What Role for the European Parliament in the COVID-19 Crisis?
The COVID-19 crisis poses problems for parliamentary democracy. Internally, the European Parliament (EP) has had to adapt to a sudden process of digitalisation and remote participation, while externally, the crisis has disrupted legislative processes and the capacity to shape policy. The COVID-19 crisis tests the institutional resilience of EP and its capacity to play a relevant role.
The webinar organised on 1 December 2020 and chaired by Ariadna Ripoll Servent and Alfredo de Feo, provided a chance to analyse how the lockdown has shifted the position of the EP in the inter-institutional triangle and how it might affect its parliamentary roles in the long term. It offered a rare opportunity to openly discuss the impact of the pandemic with MEP Jan Olbrycht, EP Secretary General Klaus Welle, Professor Adrienne Héritier (EUI) and Professor Olivier Rozenberg (Science Po).
Klaus Welle, Secretary General of the European Parliament, discussed the role of the EP moving forward
Olbrycht and Welle agreed that the EP has been remarkably successful at adapting to the changing conditions of the pandemic. It has benefited from pre-existing plans to digitalise the institution, making it easier to introduce new tools for teleworking, remote voting and online debates. In fact, they believe that the EP is actually in a better position to ensure business continuity than many national parliaments.
At the same time, the question of whether the EP has managed to be influential in legislative and budgetary decision-making remains. As Professor Héritier noted, crises are often the ‘hour of executives’ and force parliaments to act as ‘rubber-stamping’ machines. While the EP has certainly suffered from a lack of visibility and pressure to act, Olbrycht observed that discussions on the Multiannual Financial Framework have not suffered from the pandemic, probably because an active effort has been made to avoid virtual negotiations.
Jan Olbrycht, MEP, detailed how COVID-19 has not impacted the MFF negotiations
As a conclusion, it was noted that the EP has significantly increased the number of remote votes and debates in plenary and committees. However, there is a generalised agreement that after the pandemic, it cannot become a ‘virtual parliament’. In a multilingual and multicultural assembly, personal contacts, informal meetings as well as discussions about amendments and resolutions in the ‘Mickey Mouse’ bar are an essential part of its success. Without it, work is less efficient and inclusive, and the EP risks losing its ‘esprit de corps’. This does not mean that Parliament will go back to the same normal as before the crisis. The pandemic has revealed how digital tools are beneficial to expanding and improving dialogues with external partners, and can create new and more collegial partnership with national parliaments. More importantly, it’s now easier to bring citizens closer to the EP and, thereby, reinforce European democracy.
The event was organised as part of the EUI-funded project ‘Democracy in Lockdown: What Role for the European Parliament in the COVID-19 Crisis?’ within the framework of the European Governance and Politics Programme.
Click below to watch a full recording of the webinar.