BRUSSELS – Just as voices across Europe are calling for stronger governance in response to the financial crisis — a surer hand at the wheel — one branch of the EU said in a fit of pique Thursday that it was suspending cooperation with another branch on a range of important security issues.
The European Parliament, feeling slighted it was not consulted on a proposal the Justice and Home Affairs Council made earlier this month on curbing the free movement of people across national borders, announced it would stop working with the Council on five law-enforcement proposals. They relate to the border controls as well as to fighting cybercrime, improving cooperation among national police forces, finalizing the internal security budget, and crafting an anti-terrorism proposal requiring airlines to supply information on passengers to EU member countries.
"This is quite drastic action," acknowledged Armin Machmer, a spokesman for Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament.
A British member of the Parliament, Anthea McIntyre, put it another way. "We should not react with a childish tantrum and throw our toys out of the pram," she said.
The immediate flashpoint was the proposal this month by the Justice and Home Affairs Council, which is composed of officials from the 27 EU national governments, to amend the way the Schengen open-borders agreement allows national authorities in some instances to temporarily close their borders. The Parliament, made up of elected representatives from around Europe, felt it should have helped develop the proposal rather than having it presented to them on a yes-or-no basis.
But beyond that, the Parliament has felt ignored or consulted only as an afterthought on a variety of issues, including on the European Union's response to the financial crisis now threatening the euro currency.
The Schengen Agreement, allowing people to move unhindered across the national borders of 26 European countries, is considered one of the EU's proudest achievements. Tinkering with it arouses strong emotions.
"This is a very sensitive point," Machmer said. "That also in part explains the fury."
The decision to suspend cooperation was made by a majority vote of the Parliament's Conference of Presidents, a group composed of Shulz and the leaders of the Parliament's political groups.
"It is without precedent that in the middle of the legislative process, one co-legislative chamber excludes the other," Shulz said in a statement. "The JHA Council's approach of 7 June represents a slap in the face of parliamentary democracy and is unacceptable to the directly elected representatives of European citizens."
Morten Bodskov, minister of justice for Denmark, which holds the EU's rotating presidency at the moment, said he regretted the Parliament's decision.
"A good cooperation is to the benefit of all, especially during the present economic crisis," Bodskov said.
Jochen Mueller, a spokesman on home affairs issues for the Council, could not be reached for comment.
But Timothy Kirkhope, another British member of the Parliament, denounced the decision to suspend cooperation with the Council.
"The European Parliament is now threatening public safety in order to make a political point," Kirkhope said. Members of Parliament, he added, were "putting their own self-aggrandizement ahead of safety and security."
Don Melvin can be reached at http://twitter.com/Don_Melvin