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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

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 for many a 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 took effect in December 2009. The Lisbon Treaty has 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, although semi-annual meetings between Congress and the EP date back to 1972. The TLD’s visibility increased somewhat 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 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 have 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 what role, if any, for the U.S. Senate. Since 2010, 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, the Parliament opened a liaison office in Washington that was charged with keeping the EP better informed of legislative activity in Congress and vice-versa. In addition, each EP standing committee has named a “TLD Administrator” on its staff to act as a contact point between the committee and the TLD, as well as between the committee and its counterpart committee in the U.S. Congress.

While there appears to be no formal objection within Congress to increasing contacts with the European Parliament, some point out that with the exception of a few Members with previous experience in the TLD, Congress as a whole has been seen at best as ambivalent to such efforts and has not demonstrated as much enthusiasm as the EP about forging closer relations. This observation had been noted by the EP itself when at the beginning of the 112th Congress neither the new chair nor the vice chair of the USTLD were appointed until early June.

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

Date of Report: July 12, 2012
Number of Pages: 32
Order Number: R41552
Price: $29.95

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