It is almost upon us: in the first six months of 2016, it will be the Netherlands` turn to assume the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The informal council meetings of ministers from the 28 member states will be taking place in Amsterdam. However, the Dutch parliament also has a role to play – as host and as chair of a number of interparliamentary meetings, most of which will be held in the Hall of Knights (Ridderzaal).
The purpose of these interparliamentary meetings will be to strengthen cooperation between the individual national parliaments, and thereby exert greater influence on the decision-making process in Brussels. The ‘there is nothing I can do about it – it’s up to Brussels’ era is now well and truly over!
As a national parliamentarian, you have an influence on the decision-making process; directly, through the checks by your own government, and indirectly, through cooperation with fellow parliamentarians from other member states. By working in partnership with national parliaments, it is possible, for example, to show a so-called ‘yellow card’. This enables you to send a powerful signal to the European Commission, that it should reconsider a particular proposal. However, you do require the support of at least fourteen parliaments for this, and it must be presented within eight weeks. It therefore means that the need for close contacts, and the need to maintain them, is crucial.
The Netherlands recently called upon other parliaments to make clear to which European Commission proposals they attached priority. Using this overview, we are now able to see which proposals receive particular attention and which parliaments are acting on them. This makes it easier to establish cooperation-based relationships and thereby jointly steer proposals in the right direction.
Collaboration between national parliaments is also important because the information provided by one government differs to another. Some parliaments hardly receive any information at all. Other parliaments, by contrast, are given highly detailed information. Additionally, cooperating with the European Parliament offers opportunities for obtaining extra information and for exerting influence on the decision-making process, thereby enhancing the democratic controls by members of national parliaments.
My message is clear: working together is essential and will therefore be the main topic of discussion during the interparliamentary meetings during the forthcoming six months in The Hague: ‘working together to strengthen parliamentary influence on EU decision-making’.
Themes like defence and foreign security policy, human trafficking, the economy, energy, and the rule of law will be among those being examined. But all the major issues of the day will obviously feature as well. The meetings between parliamentarians and the presence of other foreign guests will put the Binnenhof firmly in the spotlight during the next six months. The Netherlands will take up the Presidency baton from Luxembourg during the final interparliamentary meeting – on development cooperation – in that country, on 10 and 11 December. On 7 and 8 February, we will kick off with the meeting of the chairpersons of the European Affairs committees in the Hall of Knights (Ridderzaal).
In short, Europe will be a dominant presence at the Binnenhof during the next six months.
Chair of the Standing Committee on European Affairs, and member of the EU Presidency Steering Group