The European Parliament and the Right of Initiative: Change Practice, Not Powers

June 2021


Should the European Parliament have more power to propose EU laws? As the Conference on the Future of Europe was launched on 9 May 2021, the President of the European Parliament again insisted that the EP should be given a greater right of legislative initiative.

The EP does have an extremely limited direct right of initiative, in three cases also being able to adopt the legislative act. The first-ever such ‘Regulation on its own initiative’, the new statute of the Ombudsman, was in fact adopted on 23 June 2021, although another proposal, on the EP’s powers of inquiry, remains blocked.

The EP also has an indirect right of initiative, meaning that it can request the European Commission, which has a near-monopoly of legislative initiative, to submit a proposal. The Commission is not obliged to do so. This right has been exercised more frequently in response to Ursula von der Leyen’s greater stated openness, and the Commission has responded with political correctness.

This Paper reviews these developments in the perspective of strengthening democratic European governance. It concludes that the most important issue is not to consider changing current arrangements in the direction of greater formal powers for the EP. This is not only unlikely but can be seen as inappropriate.

The priority is rather to discuss how the EP’s formal roles as the directly representative institution can be made to interact more effectively in practice both with the Commission and with other forms of participation by citizens and stakeholders. Coupled with the technical and legal assessments conducted by the Commission, this kind of interaction does represent a new and promising way in which representative and participatory mechanisms may interact in a structured way to contribute to a democratic upgrade of EU policy-making.

Want to know more? Read a related EIPA Paper by Edward Best here.

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