New Political Leadership for a New Europe

On 13-15 June 2019, 16 Members of national Parliaments from 12 different EU countries – among which Italy, Estonia, Lithuania, Spain, Slovenia, Croatia and Romania – gathered in Rome for the first Mercator European Dialogue seminar on “New Political Leadership for a New Europe”.

This unique interactive training format came about through the cooperation with LUISS University and Alberto Alemanno, Jean Monnet Professor of European Union Law and Regulation at HEC Paris, who designed and facilitated the seminar. Over the course of two days, the participants engaged with the question of how national parliamentarians can effectively leverage their role to shape policies and political narratives at the national and European levels.

On the first day, participants got to know each other and, guided by Tony Barber (FT), engaged in an analysis of the prospects and challenges for Europe after the recent elections of the European Parliament. In particular, they shared their views from a national perspective and discussed the unexpected outcomes of the elections, such as the disruptive re-engagement of citizens in politics, particularly in certain countries.

On the next day, they assessed their relationship with the European Union institutions and the implications for their daily work. After an opening lecture by Nathalie Tocci (IAI) and Nicholas Whyte (APCO) on “National political systems and the process of Europeanisation: the history of a two-way relationship?” participants discussed the effectiveness of interparliamentary cooperation in multilevel Europe with Katrin Auel (Institute for Advanced Studies) and Calin Racoti (IPEX). The discussions concluded with a reflection on the European voter and political participation with inputs by Tony Barber, James Kanter (EU Scream), and Lorenzo de Sio (LUISS).

The final day of the seminar was structured around different areas with a need for effective leadership exercised by national parliamentarians. Through interactive Q&A-sessions, MPs had a chance to reflect on engaging with citizen movements and NGOs with Laura O’Sullivan (We Move) and Emiliana De Blasio (LUISS). Members of parliaments are constantly under public scrutiny; hence the topic of transparency and accountability were discussed with representatives of the media, namely James Kanter (EU Scream), Matthew Karnitschnig (Politico) and Gianni Riotta (La Stampa). In the afternoon, participants had the chance to reflect on how to communicate with lobby organizations that want to engage in the policy-making process. They met with Hendrik Bourgeois (Cargill) and voiced their concerns about how to dialogue with the private sector. Finally, the training closed with a discussion on reforming political party structures, inspired by the example of Neos in Austria, presented by Josef Lentsch (Innovation in Politics Institute Germany).

 

Below are four key takeaways based on the discussions of the two days:

Effective coordination between the parliaments as well as the European parliament is crucial for bringing about inclusive policies considerate of all stakeholders but designing fit-for-purpose exchanges remains a challenge.

There is a great variety of practices that different national parliaments have adopted to shape and implement European policies in practice, however, interparliamentary cooperation through formal channels is either lacking or ineffective, as these meetings are too short and rigid, and thus limit genuine and meaningful exchange. While some of these meetings, such as COSAC, have transformed into a debate platform rather than a compilation of statements, there is still much room for improvement in their capacity to promote dialogue.

Effective cooperation requires genuine accessibility of information not just transparency.

While there have been several initiatives to improve interparliamentary cooperation on the national level, such as the platform for EU Interparliamentary Exchange (IPEX), MPs noted that these channels often fail to fulfil their purpose of supporting them in their daily work. Regarding IPEX, for instance, one MP noted that “transparency is not the same as accessibility”, pointing out that the overwhelming number of documents shared without a filter makes it hard to navigate and use as a source for relevant information.

The contentious relations between national parliaments and the European Parliament remain a critical and sensitive issue.

Partly due to their sense of having to share a same electorate while holding competing mandates, lack of fruitful relations between MEPs and MPs remains detrimental to the promotion of a shared European political space. On one hand, national parliamentarians represent their own electorate both on a national level as well as vis-à-vis Brussels. On the other hand, members of the European Parliament have a democratic mandate that stems directly from the European electorate as well. This has led to parallel initiatives or committees that operate within their own institution and ultimately promote legislation without consulting their counterpart on other levels.

MPs sense a need for reforming political processes and structures through innovative ideas and formats that reflect the changing nature of their societies.

Guided by Josef Lentsch (Innovation in Politics Institute Germany), MPs discussed the possibilities for reform not only on the European level, but also within their immediate political surroundings: their national parties. Since the European elections in 2014, over 100 new parties have been founded in the EU. MPs from both younger as well as established parties were equally active in posing questions as to how to innovate their own parties and improve their processes.

 

“Listening is never dangerous” – MP at the Mercator European Dialogue, 15. June 2019.

 

> To see the agenda and other material of the event, click here.