Brexit, will MEPs really have a say in the matter?

Parliament would be reduced to a registration chamber

Brexit, will MEPs really have a say in the matter?

Karima Delli

(Verts / ALE), Chair of the European Parliament’s Transport Committee (Photo Riccardo Pareggiani)

Over the past four years, Brexit negotiators have had the great merit of systematically involving MEPs in their reflection, whether for the UK’s exit treaty from the European Union, or to agree on the relationship future between London and Brussels. In its negotiating mandate, the European Commission must find an agreement which necessarily requires the adoption of the European Parliament, which is a good thing.

As chair of the European Parliament’s Transport Committee, I am regularly kept informed by the chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, and his team, of everything concerning the sector for which I am responsible. Recently, I had to have the emergency texts adopted to streamline road and air connections in the event of no deal.

However, since Sunday evening at midnight, a threshold has been crossed. The European Parliament no longer has the time to carry out the appropriate democratic scrutiny of a possible agreement, should it fall in the coming hours or days. This colossal work cannot be dispatched in just a few days.

Of course, a posteriori adoption remains technically possible, but by choosing this option, we would send a very bad signal. That the European Parliament would only be a recording chamber for decisions taken by the Commission and the European Council. We would vote to validate an agreement already ratified, which entered into force on 1er January 2021. It will be very difficult in this context to have our say. However, the European Parliament has had the status of co-legislator in many areas since the Treaty of Lisbon, which entered into force at the end of 2009. For more than ten years, it has been competent to vote on international treaties, or whatever is relevant, among others, trade policy. This constitutes a major advance in the history of European institutions. We would be wrong, in an emergency, to reduce this function to a simple formality.

While the Brexit deadlines have been constantly pushed back since the start of discussions on this dossier, it would be reasonable and healthy to give ourselves a few more weeks so that MEPs have time to analyze the global agreement, if it exists. It is not necessarily a question of playing a role of counterbalance vis-à-vis other institutions. On a text as technical as this one, we could simply raise questions which have not been identified, neither by the Council nor by the Commission. As we know, Brexit will have major consequences on the lives of our fellow Europeans. He deserves our full attention.


Brexit, will MEPs really have a say in the matter?

The European Parliament must absolutely intervene

Aurelien Antoine

Professor of public law at Jean-Monnet University (Saint-Étienne) and founder of the Brexit Observatory. (Source photo A. Antoine)

In absolute terms, the European Parliament could be consulted at any time if an agreement is reached on Brexit, before the deadline of December 31. For this vote, the date of December 28 was mentioned, but that seems very unlikely. It takes time to convene parliamentarians, organize sessions and make the text accessible to parliamentarians. We don’t make them reapply in a snap. Even if the text does not need to be translated into all languages, it still takes time to organize everything. There is less than a week left, there is still no deal, it seems very complicated.

This situation has been foreseeable since the end of November: if an agreement is reached at the end of December, it is certain that it will not be the subject of a satisfactory control by the parliamentarians before 2021, it will be just cosmetic. The other and more likely solution is to apply European law. Everything is provided for in the European Union treaties. If an agreement between the British and the Europeans is reached too late, the European Council will adopt the agreement by qualified majority, which should not pose a problem, and the heads of state decide among themselves, by consensus, to an act which will determine the applications of the agreement in a provisional period.

During this provisional period, the terms of the agreement enter into force on an exceptional basis, while it is ratified. The European Parliament and the Member States are proceeding with the ratification within a time frame which it is not possible to determine at the moment. The European Parliament must intervene, it is an obligation. In view of the nature of the treaty on future relations, it is not possible to completely rule out the intervention of MEPs. We can’t squeeze them.

Once the treaty is concluded, however, one can expect that things will go quickly. It will take some time for debate, but it can be done in a day, there are emergency procedures. Last year, when it came to ratifying the UK’s exit agreement from the European Union, it all happened very quickly. As this is a ratification process for Brexit, it is a faster procedure. But on the other hand, the European Parliament cannot amend the treaty. He debates it, then accepts or rejects it. When it comes to a Brexit deal, approval is pretty much overdue.


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