The power of the European Parliament
The only directly elected European Union (EU) institution; the European Parliament’s (EP) power and influence in pursuit of citizens’ interests have evolved significantly, transforming it into a full-fledged legislative body and forum of discussion and engagement at the heart of representative democracy, whose influence is felt in virtually all areas of EU activity.
What are then the European Parliament’s main powers?
What difference does the Parliament’s work make to how Europeans live their lives? This series highlights some practical examples of EP impact during the 2014-2019 legislative term.
Erasmus+ is the European Union’s programme dedicated to education, training, youth and sport. It is one of the best-known EU initiatives, but many think Erasmus+ is only for university students who go to study for a few months in another European university. In fact, other learners and educators participate as well. It is also open to vocational education students, teachers, professors, entrepreneurs, apprentices and grassroots sports people, for example.
One of its special features is that Erasmus+ equips young people with soft skills that they do not necessarily develop in a classroom. These skills, such as adjusting to a different way of life and using a foreign language in day-to-day conversations, can make it easier for them to find a job, start their own business and take an active interest in society later on.
Erasmus+ also creates networks of education institutions, businesses and local authorities.
The European Parliament has monitored how Erasmus+ is put into action on the ground. In its October 2017 mid-term implementation resolution it recommended making the programme more accessible, especially to small organisations, by reducing bureaucratic obstacles’ and reintroducing school exchanges. It also called on the European Commission to recognise that mobility involving people with special needs and people from disadvantaged backgrounds needs additional facilitation.
A bigger budget is necessary given the benefits of this programme. When the Commission published its mid-term evaluation of the programme (2014-2020) in January 2018, it clearly reflected comments made by Parliament. Most notably, it identified simplification as an area that needed continued efforts. It also proposed stepping up mobility among school pupils, vocational education and training participants and young people. It also acknowledged that the programme needed to reach out to more vulnerable learners and smaller organisations with a view to making it more inclusive.
Crucially, the European Parliament secured an extra €240 million for the Erasmus+ budget in 2019, meaning that the programme can be made available to more people and make a bigger difference in helping young people to get an improved start in life.
In its May 2018 proposal for the new Erasmus programme (2021-2027), the European Commission incorporated the recommendations of the European Parliament to reach out more to people with fewer opportunities, including people with disabilities. It intends to become more inclusive, tripling the number of participants and making mobility for school pupils and vocational learners more mainstream. It will also simplify procedures further in order to be accessible to small organisations such as those active in grassroots sports. In its position adopted at first reading on 28 March 2019, the European Parliament proposes that the Commission draws up a strategy with guidelines, measures and indicators to ensure that inclusion is practised. The amendments adopted also seek to promote the excellence of the projects, to make sure that other EU programmes work with Erasmus and to introduce a way to help Parliament systematically monitor the implementation of the programme. While the European Commission had proposed a budget of just €30 billion in current prices for the whole period, the European Parliament proposes an increased envelope of €46.758 billion in current prices to ensure better inclusion. It allocates 83 % to education and training, 10.3 % to youth actions, and 2 % to sport.
Unlike many national parliaments, the European Parliament does not have a full right of initiative – with the exception of a handful of cases provided for in the EU Treaties, it cannot independently propose new laws but needs to rely on the Commission to do so. The EU Treaties do, however, allow the Parliament to ‘request’ the European Commission to submit proposals, but the Commission maintains broad discretion as to how to respond to such requests. Existing interinstitutional agreements nevertheless commit the Commission to reply within three months and to justify its decision where it does not submit a proposal in response to the request.
Despite the lack of formal right of initiative, the Parliament successfully uses other avenues to exercise influence in setting the agenda for the European Union. For example, before its vote on the election of the President of the Commission, the latter presents his or her political guidelines to the Parliament, followed by an active debate in plenary. Indeed, the four months following the constitution of the Parliament are a major opportunity for it to shape the polictical agenda of the Union for the following years.
The 2016 Interinstitutional Agreement on Better Law-Making further provides for a continuous process of interinstitutional consultation and cooperation between the Commission, the Parliament and the Council with regard to multiannual and annual programming of the EU. Upon the appointment of a new Commission, these institutions are to ‘exchange views on the principal policy objectives and priorities of the three institutions for the new term’, and to conduct dialogue both before and after the adoption of the Commission work programme (CWP).
Read the complete study on ‘The power of the European Parliament: Examples of EP impact during the 2014-19 legislative term‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.