Auteur: Honor Mahony
National parliamentarians are busy shaping up a new 'green card' system that would give them more of a say on EU law-making, amid concerns about the distance between EU policymakers and citizens.
MPs are keen to be able to suggest new EU legislation as well as propose amendments to existing laws, while some chambers want to be able to ask for laws and secondary legislation to be repealed.
The idea was first formally floated by the House of Lords early last year but has gained momentum in recent months.
"This has gone from an aspiration to an intention," Lord Boswell from the UK's upper chamber told EUobserver.
He paints the idea as filling the gap between EU law-makers and the European Citizens Initative - a tool for petitioning the commission.
"In between you have national parliaments who are attending to the policies of their national governments where most of the money is spent. And they haven’t quite been able to articulate a collective opinion. So that’s what we’re anxious to repair", he noted.
Eva Kjer Hansen, a Danish MP, says the green card would give parliaments "a more proactive role and a part in developing Europe instead standing of in a corner shouting ‘Stop, we don’t want you to go any further’."
Work on the details of the proposal, such as how many parliaments are needed to trigger a green card and what scope it would have, are to be worked on in the second half of this year, when Luxembourg takes over the EU presidency.
But there are already plans to kick off the project by making suggestions for the EU's circular economy legislative package due out later this year.
"At some point you just have to get on with it," said Lord Boswell.
MPs gained new powers in 2009 with a yellow card system under which a third of parliaments could raise the alarm if they felt the commission was legislating in an area which was better dealt with at a more local level.
It's been used just twice, partly because there a relatively few activist chambers when it comes to EU issues and, partly, say critics, because the yellow card system only allows eight weeks to potentially complain about a proposed EU law.
However, the raft of legislation coming out of Brussels as a result of the financial crisis - often going to the heart of state-definining issues such as how the national budget should be spent - has brought the discussion back onto the agenda.
"We need to have an ability as national parliaments to get together and to be taken seriously when we are seen to have got together," says Lord Boswell.
"No matter how we turn it - members of the commission and MEPS are further away from people than national members of parliament," said Hansen.
Commission - lukewarm
The European Commission has reacted cautiously to the idea of a green card.
Vice-president Frans Timmermans in a recent letter said the commission was open to more "frequent and frank direct contacts" but did not refer to the new card system.
Hansen for her part notes that a letter sent last year by 20 parliaments asking that a working group be set up on increasing the role of MPs in EU law-making was never answered.
Lord Boswell characterises the commission's attitude as a "degree of friendly interest". For their part, serveral MEPs are concerned that national law-makers might encroach on their powers.
But things on the - national - ground appear to be moving anyway.
Danielle Auroi, a French MP, pointed out the national assembly "for the first time" debated the European Commission's work programme for this year.
All national parliaments are becoming "more curious" about the annual legislative programme, she said at a gathering, earlier this week, of MPs in Latvia.