Some people don’t know how lucky they are (not). Last week it was with some astonishment that I found myself explaining to someone what happened when a legislative dossier did not reach a first reading agreement. In theory they knew this possibility existed, but in reality they’d simply not experienced it on anything they’d worked on in the last two years.
It made me reflect. Are things better now than when I were a lad? When I were a lad, we used to actually go to second readings quite regularly. Statistics, which of course can be used to prove anything, suggest that back in the 1999-2004 legislature only 28% of dossiers were agreed in first reading. And while the Yorkshireman in me (ok, I were born in Derbyshire and grew up in Nottinghamshire but m’ dad is definitely from God’s Own County and thus I pass the cricket test) wants to say how lucky we are today compared with yesteryear I actually think in EU legislative terms we are not, one area where I agree with the outgoing EP President’s views.
I’m of the opinion that there are some good reasons why the Treaty sets out two readings, and potentially a third, as part of our normal legislative process. First, our system is built on consensus. It has to be. We’re 28 countries, with different political traditions even within political families. The process of two readings is meant to whittle out amendments without widespread support. It requires that Parliament matches its bluster with the support of the three major groups to enforce its will over Council. Second, the process also provides time for all stakeholders to input. Some people call it lobbying. I call it democracy. And democracy that makes for better legislation that does what is says on the tin. Stakeholder input is vital for understanding whether the Commission’s proposal actually will have the effect that they say it does. Negotiations behind closed doors at first reading, albeit with better scrutiny post recent rule changes, still do not allow as much opportunity for actors to comment or indeed MEPs and Council to debate the issue of the day in its own cold light. This leads to worse legislation and increases the possibility that we’ll be discussing this very same legislation once again in a few years’ time (it was the biofuels/ILUC vote that led to this rant, which kind of proves me right at least anecdotally).
But maybe things have not really changed. It’s just me remembering a rosy past that never was in EU lawmaking. A bit like my recollection of life in Yorkshire, a county where I’ve never lived. We’ve always believed that getting stuff passed is preferable to getting good stuff passed. How else can we account for the peak in legislative activity in the last year of each Parliament (See Figure 1 here)? Or indeed every Council Presidency’s fascination with the EU lawmaking equivalent of notches on the bedpost? We may not make stuff anymore in Europe, but by heck can we regulate.
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May 28, 2020