The power of the European Parliament
The only directly elected European Union (EU) institution; the European Parliament’s (EP) power and influence in pursuit of citizens’ interests have evolved significantly, transforming it into a full-fledged legislative body and forum of discussion and engagement at the heart of representative democracy, whose influence is felt in virtually all areas of EU activity.
What are then the European Parliament’s main powers?
What difference does the Parliament’s work make to how Europeans live their lives? This series highlights some practical examples of EP impact during the 2014-2019 legislative term.
Road transport is responsible for around 20 % of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Transport is the only sector in the EU that did not record any significant decline in greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. In 2016, EU transport emissions were 26 % above 1990 levels.
The European Parliament has played an important role in shaping EU legislation to respond to this challenge and in pushing for ambitious but realistic targets. Mandatory CO2 standards for new passenger cars in the EU were introduced in 2009 and strengthened in 2014. Similarly, CO2 standards for vans were introduced in 2011 and reinforced in 2014. Since September 2018, new cars sold in the EU must pass more reliable emissions tests in real driving conditions and an improved laboratory test (WLTP).
In November 2017, the European Commission proposed that average CO2 emissions from new passenger cars and vans registered in the EU would have to be 15 % lower in 2025, and 30 % lower in 2030, compared to their respective limits in 2021.
Parliament put forward a number of amendments to the proposal, which were then the subject of trilogue negotiations with the Council and Commission. Thanks to Parliament’s insistence, the text finally agreed in trilogue negotiations in December 2018 sets a 37.5 % target for reducing EU fleet-wide emissions for new cars by 2030. This is far above the 30 % initially proposed by the Commission and close to the 40 % demanded by the Parliament. For new vans, the 2030 target is raised to 31 %, compared to the 30 % level proposed by the Commission and supported by the Council.
In order to encourage the sale of more zero- and low-emission vehicles, a manufacturer that meets a benchmark of 35 % for cars by 2030 will be rewarded with less strict CO2 targets. This benchmark corresponds to the Parliament’s position and, again, is well above the 30 % benchmark originally proposed by the Commission. With respect to the benchmarks for 2025 and incentives for zero- and low-emission vans, the Commission proposal remained unchanged.
As advocated by the Parliament, there are now specific provisions on in-service conformity testing and on detecting strategies that would artificially improve the CO2 performance of cars and vans.
The agreed text requires the Commission to analyse the measures suggested by Parliament concerning the introduction of real-world CO2 emissions tests using portable equipment, like the one recently introduced for NOx, and to put forward legislative proposals, if appropriate. Parliament’s suggestion that this be done in conjunction with a review of the effectiveness of the regulation in 2023, rather than 2024 as proposed by the Commission, was also taken on board.
The agreed text also includes a requirement for car-makers to report the lifecycle CO2 emissions of new cars put on the market from 2025, and allows for the use of excess emissions premiums for the qualification and reallocation of workers affected by changes in the automotive sector.
As proposed by Parliament, by 2020 the Commission will have to review Directive 1999/94/EC on ‘car labelling’ in order to improve information to consumers, and evaluate options for introducing a fuel economy and CO2 emission label for vans.
Also in line with the Parliament’s position, the Commission must identify a pathway for further CO2 emission reductions after 2030, possibly revise the emission targets for 2030, and introduce new targets for 2035 and 2040 onwards.
The final act – Regulation (EU) 2019/631 of the European Parliament and the Council setting emission performance standards for new passenger cars and for new light commercial vehicles as part of the Union’s integrated approach to reduce CO2 emissions from light-duty vehicles – was signed on 17 April 2019.
Together with the Council, the Parliament participates in the shaping of European laws in what may be seen as a bicameral legislature at EU level. The nature of the Parliament’s involvement depends on the area in question and may mean Parliament being consulted (consultation procedure), giving its consent (consent procedure), or legislating on an equal footing with the Council (the ordinary legislative procedure, or co-decision).
The latter procedure consists of the joint adoption of an act by the European Parliament and the Council on the basis of a proposal by the Commission. Here, both legislators need to agree on an identical text before it becomes law, which may take up to three readings in each of the two institutions. On average, it takes about 22 months for legislators to agree on a legislative file, starting from the Commission proposal until the signature of the final act.
The number of areas in which the Parliament co-legislates has expanded greatly over time and now includes the EU internal market, environment, consumer protection, food safety, regional development, agriculture, transport, energy and many others. Indeed, most legislative acts are now adopted following the ordinary legislative procedure.
Besides the power of consent with regard to legislative acts, the Parliament’s consent is required in many other instances not related to legislative acts in the strict sense. For example, it is needed before any new country joins the EU (Article 49, Treaty on European Union, TEU), but also before any withdrawal treaty can be concluded when a country decides to leave it (Article 50 TEU). The Parliament’s consent is also required before concluding agreements with third countries, for example association agreements, as well as before the Council determines that an EU Member State is breaching – or is about to breach – EU values (Article 7 TEU).
Read the complete study on ‘The power of the European Parliament: Examples of EP impact during the 2014-19 legislative term‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.