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Heathcoat-Amory: Reforms are not enough for subsidiarity

Speech to the European Convention

The Laeken Declaration, which set up the Convention on the Future of Europe, identified a bigger role for national parliaments as being crucial if the EU is to close the 'democratic deficit'.

The report of the working group breaks new ground in recommending that national parliaments obtain an early and continuous role in the EU legislative process. But it restricts this role to commentary on whether the subsidiarity principle is being observed.

Subsidiarity should be working anyway; it has been in the treaty since Maastricht, that is for ten years. It is a serious matter if subsidiarity has been ignored or persistently breached and we need a report on this. If, on the other hand, subsidiarity is working, then the proposed new mechanism is unnecessary.

In any event, the proposal is far too modest. This is also the view of the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee. This all-party committee describes these proposals as 'inadequate', and the chairman calls them, "a major disappointment". He points out that the national parliaments will only be entitled to request a review of draft legislation. This voluntary approach will still leave national parliaments on the receiving end of an avalanche of EU legislation, which itself is the result of an opaque decision-making process which national parliaments are exluded from.

This is why ordinary citizens feel alienated. They see EU laws which affect them arriving out of a continuous bargaining process in Brussels. It is not self-government as they understand it.

Far better would be to give national parliaments a first reading of all EU legislative proposals. That would give real involvement and the beginnings of a proper democracy.

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