Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Third Report


6. THE ROLE OF NATIONAL PARLIAMENTS IN THE EU

117. As we have already indicated, the primary role of any national parliament should be to scrutinise the activities of its own government in the Council and elsewhere. National parliaments also — again separately — ratify treaties and amendments to them, ratify Accession Agreements and provide for the implementation of EU legislation. The European committees of national parliaments attend COSAC twice a year, but this body has no role in EU decision-making apart from offering occasional 'contributions' to the EU institutions.[233] In this part of our Report we examine the possibility of involving national parliaments more directly in EU decision-making. As already discussed,[234] such proposals are based on the premise that national parliaments are generally closer to the people they represent than any EU institution, and that the EU would be strengthened by drawing on this source of democratic legitimacy. However, the extent to which greater involvement of national parliaments would help to bridge the gap between citizens and EU decision-making would depend very much on action by national parliaments themselves to achieve this. We are taking steps in our own case to ensure this,[235] and we encourage other national parliaments to do so too. Our aim in this part of our Report is to determine what greater role would be appropriate and especially what would work.

118. The EP's Constitutional Affairs Committee has recently agreed a report on Relations between the European Parliament and the national parliaments in European integration. We agree with much in the report (and the EP's resolution on the subject), including the following points:

  • The EU's democratic deficit can be remedied by strengthening both the EP and national parliaments, and the EP must not see itself as the exclusive representative of citizens and guarantor of democracy in the EU;

  • 'The quality of relations between the European Parliament and the national parliaments is of fundamental importance for the overall democratic nature of the Union';

  • The fundamental way of ensuring the participation of national parliaments in the EU's legislative work is through monitoring their respective governments as members of the Council;

  • Co-operation between the EP and national parliaments should be based on the principle of complementarity.[236]

119. Not surprisingly, the EP opposes a second Chamber. Specific proposals in the EP's resolution include:

  • 'Willingness to contribute to an in-depth dialogue with the national parliaments at the time of the adoption of the Commission's [annual work] programme with a view to ensuring that the principle of subsidiarity is adhered to';

  • Placing co-operation between committees of the national parliaments and the EP in all 'European integration-related sectors' on a systematic footing, not least in respect of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, economic and monetary union, third pillar matters and constitutional affairs, together with improved exchange of information;

  • 'an interparliamentary agreement ... between the national parliaments and the European Parliament as a means of introducing formal cooperation arrangements';

  • 'the emergence ... of a constituent power exercised jointly by the national parliaments, the Commission, the European Parliament and the governments of the Member States.'[237]

120. Involvement of national parliamentarians is best discussed in terms of the roles they might take on, but it may be helpful to summarise here the different forms that involvement might take:

  • Each national parliament to have a veto over proposed EU legislation;

  • Meetings of national parliamentarians only, as in most versions of the second Chamber proposal;

  • Meetings involving both national parliamentarians and MEPs, such as the EP committee meetings to which members of specialist committees in national parliaments are invited;

  • Meetings involving national parliamentarians, MEPs and representatives of other organisations, as in the Convention on the Future of Europe;

  • A specified proportion of national parliamentarians or national parliaments or a specified number of specialist committees being able to block a proposal or refer it back for further consideration (for example to the ECJ in respect of subsidiarity);

  • National parliamentarians accompanying Ministers to Council meetings.

We do not deal here with bilateral relations between national parliamentarians and parliamentary committees because, though important, the extent of such contacts is entirely a matter for national parliamentarians.

National parliament vetoes

121. Jens-Peter Bonde MEP and Martin Howe QC argued that all EU legislation should require approval by each national parliament before coming into effect, thereby giving each parliament a veto.[238] The former also proposed that the right of initiative in legislation should pass from the Commission to national parliaments, making the Commission the secretariat of national parliaments.[239] Martin Howe suggested that ratification by national parliaments might be on a basis similar to qualified majority voting, but that a measure should not come into force in a country where it had not been ratified.[240] It could be argued that a national parliament veto is equivalent to a government veto, in that a government with a parliamentary majority usually gets its way, but both in the UK and elsewhere governments do not always win parliamentary votes, and at the very least they have to persuade Members to support them. However, the arguments against national parliament vetoes are similar to those in respect of vetoes and requirements for unanimity in general: that in a Union of 15, and even more in a Union of 25 or more, they would make it almost impossible to make any decisions. Although votes in the Council are rare, the possibility of qualified majority voting is undoubtedly important in securing agreement. With national parliament vetoes the EU would probably intervene in fewer inappropriate areas than at present, but it would also be far less effective in areas such as the internal market. We do not support the proposal for national parliament vetoes.

A second Chamber

122. In his speech in Warsaw in October 2000 the Prime Minister proposed a statement of principles in respect of competences and added that:

We note that this proposed Chamber is often described as a third rather than a second Chamber, since there are already two legislative bodies - the Council of Ministers and the EP.

123. The Minister for Europe sums up the purpose of the second Chamber as follows:

    'First, it could serve to re-connect national parliaments, and national parliamentarians, with decision making in Brussels. Secondly it could help provide a solution to defining where the EU should act and where action should be left to the individual member states. And third, the Chamber could provide oversight of areas of EU activity which go beyond the traditional work of the Community, such as European defence, and justice and home affairs.'[242]

The Government has not indicated what powers it believes the second Chamber should have.

124. The second Chamber proposal has also been put forward by others in somewhat different forms, sometimes including a regional element.[243] The most detailed proposal is that from the French Senate, as follows:

  • The purpose would be 'to anchor Europe better in each country' by recreating the link between national parliaments and EU institutions; to 'involve in a more harmonious way both small and large states in European construction' through equal representation of each in the second Chamber; and a better balance between the EU institutions (through a counter-balance to the EP) and also between the EU and Member States (through a second Chamber which would tend to favour decentralisation);

  • The second Chamber should consist only of representatives of national parliaments, and all Member States should be equally represented in it;

  • It should take over the tasks currently carried out by the Assembly of the Western European Union, and would also supersede COSAC;

  • It would not vote on legislation, but would debate subsidiarity, and could refer a proposed to the ECJ for a ruling on whether it conformed to the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality;

  • It would have a consultative role in respect of defence, the Common Foreign and Security Policy and justice and home affairs — all areas where the EP cannot play a full scrutiny role — and would have general debates on the future of the EU;

  • So that members could continue to play a full part in their national parliaments, it would meet for only about six sessions a year, each lasting a day and a half.[244]

125. The House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union has conducted a detailed inquiry into proposals for a second Chamber. It concluded that:

  • A dual mandate involving national parliamentarians in a second Chamber that was busy enough to justify its existence would place too onerous a burden on an individual for both jobs to be done effectively;

  • Subsidiarity is an important issue but not likely to offer sufficient interest to senior parliamentarians;

  • There is a real problem in identifying a suitable stage in the legislative process for the second Chamber to check proposals for subsidiarity;

  • An elected second Chamber would be bound to be drawn into conflict with the EP, it would be hard to avoid it getting involved in the detail of legislation, delegations might be packed with loyal government supporters, and there would be less clarity about accountability for policy outcomes.

It summed up the proposal as 'an unreal solution to a series of real problems'.[245]

126. We agree with our Lords counterparts that the proposed second Chamber would not achieve the objectives set for it. Apart from the practical difficulties, we do not believe it would do much reconnect citizens and EU institutions. We note that the proposal has not attracted wide support, and therefore seems unlikely to be taken forward in the Convention and the IGC. However, the Prime Minister's proposal and the subsequent debate have performed two useful functions: they have focussed attention on a series of 'real issues' connected with democracy and accountability (as our Lords counterparts have indicated), and they have highlighted both problems and possibilities with regard to the involvement of national parliamentarians in the EU.

127. The two main problems concerning a second Chamber (as opposed to problems concerning the tasks it might carry out) are those of time and of representativeness:

  • (i) Busy members of national parliaments cannot be expected to carry out a major additional task (such as membership of a second Chamber) involving frequent journeys overseas, and they would soon lose touch with their national parliaments and their constituents if they did. We conclude that any involvement of national parliamentarians in the EU should make the least possible demands on their time, and should draw on different Members for different purposes in order to spread the burden; forms of involvement not entailing meetings and travel should also be considered.

  • (ii) Given that there may soon be 25 or more national parliaments in the EU, most with two Chambers, meetings can only be of manageable size if attendance by each Chamber is restricted to a few Members, and this creates the problem of representativeness (and of selection). We conclude that meetings of national parliamentarians should be so managed that the representatives can consult widely in advance, and should normally have a scrutiny and consultation rather than accountability role.

128. We make two other general points:

  • National parliamentarians will regard the time involved as worthwhile only if there is a genuine possibility of exerting influence;

  • Involvement of national parliamentarians in the EU will be most beneficial when it also strengthens their ability to scrutinise the activities of their own Ministers in the Council.

The Convention

129. The Convention on the Future of Europe includes 30 national parliamentarians, together with 16 MEPs, 15 representatives of Member State governments, two Commissioners, representatives of candidate countries and several observers (making it similar to the Convention which drew up the Charter of Fundamental Rights). It has no powers, since it will be for the heads of state and government at the subsequent IGC to make the decisions, but it could have significant influence (depending above all on whether it is able to reach a consensus on the major issues).[246] According to the report of the EP's Constitutional Affairs Committee on relations with national parliaments, the Convention has 'symbolised the recognition of shared responsibility in the exercise of "constituent power", which had hitherto been reserved for governments alone', and means 'assigning to the national parliaments ... and the European Parliament ... joint constituent power, i.e. a constituent power shared with the national governments', marking 'a new chapter in the role of parliaments in European integration.'[247]

130. The Convention is indeed an important innovation, above all because it means that matters to be decided at the next IGC are being discussed publicly in advance. It is a useful way of gathering a wide range of views and drawing up proposals to be decided upon elsewhere. From a democratic point of view it has one major defect: gathering one or two members from a large number of bodies (even elected ones) does not ensure that the resulting assembly is a representative one. This has been recognised in the fact that the Convention will not make decisions by voting, though working by consensus creates its own problems. We conclude that the Convention format is useful for open debate and for developing ideas and making proposals, but (because of the problem of representativeness) not for making decisions, and we do not regard it as giving parliaments a 'joint constituent power'.

National parliamentarians and subsidiarity

131. We have already concluded that national parliamentarians should have some role in respect of subsidiarity.[248] Here we consider what that role should be and how it should be carried out. The ideas fall into three categories. The first, proposed by MEPs, is for 'in-depth dialogue' with national parliaments on the Commission's work programme.[249] We believe national parliamentarians should have stronger rights than the right of consultation as regards subsidiarity problems.

132. The second involves meetings of national parliamentarians to decide or advise on matters of subsidiarity — in the Prime Minister's words, 'political review by a body of democratically elected politicians'.[250] We think this would work only if focused on the start of the legislative process, for example by examining the items proposed in the Commission's annual work programme or the European Council's annual agenda, rather than any more ambitious scheme with meetings throughout the year. It would be inappropriate for MEPs to be involved in such meetings. Given that those attending could not be fully representative of their national parliaments, it would be essential that they had the opportunity to consult widely on the Commission's proposals in advance of any meeting. For the same reason, it would be inappropriate to allow them to make binding decisions, though the voting threshold could be raised for proposals they deemed inconsistent with subsidiarity. Other procedures would be needed to monitor legislation not envisaged in the Commission's work programme or the European Council's annual agenda and legislation which is significantly altered during its passage.

133. The third category of ideas involves national parliamentarians referring proposals to the ECJ, or the European Council[251] or (as we prefer) a 'subsidiarity watchdog' for consideration. Such referral could take a variety of forms:

  • referral by national parliamentarians meeting together for that purpose;

  • referral by a specified proportion of national parliamentarians, such as the 40% of the members in at least a quarter of the Member States proposed by John Bruton, which would have the advantage of involving Opposition members of national parliaments directly in EU decisions;[252]

  • referral by a specified proportion of European affairs or European scrutiny committees (to be designated for this purpose by the Member States).

134. We favour the sort of arrangements set out in the last paragraph. Since it would not necessarily require meetings, it could be more systematic, and, since the parliamentarians involved would be referring matters for decision rather than making decisions themselves the problem of representativeness would not arise. We are attracted by the idea of scrutiny committees making referrals, not simply because we are a scrutiny committee but because the referrals would arise directly from our scrutiny work, in which we seek to identify and comment on any subsidiarity problems. However, we would not mind having to obtain wider support for any referrals, and so we would also support a system in which a specified proportion of national parliamentarians were able to make referrals. Whatever the method, we favour a system in which national parliamentarians could refer items of legislation to a 'subsidiarity watchdog' or other body for examination of compliance with the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. Meetings of national parliamentarians to scrutinise the Commission's annual work programme from a subsidiarity point of view could also be of value.

135. The 'subsidiarity watchdog' or panel we envisage would consist of senior politicians, about half a dozen in number, of whom any three could review a matter referred to them. They would be required to report promptly, with a thorough explanation of their decision. The selection process would need to be designed to ensure an impartial panel. Our suggestion would be for names to be put forward by the Council for endorsement by a specified proportion of national parliaments.

Examining annual programmes and agendas

136. If national parliamentarians were to examine the Commission's annual work programme and the European Council's annual agenda, the question would arise of whether their examination should be restricted to matters of subsidiarity or should be a more general examination. For the latter to be worthwhile, certain conditions would need to be met by the programme and agenda:

  • they would have to be prepared in good time (as in the timetable being considered by the EP's Constitutional Affairs Committee for the annual work programme);[254] and

  • they would need both to set out priorities and to list and justify the legislative proposals.

137. We used to find the Commission's annual legislative and work programmes of little value from a scrutiny point of view; an immense list of legislative proposals was provided with no indication of which were significant, the reasons for them or who had proposed them. Even now, it does not, of course, cover the two inter-governmental pillars, and is not necessarily a reliable guide to the first pillar (i.e. European Community) legislation which does appear.[255] However, the work programme, now preceded in February by the Commission's annual policy strategy, is gradually becoming a more useful document, thanks in large part to the EP's efforts.

138. We believe more thorough scrutiny of the policy strategy and work programme at EU level, including questioning of Commissioners as to the reasons for particular proposals (or for the absence of others) would be worthwhile, and would make the hitherto opaque process by which the Commission decides what legislation to introduce much more transparent. It should also be possible for national parliaments or substantial groups of citizens to be able to propose measures (which might be amending legislation or repeals) for the Commission to consider. The Commission itself calls for 'better consultation and involvement' as regards use of its right of initiative, and also for a 'reinforced culture of consultation and dialogue', in which 'the involvement of national parliaments and their specialised European affairs committees ... could ... be encouraged'.[256]

139. Similar issues arise in respect of any European Council 'annual agenda',[257] and indeed the current system of six-monthly Presidency priorities. Sir Stephen Wall argued that the Commission should bring forward its proposals 'within a policy framework set by the European Council', so that governments are not 'taken by surprise by initiatives for legislation outside the framework',[258] and the Foreign Secretary (citing the Tampere and Lisbon agendas)[259] has stated that 'Europe works best when the European Council and the Commission work together to establish a strategic agenda, which is then passed to individual Councils to implement'.[260] Greater coherence in drawing up programmes and fewer surprises are desirable, but the risk is of a heavily top-down approach controlled by the heads of state and government in the European Council, whereas the Commission in its White Paper proposes a less top-down approach.[261] Citizens' feelings of 'helplessness in the face of imposed decisions which cannot be influenced or controlled'[262] relate at least as much to the setting of the overall agenda for the EU as to the detail of EU measures.

140. As already indicated, MEPs have called for consultation with national parliamentarians about the Commission's annual work programme.[263] However, we believe consultation by the EP would be too indirect a process if the aim is to reconnect citizens and EU decision-making: national parliamentarians should be involved in discussions directly with the Commission. We would expect national parliaments themselves to consult widely and seek to inform citizens in advance of such discussions, and would certainly plan to do this ourselves.[264] We note that there is a general move to increase coherence in EU decision-making, particularly in devising forward programmes, through greater co-operation between the EU institutions, reflected in proposals by the Commission, the EP's President and others.[265] National parliaments could never be an EU institution, but coherence in drawing up legislative and other programmes cannot be achieved without them, and nor can the aim of reconnecting citizens and EU decision-making. While we believe national parliamentarians alone should consider matters of subsidiarity, more general discussion of Commission and other proposals could usefully be discussed by national parliamentarians and MEPs together. Therefore we welcome the Commission's proposal for 'a reinforced culture of consultation and dialogue',[266] and call for joint meetings of national parliamentarians and MEPs to scrutinise the Commission's annual policy strategy and work programme, question Commissioners on it, and debate it, and would support a similar procedure for the European Council's annual agenda. Some of the examination might be carried out by members from specialist committees, especially if the examination extended to the work programmes of individual Directorate-Generals.[267]

Joint meetings of national parliamentarians and MEPs

141. Joint meetings of national parliamentarians and MEPs could be used more generally, drawing in Members of specialist committees of national parliaments and the EP (somewhat like the Council of Ministers in its different formations) to scrutinise their subject area by questioning Commissioners, officials and expert witnesses and debating issues.[268] To a limited extent this already occurs through meetings of EP committees to which representatives of national parliaments are invited. Putting this on a somewhat more formal and less ad hoc basis would have the major advantage that the selection of subjects for discussion could be more carefully considered and would be agreed between national parliamentarians and MEPs. National parliamentarians could ensure that subjects of concern to them were covered, that the number of meetings did not place excessive burdens on national parliamentarians, and that subjects were selected with a view to bridging the gap between citizens and EU decision-making. Given that national parliamentarians would have partial 'ownership' of the process, they would be more likely to organise events in their own country to give citizens the opportunity to contribute views. The proposal is consistent with the Commission's call for 'public debates, jointly organised by the European and national parliaments, on the Union's policies' and the EP's proposal for more systematic co-operation between committees of the EP and national parliaments.[269]

142. Possible subject areas might include the CFSP, Justice and Home Affairs (meeting some of the concerns expressed by Statewatch and Fair Trials Abroad),[270] the Commission's annual policy strategy and work programme (as already discussed),[271] and decisions made or about to be made at European Councils. Also, the Commission has recently proposed a joint committee of national parliamentarians and MEPs concerned with police matters to meet twice a year for 'information exchange and co-ordination', and to nominate a smaller body to maintain close contact with Europol, and this could fit into the same pattern.[272] Policy areas subject to the 'open method of co-ordination',[273] which largely escape parliamentary scrutiny at present, could be covered, and major reports, such as the annual report on the CFSP, could be presented to such joint meetings.

143. An essential part of this proposal is that meetings would be jointly organised by national parliaments and the EP, and therefore there should either be a very small independent secretariat for this purpose or co-operation between the EP secretariat and the small COSAC secretariat we propose below.[274] The relative proportions of national parliamentarians and MEPs would need to be determined: we would favour two-thirds national parliamentarians and one-third MEPs (similar to the Convention), though for the two inter-governmental pillars a smaller proportion of MEPs might be appropriate. We call for joint meetings of national parliamentarians and MEPs to be placed on a more formal basis with a small secretariat and joint organisation by national parliaments and the EP.

144. The House of Commons already receives a number of invitations to send representatives to meetings of EP committees. These opportunities are welcome, though it is not always possible to send a representative, especially when the meeting coincides with that of the relevant Commons committee. We take this opportunity to emphasise that the meetings are most useful when full information is circulated in advance and there are not too many set speeches from the platform.

Scrutiny of the ESDP

145. The European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) falls within the EU's inter-governmental 'second pillar', in which the role of the EP is limited. There is particular concern about scrutiny of the ESDP following the transfer of the responsibilities and institutions of the Western European Union to the EU. Each government is of course directly accountable, individually, to its own national parliament, but there is no collective accountability and nor is there a body to whom the governments could or should be collectively accountable. What there has been traditionally, for organisations such as NATO and the Western European Union (WEU), is collective parliamentary scrutiny, which can contribute to the process of accountability in national parliaments, and that collective scrutiny is missing in the case of ESDP.

146. Various proposals have been made for bodies to perform that role:

  • The EP, taking over from the WEU Assembly;

  • A second Chamber composed of national parliamentarians (as proposed by the Prime Minister);

147. We regard collective scrutiny of ESDP as essential. We agree with the Government that, since any decision within ESDP to deploy military force rests with national governments, 'the primary scrutiny role should also rest with national parliaments', who could carry out that scrutiny both individually and collectively.[276] The Government rules out the WEU Assembly as not appropriate to scrutinise ESDP.[277] A second Chamber with a variety of roles would not necessarily contain defence and foreign affairs specialists. In this subject area we see no reason for EP participation. We support the proposal for regular meetings of members of the defence, foreign affairs and European affairs committees of national parliaments to scrutinise ESDP.

Attendance of national parliamentarians in the Council

148. Commissioner Barnier has proposed that national parliamentarians should accompany their Ministers to Council meetings, apparently in order to warn about subsidiarity problems but possibly also to give advice more generally.[278] We are at a loss to see what benefits there would be, at least for the national parliamentarians. They would not be permitted to vote, it is highly unlikely that speeches from them would be welcome in an enlarged Council, they would presumably be bound by rules on confidentiality, and they would risk being associated with decisions over which they had no influence. Ministers should not need such assistance to spot potential subsidiarity problems. We do not support the proposal for national parliamentarians to accompany Ministers to Council meetings.

COSAC and the scrutiny role of national parliaments

149. COSAC,[279] consisting of members of the European committees of the EU's parliaments, together with those of the candidate countries, meets twice a year for a day and a half in the country which holds the EU Presidency. Each parliament, including the EP, can send six Members. In 1997 a Protocol to the Amsterdam Treaty recognised COSAC in the Treaties for the first time, allowing it to address 'any contribution which it deems appropriate on the legislative activities of the Union' to the EU institutions.[280] Its meetings are useful for networking and to some extent for exchanging information, but the opportunities it could provide are largely squandered. Its agendas consist largely of speeches by Ministers of the Presidency country followed by questions and by debates on general subjects. Little attention is paid to the role of national parliaments or the practical problems of parliamentary scrutiny, on which the committees could usefully share information. The initial agenda for the Madrid COSAC in May 2002 was a perfect example, with four speeches by the Prime Minister and other Ministers and only an hour on the role of national parliaments, despite the fact that the Convention was shortly to consider the role of national parliaments. Our predecessors criticised the way COSAC's time is spent as long ago as 1995, and our Lords counterparts did so last year.[281]

150. We would not wish to see COSAC given a legislative role or become the basis of a second Chamber.[282] Instead, we would re-define COSAC's main role as assisting national parliaments to improve their scrutiny of government activities in the EU, by sharing best practice and information and acting as a strategic body on behalf of national parliaments. COSAC's agenda should then concentrate on the roles of national parliaments rather than general issues. In addition, COSAC needs to have a small secretariat to facilitate the exchange of information (e.g. on scrutiny problems, in respect of particular documents or more generally),[283] to monitor activities relevant to national scrutiny (e.g. compliance by the Council with the protocol on the role of national parliaments), and to take up procedural matters of concern with the Council Secretariat or the Commission. The Secretariat could also, in co-operation with the EP, organise the joint meetings of national parliamentarians and MEPs discussed above. A precondition for any such reforms is that changes in COSAC's rules must cease to require unanimity.

151. The role of the EP in COSAC would then need to be reconsidered. It is important to maintain the contacts which result from EP attendance at COSAC, but it seems to us inappropriate to have EP members on the 'troika' which determines COSAC's agenda. We believe a reformed COSAC which assisted national parliaments in their scrutiny role and thereby contributed to the EP's aim of the 'parliamentarisation' of the EU[284] would be of greater value to the EP than retaining its place in the 'troika'.

152. COSAC could also help to resolve one of the problems facing national parliaments which actively scrutinise EU legislation, which is that many national parliaments do not. Research carried out by Andreas Maurer and presented to a COSAC working group in April 2001 categorised eight of the EU's national parliaments as 'policy influencing' or 'policy making' in EU matters (with the UK Parliament in the 'policy influencing' category) and seven as 'weak'.[285] Many carry out little scrutiny of documents. Sir Stephen Wall believed this made a difference in the Council:

    'If there were a kind of equal perception of the importance of parliamentary scrutiny across the European Union that would help. If you are in a situation where the UK, Denmark, one or two others, are the ones who most often have scrutiny reserves, it is frankly easier for a presidency, whose interest is clearly getting the business done, to put the pressure on you, than if 14 Member States were saying, sorry, they cannot agree because they have not completed the parliamentary scrutiny'.[286]

It is not surprising that some Presidencies organise business in a way leaving little time for scrutiny if they are not used to scrutiny from their own parliament; the overall climate of accountability is lacking.

153. The activities of national parliaments are clearly an area where the principle of subsidiarity should operate, and it would certainly be inappropriate for any EU institution to seek to tell them what do. However, the same objection would not apply to national parliaments themselves, through COSAC, seeking to raise the overall standard of parliamentary scrutiny in the EU. This could be done through something similar to the 'open method of co-ordination', involving exchange of best practice and benchmarking, as practised by Member States in areas where the EU has little or no legislative competence. COSAC should also draw up minimum standards of parliamentary scrutiny, setting out both rights and duties of national parliaments, such as provision of information by the Government on each EU proposal within a certain time, ability to call Ministers to explain their activities in the Council, and provision of information to the public. This would help European affairs committees when pressing for resources or government information.

154. In May 2002 COSAC called upon the 'troika' of parliaments which will plan the October 2002 COSAC 'to organise the preparatory work to draw up a detailed proposal for a more effective COSAC, focussing its activity more on the role of national parliaments'.[287] We shall press for our ideas to be included in that detailed proposal.

155. The role of national parliaments will also be considered shortly by a working group of the Convention. The working group will not consist entirely of national parliamentarians, and therefore may feel some awkwardness about directing recommendations to national parliaments. However, neither the working group nor the Convention itself can do anything more than offer proposals — decisions will be for the subsequent IGC — and therefore we encourage the working group to set out its view of what national parliaments should be doing as regards scrutinising government activity in the EU and reconnecting citizens and EU decision-making. It would also be helpful if the Convention asked COSAC to take action to seek to raise the overall standard of scrutiny by national parliaments.


233   See paras. 149-54 below. Back

234   Para. 3 above. Back

235   See our recent Report on European scrutiny in the Commons, ESC, 2001-02, HC 152-xxx. Back

236   EP, A5-0023/2002, Napolitano report, explanatory statement, paras. 8-10, 15, 21. Back

237   EP resolution, 7 February 2002, P5-TA (2002) 0058, paras. 11, 13-15, 21. Back

238   Q. 471; Ev 150; QQ. 451-2. Back

239   Q.471; Jens-Peter Bonde, The futures of Europe, February 2002, para. 119. Back

240   Ev 150. Back

241   Speech of 6 October 2000. Back

242   Ev 112. Back

243   House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union, 7th Report, 2001-02, A second parliamentary Chamber for Europe: an unreal solution to some real problems, HL Paper 48, paragraphs 12-21. Back

244   Une deuxième Chambre Européenne, Senate report No. 381, 2000-2001; English translation in HL Paper 48, pp. 29-35. Back

245   HL Paper 48, 2001-02, paras. 30-8, 83. Back

246   QQ. 260, 265. Back

247   EP, A5-0023/2002, Napolitano report, explanatory statement, paras. 29, 32. Back

248   Para. 113 above. Back

249   EP resolution, 7 February 2002, P5-TA (2002) 0058, para. 11; EP Constitutional Affairs Committee, Report on the European Commission's legislative and work programme ('Malmström report'), February 2002, A5-0046/2002, p. 11. See also Q.183; Ev 77. Back

250   Speech in Warsaw, 6 October 2000. Back

251   Convention document CONV 27/02, p. 26 (John Bruton). Back

252   In the Commons the signatures could be gathered by means of an Early Day Motion. Back

253   Q. 405. Back

254   EP, A5-0046/2002, Malmström report, pp. 13-14. Back

255   Ibid., p. 11. Back

256   European governance: a White Paper, pp. 16-17, 33-4. Back

257   See para. 65 above. Back

258   Q. 406. Back

259   Relating to justice and home affairs and to economic reform respectively. Back

260   Speech at The Hague, 21 February 2002. Back

261   European governance: a White Paper, pp. 4, 11. Back

262   Para. 1 above. Back

263   Para. 131 above. Back

264   See our Report on European scrutiny in the Commons, ESC, 2001-02, HC 152-xxx. Back

265   European governance: a White Paper, pp. 10, 16, 28-9; information obtained during the Committee's meeting with the EP President in Brussels, 26 February 2002; paras. 65, 139 above. Back

266   Para. 138 above. Back

267   Q. 107. Back

268   cf. Q. 112. Back

269   European governance: a White Paper, p. 30; para. 119 above. Back

270   Q. 65; Ev 174-5. Back

271   Paras. 136-40 above. Back

272   ESC, HC 152-xxiv, paragraph 8. Back

273   Defined in European Commission, European governance: a White Paper, pp. 21-2. Back

274   Para. 150 below. Back

275   See NATO Parliamentary Assembly Report AU 213 PC (01) 5, August 2001, section G; para. 122 above. Back

276   House of Lords, 11th Report from the Select Committee on the European Union, 2001-02, HL Paper 71 (II), The European policy on security and defence, Q. 186. Back

277   Letter from Baroness Scotland to Lord Jopling, Chairman of Sub-Committee C, Select Committee on the European Union, House of Lords, 10 May 2001. Back

278   QQ. 105, 108. See also Q. 281. Back

279   COSAC is the French acronym for the Conference of Community and European Affairs Committees. Back

280   Cm 3780, 1997, p. 90. Back

281   Twenty-fourth Report from the Select Committee on European Legislation, HC 239, 1994-95, The 1996 Inter-Governmental Conference, paragraph 116; HL Paper 48, 2001-02, paragraph 75. Back

282   Paras. 122-6 above. Back

283   See Ev 19 for an example of the value of this. Back

284   EP resolution, 7 February 2002, P5-TA (2002) 0058, para. 3. Back

285   Andreas Maurer, 'National parliaments after Amsterdam: adaptation, re-calibration and Europeanisation by process', April 2001, p. 24. See also Ev 20. Back

286   Q. 413. Back

287   Contribution from the May 2002 COSAC, para. 8. Back


 
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