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.
The last overhaul of EU telecommunications rules took place in 2009, which is a very long time ago in a modern digital world that is increasingly reliant on rapid technological development. Given the urgent need to meaningfully adapt the framework so that European businesses can compete globally and citizens have stronger rights and are better protected in the virtual world, in September 2016 the European Commission proposed the directive establishing the new European Electronic Communications Code (EECC). The aim was to boost the infrastructure investment, increase connectivity and bring telecom rules up to date with technological developments and changing consumer demands and habits. This proposal represented a profound overhaul of the telecom framework. The negotiations between the European Parliament and the Council were complex, with the part on spectrum management agreed in March 2018 and the consensus on the rest reached in June 2018. The directive was formally adopted in December 2018.
The European Parliament was successful in achieving important modifications in key areas of the proposed legislation. The overview of the main ones starts with those regarding investment: Parliament has been a long-standing supporter of coordinated spectrum management at the EU level and its ideas were reflected in the EECC proposal. Before the Code, there was no EU harmonisation, but now the Member States must provide operators with regulatory predictability over a period of at least 20 years on spectrum licensing and will release spectrum bands in a timely and coordinated manner. Parliament strengthened the role of national competition authorities and reinforced competition safeguards in the new co-investment model, which encourages agreements between operators based on risk- and cost-sharing, as well as increased use of civil engineering infrastructure such as towers and wiring.
Important amendments to bring the 5G networks to Europe and improve connectivity include the obligation of the EU Member States to make spectrum available for the 5G by 2020. Small cell deployment will become easier by being subject to uniform national level legislation rather than as presently decided on different government levels. The cells will also be deployed on public infrastructure such as on street lamps and traffic lights.
The European Parliament also secured many advantages for European consumers. From May 2019, contacting another Member State will be much cheaper: intra-EU fees have been capped at 19 cents for phone calls and 6 cents for text messages. All consumers are to have guaranteed access to affordable broadband internet. Stronger protection and specific measures are provided for users with disabilities. Providers are obliged to ensure network security and deploy advanced methods, such as encryption, as well as inform users of significant threats. New measures increase transparency of tariffs and available offers, as well as facilitating their comparison. Switching operators and terminating contracts are made easier and, in the case of the former, there will be compensation if problems arise. The EU Member States are obliged to introduce by June 2022 a ‘reverse 112 system’, based on improved geo-localisation tools, which will alert citizens on their mobile phones in case of imminent or ongoing serious emergencies or disasters.
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.