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 principles of sound financial management, regularity and legality of budget implementation have been present in the EU legal and financial system since the earliest days of the European Communities. Considering EU spending in terms of the European added value, performance, results achieved and impact, on the other hand, has become prominent only comparatively recently. A radical turn towards performance-oriented EU finances was triggered by the financial crisis that hit Europe in 2008. In the context of shrinking public finances and austerity measures applied in many EU Member States, increased attention had to be paid to the added value and impact of EU spending. Since then, much has been done to make the EU financial system more performance-oriented, to measure the results and communicate them to the public and the decision-makers.
The European Parliament has been actively promoting these concepts and on many occasions called for a more consistent and coordinated approach to results-based planning, spending, evaluating and reporting. Its engagement in the promotion of European added value and performance-based budgeting has been particularly visible in the works of the Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee (CONT) and instrumental in the procedure of the annual decision on budgetary discharge.
In the context of the procedure, the European Parliament has often insisted that the implementation of the EU budget should focus on results and achieving broader positive outcomes and that the structure of the EU budget should be modified to provide for measuring progress and performance. The Parliament cooperated with the European Commission and the Court of Auditors to introduce different measures to strengthen the result-based EU budget. Consequently, while maintaining high standards of scrutiny of the regularity and legality of budget implementation, the discharge procedure has clearly shifted towards performance culture, analysing information on budgetary performance and the objectives achieved. This is reflected in a number of discharge-related documents.
The European Parliament’s strong position on the matter has triggered many changes and initiatives. It was at the request of the Parliament that the Interinstitutional Working Group on Performance-Based Budgeting was established in 2015 and launched its work in 2016. The Group was composed of representatives of the institutions involved in the budgetary process (the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council and the European Court of Auditors) and focused on identifying possible improvements in the performance budgeting approach already applied in the EU financial system.
The Parliament supported the European Commission’s initiative ‘Budget Focused on Results’. Introduced in 2015, the initiative forms a set of actions in areas where the Commission is determined to increase the focus on results. It aims at introducing performance budgeting in the EU budget in a more regular and coordinated manner.
The Parliament, along with the European Court of Auditors, called for improved quality of reporting documents produced by the Commission in the budgetary cycle. The changes introduced as a result have helped to develop a comprehensive financial reporting package on performance and results from the Commission to the budgetary authority.
An important opportunity to strengthen the result-based approach to EU spending was the revision of the financial rules applicable to the EU budget, known as the Financial Regulation. The new regulation, approved by the European Parliament and the Council in July 2018, includes a series of measures aimed at focusing the budget more clearly on results, improving the performance framework, enhancing transparency and streamlining reporting.
The Parliament continues to promote principles aimed at sound financial management and performance of the EU budget. In its position on the 2021-2027 MFF, it underlines that increased performance-based budgeting, the focus of future spending on results, based on ambitious and relevant performance targets and a comprehensive and shared definition of European added value, must underpin the next MFF.
The European Parliament and the Council of the European Union are the two arms of the EU budgetary authority. However, their powers differ in the various pieces of legislation underpinning the EU finances system. The legislative powers of the Parliament with regard to the EU budget vary depending on whether it is acting in the context of the annual budgetary procedure, the decision on the design of the EU own resources system or the establishment of a multiannual financial framework (MFF). The Parliament also has powers of scrutiny of the implementation of the budget and is discharge authority.
For the annual budgetary procedure, the European Parliament acts on an equal footing with the Council. The decision on the design of the own resources system requires the unanimity of the Member States in the Council after obtaining the opinion of the European Parliament. In order to adopt the regulation on the MFF, the Council must obtain the European Parliament’s consent beforehand, while the Parliament gives discharge on the implementation of the annual budget after obtaining the recommendation of the Council. Finally, the European Parliament, together with the Council, and in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure, decides about the principles and rules governing the establishment, implementation and control of the EU budget. These are included in a regulation known as the financial regulation applicable to the general budget of the Union.
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.