It is unfair to say Oireachtas committees merely rubber-stamp EU legislation (Opinion, Irish Times)

Opinion piece by David Stanton TD, originally published in the Irish Times on Friday 6 September.

TDs and Senators take an active role in scrutinising proposals from Europe

Noel Whelan’s interest in the Oireachtas committee system (The Irish Times, August 24th) and our scrutiny of EU legislation is greatly heartening. As chairman of the group of committee chairmen, I only wish that many more political commentators and writers would share that interest. And now for the inevitable “but”: while I concede that the process of EU scrutiny is not perfect, it is not the inadequate, rubber-stamping exercise portrayed in Noel’s article.

It didn’t reflect the procedures in place and failed to provide a true picture of our role in EU scrutiny. We’re doing a much better job than we have been given credit for.

Under the Lisbon Treaty, the role of national parliaments has been greatly strengthened. Managing EU business through the scrutiny of the European Commission’s proposals and holding governments to account for their decisions at EU level is now a critical aspect of the work of national parliaments. In the Houses of the Oireachtas, EU business now forms an integral part of the work of our joint committees.

About 1,000 EU proposals come before our committees each year. Of these, about 500 are legislative Acts. All of these are scrutinised by relevant shadowing committee.

Huge volume of information

As I said, the system is not perfect and I understand the frustration that some may have at being unable to find public discussion of the content of proposed EU legislation. An explanation for this is that much of that legislation can be very technical in nature and, secondly, there is a huge volume of information, making it impractical for most of it to be debated in public.

But this does not mean the legislation is rubber-stamped or, worse, not scrutinised at all. Each committee has an EU specialist, ensuring that all legislation is given full consideration - the key thing is that all decisions on the scrutiny of EU legislation are taken in public.

Committees have an EU Matters link on their homepages on www.oireachtas.ie and a quick perusal of each of those links will show that all have undertaken a substantial volume of EU legislative scrutiny.

We have revamped our scrutiny system and it is constantly improving in terms of process and outputs, and will continue to do so.

Views of stakeholders

Far from rubber-stamping or going through the motions, many committees have scrutinised proposals with department officials, sought the views of stakeholders and made political contributions on EU legislation of particular interest to Ireland. This year alone, to cite some examples, the agriculture committee has made three political contributions to the EU institutions on Common Agricultural Policy, fisheries policy and sugar reform; the Committee on Education produced a political contribution on the European fund for the most deprived, and the Transport Committee has produced one on the roadworthiness package.

However, I would not like to burden readers with lists and statistics – these can be obtained from the Oireachtas Committee webpages.

Moreover, scrutiny forms part of a wider engagement with the EU by the Oireachtas and our committees. Committees have an important oversight role on the Government’s interaction with the European Union on policy. They now routinely engage with Ministers before EU Council meetings – this allows members to question Ministers and explore priorities before the meetings.

We have just concluded what is widely regarded as a successful presidency of the EU. Eight major events were hosted by the Houses of the Oireachtas through our committees, attracting more than 1,000 delegates from across the European Union and beyond. Far from looking to engage with Europe in due course, we are playing our part and participating fully at all levels in the here and now – particularly when it comes to scrutiny of EU legislation.

David Stanton is chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality and chairman of the group of committee chairs.