Article Review of „European Governance and the European Parliament: From Talking Shop to Legislative Powerhouse” by Manfred Kohler
In the end of May 42,54 percent of europeans (EP, 2014) went to the polling station to vote for a new European Parliament (EP). That is not much for a parliament what Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, called “the beating heart of democracy in the European union.” (2014) Although this election was “the first time […] the major parties in the European Parliament launched top candidates who campaigned for the job of European Commission president” (Blome, 2014), a large majority of voters were not reached by the main aims, “the personalization of the campaign and the intensification of the election on television“ (ibid.). Compared with the election in 2009 the number yet decreased. In fact, only 42 percent believe that there voice counts in the EU (EU, 2014: 7), whereas only 31 percent trust in the EU as a whole (ibid: 9).
It seems, European citizens are not committed to the EP as an institution, which increased power over the last years. From a historical view, its not surprising that the Parliament is realised as an institution with democratic deficit and is, as a result, unattractive for voters (Priester, 2014: 100). The last years, one crises followed the next, one fiscal treaty followed the next, characterised by a “tightened deficit of legitimacy” (Habermas, 2014: 89) of the parliament.
But while missing parliamentary power is criticised by outside observers, Manfred Kohler analyses “the realities created by Lisbon Treaty” (2014: 601) and provides “an insight into the status quo of the parliamentarism at the EU level in order to understand the role of the EP in the political system of the EU.” (ibid.) In a different way from common thinking (e.g. Habermas, 2014) according to the 2009 treaty “the EP’s policy-making functions have increased enormously and have thus made it an equal legislator” (Kohler, 2014: 601).
He starts his analysis in the classical way: At first he “will look at the four meta-functions of the EP: the policy-making function; the policy initiation function; the recruitment and elective function; and the systemic function.“ (ibid: 602) For a deeper understanding of the systemic role of the EP, he “examines the policy cycle, which highlights the role of the EP (and national parliaments) in the EU policy-making process.” (ibid)
The characterise of a political system usually use four operating functions. At first, there is the Policy Initiation function. Even if this function is primarily the right of the European Commission, the European Parliament has more possibilities to influence Europes political agenda. “This ‚incomplete‘ right of initiate of the EP corresponded with the right of the Council to ask the Commission to submit adequate legislative proposals under ex-Article 208 TEC.1” (ibid: 603) With the Lisbon Treaty this right was extended, to the obligation of explaining, why the commission do not want to take action on this topic (ibid.).
Is the European Parliament inhibited to set own emphases, its ability to discuss and deliberate legislative action gained with time, whereas the right of budget control “is the EP’s most traditional, if not most important function. […] There is no budget without the EP […]” (ibid: 604). Though, also this is limited: “The European Parliament shall, jointly with the Council, exercise legislative and budgetary functions.” (Article 14 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU)) Due to this, the Parliament has to coordinate its work “with the Council in the so-called ‚ordinary legislative procedure‘ (OLP)” (ibid: 603). From Kohlers point of view, “this comes at the cost of the EP’s function as an arena of debate and conflict” (ibid: 604) and “may lead to further alienation from EU citizens, however.” (ibid: 605)
To coat this blemish the hope of the 2014 election was, that Europe-wide leading candidates will become president of the commission, so that they are voted somehow “directly”. “Thus following the thesis of the dual legitimacy of the Commission by both the governments and the EP.” (ibid: 606) The hearings of every newly appointed Commissioner following this concept, as well. Member states nominate a suitable person as a member of the Commission and after the hearing the parliament issues a statement about his ability. After the election of 2014 its shown that Kohlers doubts about “whether the parties will ultimately be able to agree in a common candidate after the elections” (ibid.) are rightless. The Parliaments recruitment and elective function goes further: “Apart from having a saying the selection of the future Commission President, the EP also has to approve the nomination of a number of high-level positions such as that of the President of the European Central Bank (ECB) or the Court of Auditors. Ultimately, the EP elects the European Ombudsman for the European Union“ (ibid.).
Even though “the fact that the Member States remain the ‚Master of the Treaty’” (ibid: 608), the Parliament has to give its consent to amend the treaties. Kohler shows that even in this area of not everyday decision, the function of the Parliament in shaping the political-institutional structure of the EU could be amplified.
“The structures, procedures and instruments of the EU are moving towards a model of representative democracy in the long run, with the inclusion of parliaments at, and between, the levels of political decision-making particularly taking into account the multi-level character of the EU political system.“ (ibid.)
This conclusion is only the first part to examine the function of the European Parliament. The centrepiece of Kohlers analyses about the function of the Parliament is the explaining of multi-level parliamentarism, what includes, besides European Parliament, national Parliaments. “The policy cycle of the European multi-level system features a dynamic and institutionally diverse network of complex procedures and sequences – agenda-setting, policy formulation and decision, implementation and evaluation.” (ibid.: 609).
The cycle starts with the emergence of a certain topic, “the Commission usually starts this process by issuing consultations in the form of green and white books.“ (ibid.) Yet on this stage, informal talks were hold, “the Commission is interested in including the EP (and also the Council) at the pre-policy initiation stage.” (ibid.) But not only the Parliament and the Council will be asked during the next steps, also the nationals parliaments are asked to assess to Commissions proposals. “[…] any national parliament may submit a reasoned opinion outlining the reasons why it thinks that a legislative proposal may breach the principle of subsidiarity.” (ibid: 611) At the same time, the proposals are discussed on different stages, hearings, intermediary groups and studies will be consulted. This process is not completely transparent and “raises concerns about […] democratic legitimacy and the advantages for the EP.” (ibid.)
As the only institution directly elected, Kohlers analyse gives the reader some important impulsions to understand the work of this unique institution better. In particular, as aforementioned some argues with a lack of democracy, it is Kohlers benefit, that he reviews the whole system of EU. In a system which is interlaced in such a way, it is not possible to look at the parliament as a detached institution. “The evolution of the EP into a legislative powerhouse in which work is concentrated in committees may come at the cost of its public arena function.“ (ibid: 612) But it „is definitely the much more powerful parliamentary actor in the EU system of multi-level parliamentarism.“ (ibid:612) The parliament has reached a lot, the duty now is not to game away its achievements, but “to become more visible and generate more political capital.” (ibid: 613)
Blome, Nikolaus, 2014: A Victory for European Democracy. http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/editorial-on-the-importance-of-the- eu-election-for-european-democracy-a-971766.html.
EP, 2014. Election Results. http://www.results-elections2014.eu/en/election-results-2014.html.
EU, 2014: PUBLIC OPINION IN THE EUROPEAN UNION. FIRST RESULTS. http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/eb/eb81/eb81_first_en.pdf.
Habermans, Jürgen, 2014: “Für ein starkes Europa” – aber was heißt das? In: Blätter für Deutsche und Internationale Politik 3/2014. pp. 85-94.
Kohler, Manfred, 2014: European Governance and the European Parliament: From Talking Shop to Legislative Powerhouse. In: JCMS 2014 Volume 52. Number 3. pp. 600–615.
Priester, Karin, 2014: Governance in Europa: Auf dem Weg in die Postdemokratie? In: Blätter für Deutsche und Internationale Politik 4/2014. pp. 99-110.
Schulz, Martin, 2014: Inaugural speech by Martin Schulz as President of the European Parliament. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/the-president/de- en/press/press_release_speeches/speeches/speeches-2014/speeches-2014-july/html/inaugural-speech-by-martin-schulz-as-president-of-the-european- parliament.