentials, renewing the institutional system and promoting an efficient, transparent and more democratic Europe, this is the way forward to restore credibility to the European project.

A. REFOCUSING THE UNION ON THE ESSENTIALS BY STRENGTHENING SUBSIDIARITY

The European project will be meaningful again if the Union refocuses on the essentials, areas where added value can be clearly identified. Simplification should become an ongoing priority. The monitoring mandate of national parliaments must be reinforced.

1. Refocusing Europe on its core tasks: striving for European added value

The debate on European added value is a corollary to that on the future of current European institutions. All institutional reforms must go hand in hand with better organisation between the various levels of decision-making and the research into the most appropriate level of intervention. The objective is to reinforce the European Union's internal organisation by promoting increased vertical integration between European, national, regional and local levels, and making the best use of the resources at each of the levels. Subsidiarity must therefore be the founding principal of all European actions. No genuine implementation by Treaties was seen before 2009, and it wasn't until 2014 that the European Commission presented an annual work programme designed tightly around 10 priorities.

All shared exercises in sovereignty must be carried out as a practical response to specific needs. These shared exercises should not be imposed on Member States and should be treaty based and not based on a federalist reading of them. It is worth remembering that the Union remains a federation of Nation States and not a Federal State in the traditional sense.

At the same time, the objective of the building of Europe should not be reduced to one of uniformity. Harmonisation and convergence leaves a margin of discretion to Member States. This debate focusing on the distribution of responsibilities requires, in any case, a greater role of national parliaments, both in regard to the monitoring of European Union projects and putting forward suggestions for them.

By refocusing, the Union should be able to count on a credible budget. The report of the High-Level Group, chaired by Mario Monti, opens up avenues which should be explored.

2. Making simplification a permanent priority

European regulation is often seen as unclear, too complex, nit-picking or simply unwarranted. It is an illustration of a Europe which is distant from its citizens and their expectations. The European project which should represent a chance and an opportunity, in particular in the economic domain, can sometimes appear to be a source of constraints and an obstacle to many activities.

The implementation of REFIT (Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme) in October 2013 constitutes definite progress and should be encouraged. The tool aims to evaluate EU legislation and to adopt, if required, any necessary corrective action. The idea is to respond to the laudable aim of simplifying the regulatory burden and to challenging the «unnecessary bureaucracy» to which the European Commission is assigned. It also contributes to the implementation of a clear, stable and predictable regulatory framework favouring growth and employment. The revision must meet three criteria:

- to maintain a high level of social protection and the protection of health and the environment;

- to preserve the freedom of choice for consumers;

- to contribute to the growth and employment targets set out in the texts.

There is now a need to peruse these efforts and make the European standard clearer, more readable and more accessible. This would involve the examination of the impact of all new legislation. The interinstitutional agreement "Better Law-Making» of 13 April 2016 has had some success. The Commission has more direct involvement with the relevant stakeholders via consultation with their representatives in the form of focus group meetings or hearings. Particular attention is also being paid to small and medium sized enterprises prior to all decision making, to determine if they are affected by a particular European act, and where appropriate, an evaluation of any impact relating to the weight of different types of SMEs (micro, small and medium) in the relevant sectors shall be carried out.

We now need to go further. A distribution of costs and benefits needs to be systematically carried out relative to the size of the enterprise before qualitative and, if possible, quantitative analysis takes place, taking care to clarify both the direct (administrative and compliance costs) and indirect impact (market structure competition). This study should lead to research on alternative or mitigating measures. These must ensure compliance with the principle of proportionality. They can take the form of exemptions (e.g. Enterprises which fall below certain thresholds do not have to comply with certain specific obligations when this does not compromise the original purpose of the legislation).

The same reasoning applies to local authorities. Many of the recent measures have highlighted a substantial gap between the gains relating to the objective of the European Union and the cost of implementing it by the local authorities. These are often a first step in the implementation of European policies, their situation must be taken into account if we desire the optimal achievement of European objectives.

Local authorities must be able to take into account their concerns at a European level. This is the role of the Committee of the Regions which must be reinforced.

At the same time, political monitoring of standardisation mandates agreed by CEN, the European Committee on Standardization, must be strengthened.

3. Reinforcing the monitoring mandate of national parliaments

The Treaty on European Union states, in Article 12, that «National Parliaments contribute actively to the good functioning of the European Union». This action operates on several levels, from political dialogue with the European Commission implemented in 2005, to subsidiarity monitoring introduced by protocol No. 2 annexed to the Treaty of Lisbon.

The review of these measures show that they can be improved, with a view to bringing the European Union closer to its citizens, without prejudice to the role given to the European Parliament by the Treaties. Strengthening the role of national parliaments in the building of Europe should lead to a real sharing of sovereignty between the European Union and the Nation States, which is at the very core of the notion of subsidiarity.

a) Subsidiarity monitoring

Subsidiarity monitoring is today a principal rooted at the core of the European activities of national parliaments. The procedure could however be improved in order to strengthen monitoring quality14(*). Broader respect of the principal of subsidiarity at a European level would strengthen the awareness of territorial diversity, in particular of French overseas territories, whose specificity is not widely known at a European level.

The European Commission should better justify, in advance, the use of a legislative proposal and should not limit any justification for intervention to further development of the internal market.

National parliaments have eight weeks, from the date the draft is forwarded by the European Commission, to assess the respect of the principal of subsidiarity. This time limit may seem short and should be extended to ten weeks.

In the event of reasoned opinion, the European Commission should focus on responding more quickly - a 12-week time limit should be set - with specific emphasis on the arguments raised by national parliaments. The reported response time is currently over three months.

The delegated acts should be forwarded to the national parliaments for the purpose of monitoring compliance of the principal of subsidiarity. Delegated or implementing acts constitute supplements to legislative acts which are subject to this monitoring. Currently the situation is sketchy.

b) Political dialogue with the European Commission

Improved political dialogue must also be considered. Introduced in 2005 and reformed in 2008, this direct exchange between the national parliaments and the European Commission, unlike subsidiarity monitoring, focuses on the substance of the documents forwarded by the European Commission. Under normal circumstances, the European Commission must respond to observations from national parliaments within three months. However, this time period is rarely adhered to. The European Commission responses should also be more reasoned.

4. Acknowledging the right of initiative of national parliaments: a »green card»

In view of their specific role in the legislative process and the clear objective from the Juncker Commission to strengthen coordination with them, it would seem legitimate to better involve national parliaments with the European legislative procedure. At the same time, a situation must be avoided where national parliaments are confined to a perpetual opposition role via subsidiarity monitoring and the «yellow card» procedure.

Providing the right of initiative to national parliaments: A «green card»

The aim is to set out a right of initiative or «green card», which provides national parliaments with the opportunity to propose actions to be pursued by the European Union or to amend existing legislation.

A minimum threshold of national parliaments participating in this procedure and a participation timeframe and schedule should be implemented. The right already exists for the European Parliament under the Lisbon Treaty. Under the terms of Article 225 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), it may, on the basis of a report drawn up by one of its committees, request the Commission to submit any appropriate legislative proposal. It may, at the same time, fix a deadline for the presentation of such a proposal. The relevant parliamentary committee must obtain prior permission from the Conference of Presidents.

The Commission can agree or refuse to submit the requested legislative proposal. A «green card» would provide national parliaments with a similar tool.

National parliaments should also be able to contribute to the development of the annual work programme presented by the Commission. Under the interinstitutional agreement «Better Law-Making», which recently came into force, only the European Parliament and the Council held an exchange of views with the Commission, working on the adoption of its work programme. A systematic debate should take place within the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union (COSAC), transformed, in time, into a Permanent Meeting of the National Parliaments (see below), in the presence of the president of the European Commission and on the basis of resolutions adopted by national parliaments.

The enhanced role of national parliaments can be experienced within the framework of existing Treaties by means of a political agreement which enables the deepening of dialogue with European institutions, in particular the European Commission. It will then, as a second step, have to be incorporated in the Treaties.

Through this greater role in decision making, national parliaments will contribute to the people taking back the European project for themselves.


* 14 This is the thrust of the contribution made by president Gérard Larcher to his counterparts from the national parliaments during an informal meeting held in Bratislava on 7 October 2016.