In a letter of 22 July, sent by the UK House of Lords to Commission President Juncker, the legislative chamber has drawn what it calls the first ever ‘green card’, calling for the adoption of legislation at EU level against food waste. The letter, co-signed by 15 national parliaments and legislative chambers of the EU, encourages the Commission to “adopt a strategic approach to food-waste reduction” in its new circular economy package. The test case, if successful, may set an important precedent for future EU parliamentary dialogue.
It is not the first time that a parliament endorses EU legislation in its correspondence with the Commission: this is common practice. The term ‘green card’ alludes to the Early Warning Mechanism established in Protocol 2 annexed to the EU Treaties. National parliaments can issue ‘yellow’ and ‘orange’ cards for legislative proposals they consider incompatible with the principle of subsidiarity, which holds that the EU only acts if and in so far as there is a comparative advantage above national action. The responsible institution must then reconsider its proposal.
The current green card, however, does not fulfil any of the material or procedural requirements of the Protocol, nor does it make a direct reference to subsidiarity. It does allude to the principle when it states that EU-level action against food wastage could complement existing national efforts, but this is not the main point. The novelty of the letter is political, not legal. It is sent by the parliaments collectively, and contains concrete recommendations for EU legislation, acknowledging that Union action is in fact desirable. It demonstrates a strong will of the parliaments to cooperate, and to claim a stronger grip on EU legislation – a goal in which the Early Warning Mechanism has arguably yielded limited success.
The green card did not come out of the blue, so to speak. In January 2015, a meeting was held between national parliaments and the European Parliament to discuss the idea. It was then consolidated at a COSAC meeting, the biannual conference of all EU national parliaments, last June. In a statement, COSAC invited all parliaments to use green cards as a means of “enhancing political dialogue” with the Commission, and contributing to EU legislative agenda-setting. In this perspective, the green card on food is a test case, the success or failure of which will determine whether this will be a one-time experiment or the start of a new practice.
The Commission has not yet responded to the letter, nor has it commented on the desirability of a green card in general. Although not legally required to do so, the Commission has always committed itself to respond to every single letter sent by the national parliaments under the Barroso Initiative. While it usually disfavours strong parliamentary commentary on the legal validity of EU legislation, this constructive, political approach might just strike the right chord in Brussels.