European Union: Power and Policy-Making

By Jeremy J. Richardson | Go to book overview

6

From co-operation to co-decision

The European Parliament's path to legislative power

David Earnshaw and David Judge

INTRODUCTION

There was a time, not long ago, when the received orthodoxy was that the European Parliament lacked 'true legislative capabilities' (Thomas 1992:4) and that it could generally be 'regarded as a somewhat ineffective institution' (Nugent 1994:174). As Nugent proceeds to note, however, this reputation 'today at least, is not entirely justified' (1994:174). Indeed, favourable comparisons are now frequently drawn between the European Parliament and national legislatures. Juliet Lodge maintains, for example, that 'unlike national parliaments, it [the European Parliament] is not in decline', and, that in fact, 'the European Parliament is arguably one of the most vital EC institutions' (1993:21). Even the European Commission itself is willing to draw a comparison between the legislative impact of the European Parliament and national parliaments, 'Since the Single European Act came into force on 1 July 1987, over 50 per cent of Parliament's amendments have been accepted by the Commission and carried by the Council. No national parliament has a comparable success rate in bending the executive to its will' (ISEC/23/94 Commission Press Release, 15 December 1994). Clearly something happened to change perceptions of the European Parliament's legislative role, and that 'something' was undoubtedly the treaty revisions effected by the Single European Act 1986 and the Treaty on European Union 1991. For the European Parliament, the introduction of the co-operation procedure by the Single European Act in 1987 was, in Martin Westlake's opinion, 'as much of a watershed as the first direct elections in 1979 or the granting of budgetary powers in 1970…. In Parliament's eyes, it marked out the beginning of a path which it hopes will ultimately lead to full legislative co-decision powers with the Council' (1994:137).

What this chapter seeks to discover is how far down this path towards legislative power the European Parliament travelled under the co-operation procedure of the SEA and in its first experiences of co-decision under the TEU. In this sense this chapter is both historical and analytical; and it is based upon the premiss that if the significance of the co-decision procedure is to be understood and assessed a prior knowledge of the co-operation procedure is required. It is important, therefore, to understand exactly how the co-operation procedure operated in the 1989-94 Parliament and to assess its actual impact upon Community legislation. This is so both for the historical record-to gauge the practical impact of the procedure; as well as for analytical reasons-to see how far in practice the co-decision procedure in the 1994 Parliament has extended the legislative impact of the European Parliament.

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