European Parliamentary Week 2014

This week (20-22 January) saw MEPs and national parliamentarians from chambers throughout the EU come together to discuss economic, budgetary and social matters. The significance of this annual event in the EU calendar is marked by the welcoming of national Parliament representatives by the three presidents, José Manuel Barroso, Martin Schulz and Herman Van Rompuy. All presidents touched on sensitive issues which have surrounded the EU’s economic policy over the last year, namely the work of the troika, the need for enhanced economic coordination and enhanced democratic legitimacy.

European Parliamentary Week 2014

Since 2011, the European Parliament has organised several joint meetings together with the sitting Presidency on the role of the European Semester, the EU’s cycle of economic policy coordination among EU Member States. This year marks the second “European Parliamentary Week”, now an important calendar event for legislators throughout the EU.

Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament called this a “new dimension in parliamentary cooperation” in which EU and national legislators “are not rivals but partners”. European Commission President Barroso called on national governments to acknowledge the impact that national decisions have across their borders, particularly in the realm of economic policy. Barroso also conceded that the blurry lines of the European Semester needed clarified and the processes simplified.

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Schulz talks with Herman Van Rompuy during the opening session

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy described the dual legitimacy of European decisions (through Member States in the Council and MEPs) but underlined that with this comes a dual complexity. In his view, democratic legitimacy needs to come as much from national Parliaments as it does at EU level through more individual systems of democratic control.

Within the framework of the European Parliamentary Week, the Employment and Social Affairs Committee also took the opportunity to organise a joint meeting with national legislators. Issues discussed included how to breathe new life into the social dimension of Economic and Monetary Union and the importance of addressing social imbalances. A member of the Polish Sejm pointed out that there is a risk of developing a multi-speed Europe in social terms, which puts competitiveness in serious risk, potentially leading to a race to the bottom in terms of social rights and protection.

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EMPL Chair Pervenche Berès

However, most speakers from national Parliaments welcomed the Commission’s proposal for new indicators to be established under a social scoreboard.

Employment and Social Affairs Committee Chair Pervenche Berès was determined to underline the communication aspect of the Youth Guarantee, calling for national governments to clearly emphasise how youth policies are being implemented. The meeting also saw a discussion on automatic stabilisers at European level, such as minimum unemployment benefits, which Ms Berès noted would be looked at by the European Parliament in February.

Many speakers, including the Economic and Financial Affairs Minister from the Greek Presidency, suggested that social partners needed to be brought closer into the framework of the European Semester. CESI will draw from this week’s discussions by organising a breakfast seminar on Wednesday 29th January at the European Parliament on Working towards a more inclusive and balanced European Semester: a model for civil society and trade union involvement.