Mathew Lowry

While lobbyists scramble to use the European Citizens’ Initiative to their advantage, one of the other innovations of the Lisbon Treaty seems to have raised so little interest that it doesn’t even have a TLA (Three Letter Acronym). Surely the kiss of death?

I’m referring to the subsidiarity check procedure, which a while ago I nicknamed LiSP (Lisbon Subsidiarity Procedure) for want of a better term. As far as I know, no term has come forward, so LiSP it is.

Update (25/4): according to Christophe, this is apparently called a yellow card. I’m sure that the match between this and colour of his website and office is purely coincidental! ūüėČ

I was reminded of its existence by the Open Europe blog, which noted the Swedish government’s efforts to use LiSP (here and then here) to protest against “the Commission’s proposed amendments to the Deposit Guarantee Schemes Directive, which would oblige member states to transfer money to another member state’s deposit scheme … The German Bundesrat has also objected to the proposal…

An impossible deadline?

As Open Europe points out, using LiSP involves getting nine parliaments on board within a 8 week period. This they found infeasible: when they looked up IPEX (the online tool used to track such things), 18 days before this particular process’s 25 October deadline, “only six parliaments had even begun scrutinising the proposal.”

Does this still hold water, or did they jump the gun?

Today (presumably the situation on October 25), the figures are:

  • Scrutiny completed: 9
  • Scrutiny underway (i.e., unfinished): 10
  • No information: 8

Assuming these figures reflected the 25 October state of play, there was enough time for 19 countries to examine the proposal.

Of these 19, five had something to say and had sent it to IPEX. Of those five, two (UK, Sweden) issued a reasoned opinion that the proposal fell foul of subsidiarity. Both were listed as “Scrutiny underway”. Source: IPEX Dossier COD20100199

Not a great score, but enough to provide the 9 countries required to question the proposal. Moreover, others may have examined it and not informed IPEX. And others may have examined it – or informed IPEX of their opinion – if the proposal had been problematic.

So I’d question Open Europe’s conclusion that this is evidence that LiSP is “mere illusionary democracy, which the EU elite inserted into the Lisbon Treaty to be able to make the case that ‘everyone wins’“.

Missed opportunities

On the other hand, it’s striking how rarely one hears of this process. This is a missed opportunity for everyone wanting a better debate on EU policy.

As I’ve said before, LiSP may be an opportunity to connect the national level, via national parliaments, to the development of EU legislation relevant to their interests. After all, people – particularly civil society – are better connected to their MPs than to their MEPs.

One can imagine a scenario where the launch of certain LiSP procedures could trigger a national-level discussion on the EU’s role in the sector concerned, just as national policy procedures do. In fact, LiSP makes it a national policy discussion.

These discussions are an opportunity to explain why action at the EU level can be more effective than 27 independent, uncoordinated national approaches. This is exactly the point the EU needs to make – if it can’t make that point, it shouldn’t be advancing the proposal.

Moreover, this is also an opportunity to link national and EU debates together, because both defenders and opponents of an EU proposal need to know what other national positions are. Opponents, in particular, would want to create a bandwagon effect (“The Swedes and the Brits oppose it because of X, Y & Z, so why aren’t we?“).

Such discussions should be at the heart of the European online public space.

Who, What and How?

The IPEX site provides the basic data, but needs email and/or RSS-based tracking functions per dossier.

Even then, you need EU experts, used to hacking through the EU primeval forest, to even know it exists.

Therefore I’d suggest that these exchanges must be stimulated by a cloud of EU- and national-level civil society, political parties and media. Cross-EU social media networks could knit all this together, after a fashion, but it will probably be somewhat messy and incomplete.

There would definitely need to be a central hub. BloggingPortal is the obvious place to start, but it would probably need to incorporate tools like Twitter and Facebook if it was to fulfill this potential.

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  1. Mathew, the subsidiarity clause is usually called ‘the yellow card’ (of the national parliaments). While I’m not a football fan, I find it refreshing not not use an acronym, for a change. It also translates bette than LISP, IMHO.

    You are right in any case to point to its importance… and lack of coverage so far.

    In my view, ECI and the yellow card are two sides of the same debate:
    – one based on traditional (and legitimate) representative democacy, may limit the number of EU initiatives
    – the other, building on participative democracy, may encourage more EU initiatives
    – and of course, one hopes that there will be some ‘yellow cards’ and ECIs on the _same_ topics, allowing both thoughfull and wide debates, not just in the Brussels bubble.

    As for the platform to be used, well it may require more than aggregation (however useful), and indeed more than one website.
    Some potential partners are talking to each other… Some met after the ECAS conference reported here:

    Watch this space, yes the plaftform you are currently using! Notably this section:

    Cheers, Christophe Leclercq

  2. Thanks for the headsup – ‘yellow card’ it is. Have updated my post, will update my tags.

    I’m trying to imagine what having ECI(s) and yellow cards on the same issue would look like. Perhaps:
    – a decent debate on an issue triggered by yellow cards (successful or not) then stimulates the emergence of an ECI?
    – national parliaments are lobbied to give a yellow card to an EU proposal in order to ‘protect’ an ECI under preparation?
    – national parliaments being lobbied to give a yellow card to an EU proposal because the EU ignored an ECI?

    There are probably many others. All, however, imply a vigorous European public space, requiring a real ecosystem of EU & national networks, and of course websites, spanning multiple languages.

    But perhaps it will be combinations such as these which will spur the creation of the dialogue, stimulating the networks and websites, in a virtuous circle.

    To get things started, however, some basic information has to be provided. Which makes it interesting to read that an ECI website is being prepared by the Institutions … but the best they can offer for the yellow cards is IPEX.

    Ouch. Do they want to see yellow card national debates stimulating EU policy discussions?

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