Tuesday, 13 April 2010

MEP amendments and democracy

The European Parliament’s press service has just published a remarkable online tribute to the practice of MEPs submitting amendments to proposed legislation. In “The Art of the Amendment”, this is praised as “a way for MEPs to bring into play the interests of voters, lobbyists, non-governmental organisations and other interest groups.” In the accompanying clip on EuroparlTV, David Earnshaw (presented as Visiting Professor at the College of Europe, while his role as Managing Director and Chairman of the Brussels office of lobby consultancy giant Burson-Marsteller is not mentioned) argues that “tabling of amendments to some extent demonstrates the democratic process”. “To some extent” indeed! While there’s obviously nothing wrong with proposing amendments, there’s good reason to be critical of the way this currently works at the European Parliament.

The EuroparlTV clip highlights the example of the directive on regulating hedge funds and private equity, where “no less than 1,600 amendments have been tabled”. This incredibly high number shows how the tabling of amendments has gotten out of hand. According to sources in the Parliament, more than half of the amendments for this directive were actually written by industry lobbies and just passed on by MEPs close to the industry. The case of the hedge fund directive also illustrates how under-represented NGOs and other non-commercial interest groups often are in the lobbying battles around the Parliament’s decision-making. While MEPs in the economic affairs committee face a massive lobbying pressure from the hedge fund industry, public interest groups are virtually absent.

The lesson to learn from this is that the habit of MEPs submitting amendments on behalf of interest groups is not in any way a guarantee for a democratic process.

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