Cameron’s package: the view from Parliament

Much is being made of the fact that, on some aspects of Cameron’s proposed EU deal, secondary legislation will have to pass through the European Parliament, which (it’s claimed) might water it down or even reject it.

Legally speaking this is of course true. The European Parliament, like any other parliament, is by definition free to adopt, amend or reject draft legislation put before it. The Parliament’s President and others have made this point. And, unlike some national parliaments, the majority in the European Parliament is not controlled by a government which can give it orders and whip its members into line.

Speaking after his meeting with Cameron today, the President of the Parliament said:

To be quite clear: no government can go to a parliament and say, ‘this is our proposal, can you give a guarantee about the result?’. This is, in democracy, not possible. Therefore my answer is the European Parliament will do the utmost to support compromise and a fair deal, but I can’t preempt the result in the European Parliament.

Nonetheless, the reality is that the European Parliament will accept the deal. After all, if a package is solemnly approved by all 28 member states, and conceded in order to stop the European Union from falling apart, the mainstream political groups in the Parliament will accept it.

Some aspects of the European legislative procedure virtually guarantee this. If a proposal is endorsed (unanimously) by the ministers from the member states, the European Parliament can only amend or reject it by an absolute majority of its members. Reticent abstentions effectively count in favour. The leadership of the two biggest groups — the Socialists and the Christian Democrats — have already indicated that their top priority is to keep Britain in, and although they don’t like the deal they will acquiesce. The third largest group is the Conservatives themselves — scarcely likely to reject Cameron’s package after the event. At least some Liberals and Greens are also likely to accept it. So the chances of securing an absolute majority to oppose the legislation is remote.

It is, of course, amusing to see Farage and other eurosceptics suddenly talking up the powers of a Parliament that they have previously dismissed as irrelevant. But it should be quite clear why they are doing so. They are clutching at straws to try to make part of the Cameron package look insecure. As usual, it is overplayed.

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