Read the paper. Panelists: Danuta Hübner, Member of the European Parliament,  Roger Liddle / Lord Liddle of Carlisle, Member of the British House of Lords; Chair of Policy Network, Michael Link, former member of the German Bundestag; Minister of State, German Federal Foreign Office,  Giles Merrit, Secretary General, Friends of Europe/Les amis de l'Europe, Sonia Piedrafita, Research Fellow, Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS)

During the 5th Brussels Think Tank Dialogue, legitimising EU policymaking and the role for national parliaments was discussed. The debates on the European Union’s so-called democratic deficit have gathered momentum since the early 1990s and brought the role of national parliaments in EU policymaking into the limelight. Many came to describe the deepening and widening of European integration via successive EU treaties as “a classic case of a gradual process of de-democratisation”1 because in their view, it has proceeded at the expense of parliaments and traditional mechanisms of parliamentary accountability.

The issue of the role of national parliaments in European affairs set sail in the tenacious quest of the past decades for better democratic quality of EU decision making, and has been recently steaming ahead in the context of the ‘euro crisis’. By now, it is not only uncontested that assemblies in the Member States should be kept in the loop of the Union’s activities but also that national parliaments dispose of a full repertoire of different instruments to ensure they can play a direct role in the system. National parliaments’ rights to access information, participation and objection to EU legislation are guaranteed in the Treaties, and seek to complement both the traditional functions of these assemblies – that is, to hold their governments accountable and communicate with their voters – as well as the work of the European Parliament, aiming to safeguard democratic representation and accountability at EU level.


HOW IT WORKS: THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT | EP elections (2014) | the role of the EP in reality (2009, Klaus Welle)


EP elections (2014)  
For months EU politicians have been warning us about the elections for the European Parliament (EP) held in May 2014 in all 28 member states. European Commission President Jose Barroso recently predicted “a festival of unfounded reproaches against Europe” as a consequence of the EU-wide “rise of extremism from the extreme right and from the extreme left.” The media has mostly followed these political messages, publishing countless articles, editorials and op-eds about the upcoming European apocalypse. Most of these stories refer exclusively to the rise of the right wing French National Front (FN), under new leader Marine Le Pen, arguing that her party’s rising popularity parallels that of other extreme nationalist parties across Europe. In addition, as is often the case in European politics, many articles and op-eds also include references to the Great Depression of the 1930s and a return of fascism.

Most media coverage remains vague on the exact electoral strength of the “anti-European populists”– a political construction by the pro-EU elite that includes far left, far right, populist, and hard Euroskeptic parties. Editorials mainly stress that “rampant right-wing populism” will make significant gains and the anti-Europeans will become important players in the new EP. Most of these commentators believe that the anti-European camp will gain between one-quarter and one-third of all 766 seats in the EP. Whatever the exact number of seats, many fear an American scenario, where the “European Tea Parties” could force a shutdown of the EP and, thereby, the EU.

These predictions, however, are highly unrealistic and seldom substantiated by logic. My own predictions, based largely on the results of the last national elections and adjusted on the basis of recent opinion polls, show rather small gains. Far right parties will probably only gain around 40 seats, which is less than the 44 they won in the 2009 European elections. I exclude some parties that other commentators wrongly include in the far right category, like The Finns and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which I include in the amorphous group of “anti-European populists.” All together these latter parties, which often oppose each other even stronger than they oppose the EU, are estimated to win some 125 seats (approximately 16 percent), against the 92 they hold now. That looks like a significant increase, of roughly one-third, but almost 20 seats are gained by just one party, the Italian Five Star Movement (M5S), which is among the least Euroskeptic of this motley crew.

So why are predictions about the far right’s ascendancy so wrong? In part, because they are born out of the erroneous assumption that economic crises lead to big electoral gains for anti-system parties. This theory is based on the specific case of Weimar Germany, in which Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party won big during the Great Depression and entered a coalition government, which ended democratic rule. Weimar Germany was the exception rather than the rule, however.

There are at least four interconnected reasons why the far right will not win big in the European elections of 2014. First, economic crises do not automatically lead to a rise in support for far right and other anti-system parties. A recent study of the support for far right parties during the Great Depression found that the effect of the economic crisis was greatest “in countries with relatively short histories of democracy, with existing extremist parties, and with electoral systems that created low hurdles to parliamentary representation. Above all, it was greatest where depressed economic conditions were allowed to persist.” Such a perfect storm exists only in a few European countries, most notably Greece.

Second, the previous European elections were held in 2009, when the crisis was already a reality for most of the now-hardest hit countries. Consequently, the 2009 elections took place in economic and political circumstances that are fairly similar to what Europe is experiencing today. So it’s unlikely that voters, despite bailouts that have led to even more dissatisfaction, will show dramatically more support for the far right than they did amidst similar economic conditions four years ago.

Third, anti-European populists need a credible political party to express their hard Euroskepticism in a more convincing way than the soft Euroskepticism of some of the mainstream parties, such as the British Conservative Party. The most successful party family that expresses hard Euroskepticism is the far right. However, only 12 of the 28 EU member states currently have a far right party in their national parliament. The situation for the far left and other anti-European populists is even less impressive.

Fourth and final, most of the credible far right and anti-European populist parties exist in the smaller EU member states, which only have a limited number of seats in the EP. Germany (97) has no credible far right (the NPD is battling bankruptcy and internal strife) and only a new, so far untested, Euroskeptic party. Italy (73) has only a regional far right party, the Northern League, which has recently lost credibility because of scandals, but a soft Euroskeptic populist party, M5S, whose estimated 20 seats account for most of the total increase in anti-European populist seats. The UK has the weak far right British National Party, which gained its best nationwide result in the 2009 elections, but has since become irrelevant because of internal strife and financial problems. And notwithstanding all the media attention for UKIP, it will have a hard time repeating, let alone topping, its record 16.5 percent of the vote in 2009. Finally, Spain (54) and Poland (51) have neither a credible far right party nor a credible anti-European party.

In the end, France (74) is the only large EU member state with a credible and popular far right, which will probably account for almost 50 percent of all far right seats in the next EP. France is the exception rather than the rule. This makes the many generalizations based on the specific case of the FN in France as misguided as the historical generalizations based on the Nazi Party in Weimar Germany. Expect small gains from the far right in May.


  the role of the EP in reality
Klaus Welle, Secretary General European Parliament
Since the Lisbon Treaty came into force 1 December 2009, the European Council got her legal status and the institutional innovations are gradually being implemented, the Europarliament won power. It has flexed its muscles and has now more power of co_decision, which possibility is used very well.

Tuesday 12 October 2010 CEPS arranged a meeting about functioning of the role of the EP in reality. Klaus Welle, Secretary General of the European Parliament staged as speaker. 50% Is according law and 50% is acting conform culture, habits and of what we make of it. And we are in the middle of the changes. Our role is increasing, but it needs to have time to develop further. The European Parliament is not like national parliaments, but more close like US Congress. We have to involve EP, which is sometimes underestimating international agreements.

There is an institutional set up and it is of importance to see what is been happening. The Parliament, seen as slow actor, is a very important body for the Council. While the infrastructure between experts to experts is excellent, infrastructure on institutional level is not yet present. Among issues and obstacles and with a look at legislation, a political infrastructure has to be invented. With the Commission there is a special partnership. Development of a framework with the Council is under the attention. People and functions in the EP are independent as their nomination is. As ambassador there are Eurocommissioners in the EP and EP members invites sometimes national members of parliament.


There are elections (people needs to have a choice, otherwise they become sceptical). A question is how to deal with 27 member countries. A model of political organistion by categorizing to political families and which families showed that there exists alliancies, could be an answer. Political parties as they occur in nation states, than within a similar situation in the US. A good example of how the EU can function mature is the approach of the economic crisis. Proposals started by the Council.

CEPS commentary:

On October 12th, the Secretary General of the European Parliament, Klaus Welle addressed the issue of the EP’s position under the Lisbon Treaty in a meeting at CEPS. Welle stressed the differences between the European and national parliaments by explaining that the former does not have to provide the executive body with a majority to govern, and it is therefore “absolutely free” from it. In this respect, it is more like the US Congress than the European national chambers.
He emphasised the new powers of consent for international agreements. The parliament will now be involved early on at the stage of defining the mandate, so its influence will be immediately tangible, unlike in the case of most EU legislation, of which citizens only feel the impact after it has been transposed into national rules. Another important Lisbon Treaty innovation is the enhanced budgetary powers of the Parliament, which will have to be taken into account by the European Commission“with a view to reaching an inter-institutional agreement”, thus contributing to the agenda-setting process of the EU