David Lidington is Minister for Europe and Conservative MP for Aylesbury
Ignore a yellow card and you’re likely to see a red one. Sounds obvious – except that the European Commission doesn’t seem to have understood it yet.
When eleven national parliaments recently got together to show a yellow card to an overbearing Commission initiative, the Commission should have recognised both good sense and democracy in action, and reconsidered its proposal. Instead, the Commission said it intended to press on regardless with its plans for a European Public Prosecutor’s Office, and rejected parliaments’ concerns that its proposal included responsibilities that should instead fall to individual member states. In this case the UK has, thank goodness, an opt out anyway – but the point stands.
National parliaments across Europe will no doubt have something to say about this themselves. For me though, this episode makes a powerful case for the red card that William Hague suggested back in May. The existing yellow card provision gives national parliaments the right to ask the Commission to reconsider a proposal. A red card would allow them to come together to block an unwarranted proposal for good.
It’s about bringing the European Union back under proper democratic control. As David Cameron said back in January, it is national parliaments which are, and will remain, the true source of real democratic legitimacy and accountability in the EU.
Here in Westminster, parliamentary colleagues are making a valuable contribution to the debate about how we put national parliaments back at the heart of EU decision-making through new rules and better parliamentary scrutiny. Timely inquiries by the scrutiny committees in both Houses have helped push the issue up Parliament’s agenda. The Fresh Start Group is also to be commended for coming up with a range of interesting ideas that could really change how the EU works for the UK. We’re starting to see a discussion across Europe too. Frans Timmermans, the Dutch Foreign Minister, recently made the case in an excellent article in the Financial Times that we didn’t actually need to wait for Treaty change to introduce a red card: the next European Commission could see sense, and promise to treat every yellow card as a red one. Dutch parliamentarians have suggested other improvements such as a green card to allow national parliaments to propose legislation.
This is the sort of thinking we need if the EU is to reconnect with people across Europe. Parts of the Commission are completely out of touch. It’s time national parliaments’ voices were heard loud and clear in Brussels. Giving them that power is a crucial part of the new deal in the EU we want to negotiate and put to the British people in a referendum on whether the UK stays in the EU or leaves altogether.