16 September 2015

With the UK Government committed to a referendum on European Union membership, ensuring effective parliamentary scrutiny of the EU is vital. The IfG is launching a new project examining the current scrutiny system. Here Hannah White describes the background to, and aims of, the project.

When it comes to renegotiating the UK’s relationship with Europe, David Cameron has deliberately been keeping the detail of his negotiating hand under wraps. But it has become clear that one element of the package he is seeking is an increase in the powers of national parliaments in relation to the European Union.

This ‘national parliaments’ agenda lends increased importance to questions which the Institute has been considering for some time, about how effectively the UK Parliament scrutinises the EU. It also puts the spotlight on existing proposals for reform of the scrutiny system, many of which lie firmly within the competence of the UK Parliament to adopt without reference to the rest of the EU. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, many elements of the way the UK is governed will continue to be intertwined with our closest neighbours in Europe, and remain subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

That is why the Institute for Government has launched a new research project examining the current system of scrutiny of the European Union by the UK Parliament. Building on our existing research into the impact of scrutiny by parliamentary committees, the aim of the project is to identify insights that will support improvements to the parliamentary scrutiny system once the outcome of the referendum is known.

Based on a mix of interviews and research, the project will consider:

  • how the current parliamentary scrutiny system works
  • the options for reform that have been identified
  • the barriers to implementing those reforms.

The research will draw on case studies of the ways in which parliaments in other European countries – inside and outside the EU – interact with the Union. Some EU members, like Ireland, have ‘mainstreamed’ the role of scrutinising European legislative proposals, making it a responsibility of all their parliamentary committees. Many others – like Westminster – have specific committees that take primary responsibility for the job. But these committees operate in different ways (even the Commons and Lords systems are different) and even countries that are not EU members – like Norway – still need European Committees to scrutinise their relationship with the Union. Looking at what is done elsewhere will enable us to identify insights about how to maximise the effectiveness of the UK Parliament’s scrutiny of the EU.

No matter what happens in the forthcoming referendum, one thing is certain: Parliament will continue to play a role in scrutinising our relationship with the EU. It is therefore in everyone’s interests that it fulfils that role as effectively as possible.