Leading article: A missed opportunity to flex some muscles

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The Independent Culture
THE EUROPEAN Parliament has missed a historic opportunity to come of age. In calling off their attack on the European Commission, Euro MPs did more than just let Jacques Santer and his colleagues off the hook, lamentable though that may be. The failure was of far greater significance. It has shown that the European Parliament is not ready to act as a proper parliament.

Once upon a time the European Parliament was, in fact, supposed to be weak, a mere talking shop. Only in 1979, with direct elections, did it change its name from the European Assembly. But effective parliaments are about more than being directly elected. They have to take on the executive. Of course they should be granted statutory powers, as the European Parliament has been. But it has to use its powers. What we have witnessed is the parliament refusing to seize even part of the territory that marks out the authority of a real parliament - scrutiny of the executive and the power of the purse. The fraud issue was an ideal opportunity to assert the control over both.

Of course, to have pressed the "nuclear button" and dismissed the entire commission would have caused chaos. But, in the sweep of history, it would have been well worth it. From the struggle between English monarchs and parliamentarians in the 17th century to the current tussle between the American congress and President Clinton, parliaments have to cause trouble if they are doing their job. At the same time that M Santer made a fool of the European Parliament, Tony Blair was being grilled by the Opposition in the Commons. Until the European Parliament starts to throw its weight around, it will not gain the legitimacy that it so craves.

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