Research note. The European Parliament oversight of EU agencies

Research note by Ixchel Pérez Durán

The European Union’s increased powers regarding the public policies implemented in all Member States have led to the creation of European  Union agencies (EUAs). To date, there are 35 decentralised agencies covering a range of policies. Their creation entailed the delegation of executive and regulatory powers by the Member States and the European Commission over a wide range of policy issues, such as food security, financial markets, and management of the Union’s external borders, among others. In parallel with the growing number of EUAs, reforms to the EU treaty have on the one hand, reinforced the European Parliament (EP) powers as co-legislator over the last two decades (in particular, through the introduction of the co-decision procedure) and on the other, enhanced its monitoring and control powers over EU institutions. Interestingly enough, very little scholarly attention has addressed the role played by the EP in the control and oversight of EUAs.

In our recent article, Nuria Font and I focused on analysing European parliamentary oversight mechanisms carried out over EUAs. In particular, we examined to what extent MEPs exercised oversight powers through written questions. To do this, we examined all parliamentary written questions overseeing EUAs during the 2009-2014 Legislature. We focused on analysing written questions firstly, because they allow individual MEPs to request information; and secondly, because written question have been normally used by MEPs to alert the Commission about improper policy implementation in the Member States.

In short, our paper argues that MEPs use written questions as an oversight mechanism to control, via the Commission, the decisions and actions made by EUAs. In order to provide strong empirical evidence, we built an original dataset that identifies parliamentary questions pursuing oversight and control over agencies. In particular, we identified whether written questions sought to control the fulfilment of agency’s mandate (e.g. compliance with the budget implementation and/or policy performance). We identified 1,636 written questions that referred to any of the 35 EUAs. Among these, we identified 425 as questions pursuing oversight functions over such agencies.

  • Distribution of written questions among individual MEPs: The article shows that each MEP asked, on average, 0.5 written questions monitoring agencies, with values ranging from none to 65.
  • Distribution of written questions among political groups: The analysis finds that the distribution of the number of oversight questions among political groups is representative of the political composition of the 7th EP Legislature. For example, MEPs from the Group of the European People’s Party, and Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (the two largest groups) concentrated 36.7 per cent of written questions, whereas MEPs from minority groups asked 63.3 per cent of such questions.
  • Distribution of written questions among Member States: The analysis reveals that Italian MEPs tabled the highest number of questions overseeing EUAs, followed by the Austrian, British, French and German MEPs.
  • Distribution of written oversight questions across agencies: The analysis reveals that some agencies concentrate a high number of oversight questions. For example, there are three agencies that receive more questions: the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (FRONTEX), and the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

In our paper, Nuria Font and I also provided explanations to account for variation in the parliamentary supervision carried out by MEPs. Specifically, the paper examined some agency characteristics, such as the influence of political salience and size of agencies. We also analysed whether MEPs from national opposition parties are more likely to ask oversight questions over agencies.

The results showed that MEPs are significantly more likely to ask written questions overseeing agencies when they belong to political parties in national opposition than when they belong to ruling parties. At the same time, our study demonstrated that oversight questions are more likely to occur in the largest agencies. Finally, we found evidence that MEPs are more likely to ask written questions when agencies generate higher degrees of public debate and media attention.

 

  • Font, Nuria and Ixchel Pérez Durán (2015). The European Parliament oversight of EU agencies through parliamentary questions. Journal of European Public Policy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/13501763.2015.1076875

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Ixchel Pérez Durán is a “Juan de la Cierva” Postdoctoral Research Fellow​ at Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals (IBEI).

 

EU Parliament Photo credits: Di Alina Zienowicz Ala z – Opera propria, CC BY-SA 3.0