With the wretched Lisbon Treaty coming into force this month, we had a briefing on its implications today in the European Conservatives Group in Brussels. This included, inter alia, a briefing from my good colleague Ashley Fox, who represents South West England, on relations with national parliaments.
Apologists for the Lisbon Treaty, like the Lib Dem MEP Andrew Duff (Eastern England), like to claim that Lisbon enhances the powers of national parliaments. Duff is a pleasant enough chap, and I hesitate to accuse him of the mendacious deceitfulness which characterises his party. But he must know that this claim is nonsense. Let's consider the process.
Lisbon gives national parliaments certain rights to be informed of EU decisions (as if they could not be so informed). It then offers the right for a third of national parliaments, acting together, to express their reservations to the Commission if they feel that a Commission proposal compromises subsidiarity (a right they presumably had anyway, with or without Lisbon). This is the so-called "Yellow Card". The Commission has to consider this objection but can proceed with its proposal if it doesn´t consider it is justified.
Should the Commission ignore the "yellow card" then a simple majority of national parliaments (currently fourteen) can raise a second objection to the Commission. This is the so-called "Orange Card". And this requires action: the Commission must then refer the objection to the Council and the European parliament for a resolution.
So how will this work in practice? For a start, there is no trans-national mechanism for co-operation between national parliaments, so it is difficult to envisage the Yellow/Orange Card procedure being invoked at all. And if it is invoked? The Yellow Card is a paper tiger. It has no teeth: the Commission can ignore it. And the Orange Card? Given that the Council consists of national governments, who broadly control their national parliaments, and given further that the European parliament always favours more, and more rapid, EU integration, it is extraordinarily improbable that the Council and parliament together would act to block a Commission proposal and to support a demand for subsidiarity.
So the procedure is likely to have no effect at all, even if invoked, which is unlikely in the first place. Why, therefore is the procedure in the Treaty at all? It is merely window dressing and spin. It is there simply so that people like Andrew Duff can talk about "increased powers for national parliaments", knowing those "powers" to be so circumscribed as to be meaningless.
Needless to say, there is no Red Card.