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(en) France, UCL AL #338: - European Parliament: what is this thing? (ca, de, fr, it, pt, tr)[machine translation]

Date Thu, 11 Apr 2024 08:18:53 +0300

We hear about Europe almost every day, but we have a very confused idea of it, except to complain about it. Already, we must make an effort to remember which countries are there, which are not, and then, an additional effort, which is in the euro zone and which is not, the immigrants must learn by heart the list of member countries of the Schengen area... But then, if I ask you the difference between the European Commission, the Council of Europe and the European Parliament and who has the power over what....
A little vocabulary
It is necessary to navigate a little to understand certain propositions.
Once and for all, the European Council is the States, the European Commission is senior officials, and the European Parliament is the zealots.
An ordinary legislative measure is a regulation, directive or decision. A regulation is applicable in all Member States. A directive imposes a result but leaves each State free to decide on the modalities. A decision is binding on all recipients.
The "ordinary legislative measures" concern 85 areas. You will find the list of domains in question on Wikipedia. The list of excluded areas does not exist, it is all the others, of little importance such as foreign policy, defense, military or political alliances, taxation, etc.

In the glorious days of the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community) and then the Common Market, it was a treaty between States. It was the heads of state who met, or their ministers, and who decided together unanimously. Above all, we did not ask the opinion of anyone in the population, whether they were for or against. It must be said that 5 years after the end of the war (the ECSC is 1950), the idea of an alliance with Germany was, how should I put it..., moderately popular in the European countries concerned. Moreover, from the start the "founding fathers" of Europe (Robert Schumann and Jean Monnet) had a simple idea which still governs Europe: above all, we do not ask citizens for their political opinion, we create an economic community. (liberal capitalist of course), and politics will follow, of course. So yes, Europe is technocratic from the start, which certainly does not mean politically neutral, since it is oriented from the start towards the construction of a capitalist power freed from the social compromises of certain countries with communist parties. important.
At that time, things were simpler, decisions were taken unanimously, if there was a problem with Europe, you just had to scold its government for having signed anything. . And I think we didn't miss out on it too much.
When it went as far as rearming Germany (in the name of a European defense community), it had to be ratified by parliaments, and the French parliament refused. Nothing should be exaggerated though, it was only 7 years after the end of the war.
It is the Treaty of Rome which established the common market and the European Economic Community in 1957. It is an "international entity of supranational type", which is already a little vague, equipped with a budget and civil servants. It was then that the European Commission (chaired by the now famous Ursula von der Leyen since 2019) and the European Council were created. The members of the European Council are the heads of state or government of the EU member states, the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission. It is therefore an assembly of heads of state. The European Commission includes 27 commissioners, one per state. It is therefore an assembly of civil servants. Its decisions are collegial. (1)
Therefore the two oldest and most important institutions of the European Union are emanations of the State without any democratic control, even formal.

Initially, there was a common assembly, then from the common market a European Parliamentary Assembly of 142 members whose role was only consultative (i.e. it had no decision-making or decision-making power). opposition). It took the name of European Parliament in 1962.
It was only from 1979 that the European Parliament became an elected parliament (proportional). But it is a parliament without legislative initiative, that is to say it does not have the right to propose laws, it is the exclusive monopoly of the European Commission. And it is the European Council which adopts them or not. In short, we wonder what it is for, apart from providing a democratic veneer to Europe. It is only since 2007 (Lisbon Treaty) that it has had a say on standards. We still had to wait 45 years, 28 years if we count since they are elected officials.

In 1992, the co-decision procedure was invented, meaning that the European Council and the European Parliament are equal (well, almost!) for certain types of law (2).
Since the Treaty of Lisbon, ordinary legislative measures can be amended or approved (so we will also assume refused). But Parliament still cannot propose laws. He can, however, ask the European Commission to do so, which must tell him why it refuses if it refuses.
So if we summarize, to be adopted, a law must have a majority in the European Parliament and the European Council (heads of state). Very recently, France was able to overturn the law to fight against rape. If they do not agree, the law is rejected. We can imagine the pressure that this represents: ah you are not voting for the deadline for the ban on this dangerous product, well there may be no law at all on this type of dangerous product. Parliament can still propose amendments, but voted for by the majority of parliamentarians, and not just those present. When we know the absenteeism at least French in the European assembly... And if these amendments are not approved by the European Commission, unanimity of the European Council is required. In summary, the legislative power of the European Parliament is still quite limited.
There are more and more often initiatives that appeal to the European Parliament. We must therefore remember that the latter must first convince the European Commission, and that in the end few heads of state are enough to derail the matter.
The Parliament elects the President of the European Commission for five years, but only on a proposal from the European Council (the heads of state), which takes into account the results of the elections to the European Parliament. Given the respective powers of the three institutions, this is undoubtedly its most important power. The other members of the Commission are appointed by the president and are not obliged to correspond to the parliamentary majority. Parliament approves or rejects en bloc. He can force the Commission to resign by a motion of censure. You only have to follow French political news to understand how realistic this is.
Finally, like all Parliaments in the world, it votes on the budget, but with one small reservation: it can only vote on expenditure, revenue is the responsibility of the States (the European Council) unanimously!

There are 705 deputies, 96 Germans, 79 French, 76 Italians and the others much fewer (6 for the Cypriots, the Luxembourgers and the Maltese). These are proportional elections, and the threshold necessary to have a representative must not be above 5%. In France, of course, it's 5%.
There are political groups and their role is important: their (co-)presidents participate in the conference of presidents which sets the agenda. We give them a budget. A group must have at least 25 elected officials from at least 5 states. Given the differences in political traditions between countries, this last condition is undoubtedly the most difficult to fulfill. For example, there is of course no communist group (we didn't create Europe to be pissed off by the reds!), but there is still a left-wing group (the smallest, 37 members) and a "progressive alliance of socialists and democrats" (143 members). The Greens and Regionalists group has 72 elected officials. The far right (Identity and Democracy) has 61 deputies.
An exotic feature for France (but not for the majority of European countries): lobbies are not only authorized but official. As of August 30, 2021, 12,911 interest groups (this is their official name, or pressure groups) exercise lobbying activity at Union level according to Wikipedia. The French government speaks of 50,000 lobbyists (on vie publique.fr). The huge difference between these two figures may be due to the fact that not all are recorded.
Indeed, there is a transparency register associated with a code of good conduct (yes, yes!), but only on a voluntary basis... This registration is still compulsory to obtain an access badge to the European Parliament or to participate to its institutions (commissions, public hearings, intergroup meeting on a subject, etc.). So yes, lobbies act well within the institution itself, a lot, and it is encouraged. In particular, in this famous register, they are supposed to indicate their main legislative proposals. That says a lot about their power.

MEPs are required to publish online information about their scheduled meetings with "interest representatives" (if they are registered on the transparency register) and with representatives of public authorities from third countries. Some recent scandals have shown that they were sometimes a little distracted in these declarations, which moreover only officially concern the European Commission (and undoubtedly this is more important for them).
Directly influencing policy and legislation to defend particular interests, notably those of large companies, is therefore considered positive and laudable by the European institutions, which officially allow them to participate in their activities. On the other hand, corruption is still prohibited, that is to say the act of buying European deputies or commissioners (see all the scandals recently raised in particular by mediapart).

In conclusion, when we talk about the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, the European Union is almost a caricature. It was put in place for the construction of an important market (which reminds us in passing that the market, far from being the domain of freedom, is first and foremost a state construction). Its guiding idea from the start is that encouraging business development will make it possible to consolidate political liberalism, to impose the political program of a liberal capitalist Europe. Moreover, it only became "democratized" once the project was firmly established, and the populations were presented with a fait accompli. Its institutions are deliberately opaque (it is better that we do not really understand who is responsible for what), and the European Parliament is not the European institution that has the most weight, far from it.
In fact, the European Union is based on a culture that is quite foreign to us, "the culture of consensus". It's the idea that between reasonable people, we can always come to an understanding. These "reasonable people" are of course all in favor of maintaining the current system, with or without desires for reform in one direction or another. This is the essential condition for a culture of consensus and the search for compromise. Without this culture and this research, the European Union with its tangled institutions will break down. This also assumes heads of state sensitive to "public opinion", basically none of them are called Macron.
In short, as with many elections, it's a world where we don't have much to do. And contrary to what we are told, the political composition of this Parliament has only a slight influence on the progress of Europe.


Sources: Wikipedia and the European Parliament

1. I present to you here the current situation. I thought you wouldn't be interested in the details of the various bureaucratic changes since 1957.
2. Don't ask me which ones or how, it's already complicated enough as it is.

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