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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The U.S. Congress and the European Parliament: Evolving Transatlantic Legislative Cooperation

Kristin Archick
Specialist in European Affairs

Vincent Morelli
Section Research Manager

The United States and the European Union (EU) share an extensive, dynamic, and mutually beneficial political and economic partnership. A growing element of that relationship is the role that the U.S. Congress and the European Parliament (EP)—a key EU institution—have begun to play, including in areas ranging from foreign and economic policy to regulatory reform. Proponents of establishing closer relations between the U.S. Congress and the EP point to the Parliament’s growing influence as a result of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty which increased the relative power of the EP within the EU, and in some cases, with significant implications for U.S. interests. Consequently, some officials and experts on both sides of the Atlantic have asked whether it would be beneficial for Congress and the EP to strengthen institutional ties further and to explore the possibility of coordinating efforts to develop more complementary approaches to policies in areas of mutual interest.

The Transatlantic Legislators’ Dialogue (TLD), the formal exchange between Congress (actually the House of Representatives) and the European Parliament, was launched in 1999, but semiannual meetings between Congress and the EP date back to 1972. The TLD’s visibility, although still relatively low, increased following the 2007 decision to name it as an advisor to the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC), which seeks to “advance the work of reducing or eliminating non-tariff barriers to transatlantic commerce and trade.”

In response to the TLD’s new TEC-related responsibilities, some Members of Congress suggested that there was a need for more contact between and cooperation with the EP, and raised questions with respect to how this might best be accomplished. For those Members and outside advocates of closer relations, questions surfaced about whether the TLD itself was organized in a way that would facilitate such relations, how the standing committees in both institutions might interact, and the role, if any, of the U.S. Senate. Since 2007, regular contacts between Congress and the Parliament, including at the committee level, have fluctuated in frequency. However, many observers note that the EP has been far out in front of Congress in pursuit of a stronger relationship mostly through the many EP delegations traveling to Washington to meet their counterparts. In 2010, a key event in the evolution of Congress-Parliament relations took place when the Parliament opened a liaison office (EPLO) in Washington. The EPLO was charged with keeping the EP better informed of legislative activity in Congress and vice-versa.

With the emergence of several key issues such as the Eurozone crisis, Iran’s nuclear progress, the civil war in Syria, and the potential for a new, comprehensive U.S.-EU trade and investment agreement, there may be some movement within Congress to increase contacts with the European Parliament. However, some point out that with the exception of a few Members with previous experience in the TLD, Congress as a whole is still seen at best as ambivalent to such efforts and has not demonstrated as much enthusiasm as the EP about forging closer relations.

This report provides background on the Congress–EP relationship and the role of the TLD. It also explores potential future options that could be considered during the 113
th Congress should an effort to strengthen ties between the two bodies gain more momentum. For additional information, see CRS Report RS21998, The European Parliament, by Kristin Archick.

Date of Report: May 28, 2013
Number of Pages: 31
Order Number: R41552
Price: $29.95

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