How to improve scrutiny

As I said yesterday, the Conservatives’ claim that they’re trying to claw back an over-active EU, which has over-regulated and inflicted red tape on hapless countries against their will, should be taken with a pinch of salt.

No EU legislation can be adopted without the support of an overwhelming majority of national governments. A ‘qualified majority’ required to adopt most legislation consists of 74% of the votes in the Council of ministers. Sensitive subjects need unanimous approval. For good measure, the European Parliament’s approval is also required.

In short, EU action only takes place when national governments agree that joint action is needed. The idea that ‘Brussels’ imposes legislation on unsuspecting governments is nonsense.

Ministers who blame Brussels are either being disingenuous or not doing their job. That’s one reason why national parliamentary scrutiny over the minister representing their country is so important — and in Britain, there is considerable scope to improve that scrutiny.

There is nothing to stop Britain introducing the Nordic model, where ministers going to an EU meeting have to appear first before the responsible parliamentary committee to get a sort of mandate before they go. This makes it much more difficult to blame others or pass the buck. It would sharpen their negotiating stance.

It would also enable scrutiny committees to break away from their present focus on ‘subsidiarity’ (whether an item is within the EU’s remit or not), which in practice is rarely a problem, and focus instead on the substance of what’s being debated. That’s what matters.

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