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EU should implement democratic safeguards now

EU should implement democratic safeguards in stalled Constitution now without waiting for ratification, says CoR President

Committee of the Regions President Peter Straub has called on the EU to immediately implement the democratic safeguards on subsidiarity and proportionality contained in the stalled Constitutional Treaty – regardless of whether the text is ratified.

Presenting an own-initiative opinion on the issue to the CoR Plenary Session in Brussels on 16 November, the President said that implementing the measures now could make a “decisive contribution to strengthening public confidence” in Europe, as well helping to overcome the scepticism expressed in the French and Dutch rejection of the Treaty this summer.

The aim of subsidiarity and proportionality is to ensure that action should only be taken at EU, rather than regional or national level, when there is clear added value and that the action envisaged should be the minimum necessary to achieve its objective.

President Straub, who is also head of the regional parliament (Landtagspräsident) of Baden-Württemberg in Germany, underlined that the local and regional government is responsible for implementing more than 70% of EU laws. It was “indispensable” for more account to be taken of their views through extensive consultations prior to the adoption of legislative acts, he said.

His opinion, which was adopted by CoR members, calls on the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers, and national and regional parliaments to create “a real subsidiarity culture in the Union”, to ensure that decisions in Europe are taken at the most effective level and as close to the citizen as possible.

The President encourages the Commission, when applying the subsidiarity principle in future, to highlight whether:

• the area in question contains trans-national aspects that cannot adequately be addressed by measures taken by Member States or their regional and local authorities;

• measures taken by Member States or their regional and local authorities alone, or the absence of Community measures, would violate the requirements of the Treaty or would in some other way significantly harm the interests of the Member States or their regional and local authorities;

• measures at Community level would, due to their scope or their effect, have significant advantages over measures taken by Member States or their regional and local authorities;

The Constitutional Treaty, currently the focus of a “period of reflection” in Member States, expressly recognises the role and powers of local and regional government. It requires the Commission to consult widely before proposing legislation, to take account of the local and regional impact of its actions and to assess the financial and administrative burden that an EU law may entail.

In cases where the EU legislates where it would have been more appropriate for a region or Member State to do so, the CoR would have the right under the Constitution to challenge such laws at the European Court of Justice for breach of subsidiarity.

Online Subsidiarity Monitoring Network

The CoR has just launched the first phase of an interactive online subsidiarity monitoring network, aimed at giving local and regional authorities more say over EU legislation. Involving more than 20 partners – including regional parliaments and assemblies, associations of regional and local authorities and cities – the network will initially test whether two new Commission proposals on air quality and pollution are in line with subsidiarity. Once the network is fully established, it is foreseen that it will be opened up for use by the general public.

What the current Treaties say about subsidiarity

Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union provides the legal basis for subsidiarity and a protocol annexed to the Treaty of Amsterdam sets precise criteria for this, stating that Community action is justified only when:

• the question has trans-national aspects which cannot be satisfactorily regulated by national measures (necessity test I);

• national measures alone or lack of Community action would conflict with the requirements of the EC Treaty or would otherwise significantly damage Member States’ interests (necessity test II);

• action at Community level would provide clear benefits compared to national measures (clear benefit test).

EU Committee of the Regions

Created in 1994, the Brussels-based Committee of the Regions (CoR) is a consultative assembly which provides elected local and regional government representatives – eg city mayors, councillors and regional presidents – with a voice at the heart of the European Union. The European Commission and the Council of Ministers are obliged to consult the CoR’s 317 members on proposed EU laws across a wide range of policy areas, including employment, transport and the environment.

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