The impending European elections have focused minds on the legislative backlog that needs to be cleared before the present parliamentary session comes to an end on April 17 – explain Melissa Wevers and Silvia Susach
The countdown to the European elections in May next year is already underway. In just 190 days, voters will be going to the polls to elect a new European Parliament. Now MEPs are starting to stir from their usual routine and campaign plans, and manifestos, are being drawn up to attract public support. The impending polls have also focused minds on the legislative backlog that needs to be cleared before the present parliamentary session comes to an end on April 17.
The European Commission recently announced its work programme for 2014. Commission President José Manuel Barroso saw it as an opportunity to ‘clear the decks’ by fast-tracking the most important files and dropping completely unresolved initiatives that have been left sloshing around the system, sometimes for years.
Barroso was at pains to work closely with parliament leaders, having met political group leaders on October 2, so that there was consensus on what should be achievable and what would be a waste of time. He gave an indication of his new “less is more” approach at his State of the Union speech at the European Parliament.
The most significant pieces of legislation have already been proposed. The single market for telecommunications; a single resolution mechanism for eurozone banks – part of the banking union infrastructure – the other being the single supervision mechanism adopted last month; a new data-protection regime, which faces a difficult passage through the parliament and the European Council, and various spending programmes linked to the 2014 to 2020 multiannual financial framework.
Nevertheless there will be new initiatives on shale gas, resource efficiency and waste as well as a package of measures on labour mobility. Promoting jobs and growth is the main aim of the 2014 agenda.
A number of existing initiatives have been identified as priorities: single resolution mechanism, framework for bank recovery and resolution, deposit guarantee schemes, Markets in Financial Instruments Directive, retail banking, fees related to payment accounts, long-term investment funds, anti-money laundering, public employment services, posting of workers, free movement of workers, network and information security, telecoms package, payments package, e-identification and signatures, fourth railway package, emissions trading scheme aviation proposal, public procurement, reform of insolvency rules, data protection package, European Public Prosecutor’s Office, Administrative Cooperation Directive, financial transaction tax, Tobacco Products Directive and regulation on political parties.
The commission had already identified 17 areas where it would propose repealing laws or withdrawing pending proposals. These are in line with the regulatory fitness and performance programme, which takes a fresh look on legislation to ensure “fit for purpose”. One of the pending proposals is a Soil Framework Directive, dating from 2006. There is also a proposal for environmental decisions by governments active since 2003, two proposals on prescription medicines – stalled since 2012 – and a proposal simplifying value-added tax obligations, in process since 2004.
Simplification of the legislative workload cannot, in practice, be carried out until the next parliament. Whereas in some national parliaments, incomplete legislation expires automatically when the parliament runs to the end of its mandate – the European Parliament simply passes on the in-tray to the next lot.
However, Barroso wants to do his housekeeping before he leaves. He fears that new MEPs will not want to bother with rewriting first reading positions and the new college of commissioners may not want to defend orphaned proposals put forward by their predecessors. In the meantime, there is still a lot of important business to be getting on with. The clock is ticking.
Melissa Wevers and Silvia Susach are researchers at the Brussels communications firm ResEuropa – a partner organisation to Policy Review