I read with interest the report of the Irish Parliament’s sub-Committee on the future of Ireland in the EU which was released yesterday. I addressed this committee when I was in Ireland, as did 119 other people from a range of organisations, including No campaigners, journalists, business people and academics. I found the report well written, thoughtful and balanced. It sets out the context of Ireland’s membership of the EU, the issues which arose during the referendum, the state of play since then, the implications and the various options and possibilities for the future. I expect the Irish government is studying these aspects of the report closely and will elaborate on how they see the way ahead during the European Council in December.
I found Chapter Three – on the role of government, politicians, media and Institutions in communicating on EU affairs – of the report especially interesting. It has not yet been much reported in the press as far as I have seen, as all the focus has been on the Treaty. Apart from iterating the need for domestic politicians and the parliament to regularly talk about EU issues, some very interesting concrete proposals are made in this chapter, including:
- The Council of Ministers should meet in public when legislating;
- European treaties should be accompanied by clear explanatory documents, approved by the Member States;
- Modern European history to be on the Irish school curriculum;
- European Studies as a subject on the secondary school curriculum;
- The teaching of European languages at primary school level;
- The establishment of an independent body to assist public understanding of the EU in Ireland;
- the development of a cross-party foundation allowing scholars from other Member States of the Union to contribute to Irish public life and to policy formation.
I have long been advocating both more openness in the Council and the role of civic education when it comes to communicating about the EU. And before my more EU-sceptic readers leap to their keyboards, I am not talking about EU propaganda, I am talking about citizens’ basic right to know how the EU Institutions work and how the EU interacts with their national governments. We have civic education which explains how national political systems work, but in many member states there is nothing on how decisions are taken at European level which affect peoples’ daily lives.
I was also pleased to see proposals for improving the role of the national parliament in scrutinising EU proposals including:
- A formal scrutiny reserve mechanism, similar to the model used in the UK Parliament, to provide more influence in the negotiating positions adopted by Irish Ministers on draft EU legislation at Council meetings;
- National Parliaments to be consulted formally about the European Commission’s annual policy strategy and legislative work programmes before they are finalised;
- More structured arrangement for parliamentary committees to meet with Ministers before Council meetings to consider the Government’s negotiating positions on agenda items;
- Ministers to report back in writing on the outcome of the discussions and on specific decisions made.
Increased involvement of national parliaments in the process of drafting and agreeing EU legislation is something I would welcome and on which I have been actively working. I think it is extremely important that EU questions are integrated into the national political debate. I also believe – like the Committee – that it would help reduce the democratic deficit in the EU.
The full report can be found at: