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11.04.2016.

Subsidiarity Bringing our Work Closer to Citizens

I often find myself having to convince my colleagues in the European Parliament (EP) that the word 'subsidiarity' should not be feared, that it does not undermine our work in the EU institutions.

I remind them that it is a key element of bringing our work closer to citizens' daily lives.

Now more than ever the issue of subsidiarity is particularly relevant, with the Prime Minister's reform agenda, including his recent letter to Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, calling for commitments to subsidiarity by EU institutions to be 'fully implemented'.

Even the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella - who addressed MEPs at the last plenary session in Strasbourg - spoke about the principle of subsidiarity, saying new relations with member states are required.

To start, this can be done by ensuring that national parliaments participate more actively in the legislative process.

David Cameron has outlined the important role that national parliaments play and has stated that he would even like to see the role of national parliaments enhanced where "groups of national parliaments, acting together, can stop unwanted legislative proposals."

This is an objective I have been working towards in my role and while it is not the most popular idea within the EP, there is definitely scope for a system to be established.

However, these details would need to be fleshed out. Calling this a 'veto' right or a 'red card' for national parliaments would be very difficult to sell to my parliamentary colleagues from the federalist groups.

Before continuing, I would like to reiterate what the Lisbon Treaty states in Article 5:

'The principle of subsidiarity aims at determining the level of intervention that is most relevant in the areas of competences shared between the EU and the EU countries. This may concern action at European, national or local levels. In all cases, the EU may only intervene if it is able to act more effectively than EU countries at their respective national or local levels."

It is crucial to remember this idea when deciding whether action should or should not be taken at an EU level.

The Dutch government embodied this notion perfectly in a recent subsidiarity review (2013), proclaiming the “time of an ‘ever closer union’ in every possible policy area is behind us” and saying “European where necessary, national where possible”.

They are also keen to play a key role in promoting this agenda through their incoming Dutch EU Presidency during the first half of 2016, which incidentally could work well for the Prime Minister and his reform agenda.

My work as rapporteur on the Annual Subsidiarity and Proportionality reports also helps to promote David Cameron's reform agenda and some of the conclusions drawn from my 2012-13 report are optimistic, which I will outline below.

The number of reasoned opinions from national parliaments regarding subsidiarity has increased compared to 2010 and 2011, a positive development since it means national parliaments are more engaged.

However, there is more that could be done because opinions are generally limited to a few chambers, so others should be encouraged to be more active. Furthermore, there seems to be differing interpretations of the principle of subsidiarity among national parliaments.

It was also decided that the yellow card procedure should be easily implementable for national parliaments, as there are several circumstances where difficulties have been reported.

The yellow card allows a third or more of national parliaments, acting together, to vet and temporarily block draft laws proposed by the Commission. For legislation in the sensitive area of justice and home affairs, the threshold is lower at a quarter.

Several parliaments have also expressed their interest in a green card mechanism. This would aim to enhance political dialogue with national parliaments and would give them the opportunity to suggest constructive proposals for the Commission's consideration. This could include ideas for legislative proposals, but also proposals for withdrawals and amendments to existing legislation.

The left are particularly sceptical of this idea though, as the EP does not have this right and consequently are keen to protect the Commission's 'right of initiative'.

However, I am aware that in the course of the current Inter-Institutional Agreement negotiations, the EP negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, is calling for the Commission to respond to the EP's non-legislative reports within three months to inform the EP how it intends to react. As a result, there is definitely scope for the green card.

It's also important that we encourage national parliaments to contribute to legislation at an earlier stage in the process. Including the perspectives of national parliaments in the course of preparatory work, such as green or white papers produced by the Commission will help to enhance political dialogue and reduce the democratic deficit.  When objections or concerns are raised by national parliaments, these should be thoroughly evaluated and not disregarded.

Next year I will be continuing my work as subsidiarity rapporteur, this time on the 2014 report. I am keen to build on what was achieved in the last report and add new elements, such as fleshing out the details for the green card.

Another priority is to address the idea of the previously mentioned 'red card' and how this would work in practice. Calling it a 'red card' or 'veto' is unpopular in the EP, so re-naming it or perhaps incorporating it into the Green card may be the way forward.

I will also propose to look at how we can include national parliaments more in our work from a practical perspective and more initiatives that could be considered to coordinate the reasoned opinions from national parliaments.

2016 looks to be an interesting year for subsidiarity. We could be on the verge of real and positive change in the EU.

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