European deputies and their colleagues from national parliaments met at the European Parliamentary conference from 20 to 22 January in Brussels to mark the beginning of the annual EU national fiscal policy coordination cycle. Parliamentarians want to ensure that measures aimed at reining in budget deficits and public debt take into account how the measures will affected people. They also pointed out that austerity programmes for bail-out countries currently lack democratic legitimacy.
EP President Martin Schulz said during the opening of the European Parliamentary Week: "This is a strong signal that both sides are committed to enhancing our cooperation and democratic control of the European Semester."
In the framework of the European Semester, the European Commission makes specific recommendations with sometimes far-reaching implications for countries' taxes, labour market, health care, social security systems and pensions. These are then endorsed by the EU government representatives in the Council of Ministers. The member states are expected to implement these recommendations through their national budgets.
President Schulz chaired the opening session together with Greek Parliament President Vangelis Meimarakis, who underlined that when policy decisions are made in the EU: "It's not just to make things effective but to get acceptance." Greece is currently in charge of the rotating EU Council presidency.
Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Council President Herman Van Rompuy also took the floor on Monday.
On Tuesday 21 January, the democratic legitimacy and consequences of Troika decisions in countries that asked for EU financial aid were discussed by participants. The Troika - made up of representatives from the Commission, the ECB and the IMF - often demands deep cuts in national budgets and painful reforms as a precondition for financial help.
The two MEPs heading the Parliament's inquiry into Troika policies, Austrian Christian-Democrat (EPP) Othmar Karas and French Socialist Liem Hoang Ngoc, said that significant improvement in the functioning of the Troika is necessary if the EU is to enhance the democratic legitimacy of these decisions.
However, others disputed this, with German lower house president, Norbert Lammert arguing that it was incorrect to speak of a lack of democratic legitimacy as the adjustment programmes prescribed had been debated and approved by the parliaments of Ireland, Portugal, Cyprus and Greece.
The conference concluded on Wednesday 22 January. EP Vice-President Karas and Greek Parliament Vice-President Ioannis Tragakis said that parliaments needed to strengthen their cooperation but Mr Karas also stressed that this would be meaningless if the governments did not improve their implementation of the reform recommendations adopted in the framework of the European Semester.