I recently had the opportunity to talk with an official (director level) working in a financial administration of one of Germany’s federal states who shared an interesting observation: Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty with its subsidiarity protocol and also following the new internal participation rights of German parliaments introduced after the famous Lisbon Judgement of the German constitutional court, his administration is confronted with two phenomena:
- Because of the subsidiarity checks, the agendas of the Europe Committee of the Bundesrat, the 2nd chamber in which the federal states are represented, are increasingly burdened with a lot of formally necessary yet politically not so relevant topics for subsidiarity checks. Because of the sheer number, there was often not even the time for a thorough debate (my interpretation: making the subsidiarity check a quasi-formality without much political relevance).
- Due to the new participation rights, the regional parliament (i.e. parliamentarians) is (are) now regularly asking for a lot of detailed reporting on all kinds of EU-related issues, (allegedly) not because of the particular interest in these issues but to find topics on which there is a chance to criticise the regional government. These request keep the administration busy with drafting the necessary replies, taking up time that the administration then cannot use to thoroughly study incredibly important issues such as the EFSF/ESM/Fiscal Compact. This makes them feel that they cannot give the well-informed, independent advice politics needs to take decisions in such complex cases as the current anti-crisis mechanisms.
Now, one does not necessarily have to agree with this pessimistic perspective on subsidiarity checks and parliamentary involvement, but I’d guess it is a legitimate worry from the perspective ofadministrations that they need to spend the same time for minor issues as they can spend for the biggest political questions of our time.
Those who follow this blog will know that I am quite an advocate for more transparency, more public involvement in all kinds of decisions on all levels, but, as I have argued here, we also need to rethink the way our institutions, including public administrations function, to actually make them fit for more involvement and more participation so that they can still fulfil their functions in the political system.
Not sure that we already have the right concepts in the drawers for that.