'Brussels, Capital of the Free World!': Joe Biden at the European Parliament

The vice president is perhaps unaware that, as the German economist Roland Vaubel has put it, the European Parliament “is probably the only parliament in the world that does not have the right to propose legislation.” It may only propose amendments and reject legislation, and this it may only do in certain areas. The Lisbon Treaty has increased the areas of parliamentary “co-decision,” as it has been known.

At the same time, however, it has transferred more power from the member states, in which the elected parliaments discharge the classical role of a legislature, to the EU, in which the elected parliament does not. As the former Danish member of the European Parliament Jens-Peter Bonde has pointed out, the overall effect of the treaty is thus to increase the EU’s famous “democracy deficit,” not to decrease it.

In his speech, Biden made a pitch -- if albeit a rather half-hearted one -- for parliamentary support for a follow-up agreement to the EU-US SWIFT agreement. The original agreement had permitted American investigators to consult selected data on financial transactions originating from European banks as part of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program. The agreement was rejected by the parliament in February, thus resulting in its annulment.

A major source -- if not indeed the major source -- of the EU’s “democracy deficit” is the remarkable lack of transparency of the political decision-making process and the concomitant lack of accountability of the decision-makers. One might think that the parliamentary vote on the SWIFT agreement, especially given the importance of the matter, would represent progress in this respect. But one should think again. As noted in my Pajamas Media report, the vote was held anonymously. Normally, this would be described as a secret ballot. But in the Orwellian nomenclature of the European Parliament, that term is reserved for a different procedure, in which an actual paper ballot is used. The secret electronic ballot is simply known as an “electronic vote.”

So much for Brussels, “the capital of the free world” and the “bastion of European democracy.”

Note: For Roland Vaubel’s discussion of the atypical character of the European Parliament, see his "The European Institutions as an Interest Group," pp. 45-49; and for Jens-Peter Bonde’s analysis of the effects of the Lisbon Treaty in this regard, see his "From EU Constitution to Lisbon Treaty," pp. 44-47.