Select Committee on European Union Twenty-Second Report


Article 33: The principle of democratic equality
The Union's operation shall be founded on the principle of the equality of citizens, who shall receive equal attention from the Union's institutions.

Explanatory note

"Article 33 introduces the general principle of the equality of citizens in relation to the European institutions. The institutions must take account of this in their dealings with European citizens."


7.  Article 33 is new. The statement of a principle of equality before the Union's institutions would complement Article 7(1), which provides for equality before the law.[7] It is noteworthy that equality before the institutions may not be the right of everyone but only of "citizens". This may mean EU citizens (ie nationals of Member States). The drafting is unclear. Contrast the wording of Articles 33a, 35a, and 36, referring to "citizens of the Union", and of Article 36a, referring to "everyone". Persons (third country nationals) resident in a Member State would not be entitled to benefit from Article 33, though such persons would expressly have rights of access to EU documents (see Article 36(3) below).

Article 34: The principle of participatory democracy

1.  Every citizen shall have the right to participate in the democratic life of the Union.

2.  The Union institutions shall, by appropriate means, give citizens and representative associations the opportunity to make known and publicly exchange their opinions on all areas of Union action.

3.  The Union institutions shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with representative associations and civil society.

Explanatory note

"1. The purpose of this Article is to provide a framework and content for the dialogue which is largely already in place between the institutions and civil society (note that the social dialogue has been consigned to Part Two of the Constitution in the provisions relating to social policy, as is the case in the TEC.)

2. Paragraph 2 refers to the forums, opportunities for Internet chat and other similar mechanisms which the institutions have now put in place.

3. In paragraph 3 associations are mentioned in addition to civil society since there are associations which do not come under the civil society heading (employers' and employees' trade unions, associations representing the interests of the regions and regional and local authorities, etc.)."


8.  This Article is also new. The principle enunciated is unexceptionable. But problems with the Article arise from the vagueness of its provisions and the absence of the definition of key terms such as "representative associations" and "civil society". We doubt whether all the grand words in Article 34 will have much effect in re-engaging the citizen in the political life and legislative processes of the Union. Article 34 should spell out much more clearly what is intended by the concept of participatory democracy, what it means for the individual citizen and by what practical means he or she may take advantage of the rights given.

9.  The present Convention process has shown the potential for making the individual more aware of and getting him or her more involved in the development of Union policy. Key elements in the process have been the initial "listening stage" of the Convention's work and the opportunity given by the Convention Forum to follow the proceedings of the Convention as well as to make contributions to the debate. Article 34(2) makes clear that the involvement of citizens and representative associations covers "all areas of Union action". It is not limited, for example, to Social Policy. The Article leaves open the question as to what would be the "appropriate means".

10.  In practice NGOs and other groups and organisations play a more significant role than the individual in the identification and formulation of policies at both European and national levels. Article 34 makes a distinction between the individual and representative associations and also between representative associations and civil society. There are potential problems of definition. The Praesidium's Explanatory note explains that "representative associations" is intended to cover employers' associations and trade unions (the "social partners") as well as "associations representing the interests of the regions and regional and local authorities, etc". However, "civil society" is undefined and is not a precise term of art. The Commission's White Paper on Governance includes "trade unions and employers' organisations (the "social partners"); non-governmental organisations; professional associations; charities; grass roots organisations; organisations that involve citizens in local and municipal life with a particular contribution from churches and religious communities".[8]

11.  In our recent Report on "Social Europe"[9] we examined the participation of both the social partners and civil society in Union decision-taking. We concluded that if the social partners and civil society were to be given a greater role a number of important issues would need to be clarified, especially regarding the definition of civil society, the determination of its role and the need to distinguish between different civil society organisations regarding their respective powers.[10] The use in Article 34 of the terms "representative associations" and "civil society" makes such clarification even more necessary and important. Does "civil society" include voluntary associations?

12.  The reference, in Article 34(3) to an 'open and regular dialogue' is welcome in principle. But it raises various questions: Would there be an obligation on the institutions to consult in all cases? Would such 'dialogue' cover legislative proposals, broader policy action or any action by the institutions? Should, and if so how would, such 'dialogue' be formalised? Is dialogue always to be initiated by the institution or could "representative associations" and "civil society" set an agenda to which the institutions would be obliged to respond? What will be the resource implications when 25 Member States are involved in "regular" dialogue? Unless these questions are thought through and clear answers given, the welcome intention that appears to underlie Article 34(3) is likely to lead to disillusion.

Article 35: The European Ombudsman

An Ombudsman shall be appointed to receive, investigate and report on complaints concerning instances of maladministration within the Union institutions.

Explanatory note

"This Article, which is based on Article 195 TEC, lets citizens know that they can appeal against maladministration. The detailed provisions will appear in Part Two of the Constitution."


13.  Under Article 21 TEC every EU citizen has the right to complain to the Ombudsman about maladministration (a term which has been widely construed by the Ombudsman) in the activities of any Community institution or body. The Ombudsman is appointed by the European Parliament and is required by the Treaty to be "completely independent in the performance of his duties" (Article 195 TEC). We note that Article 35 does not say how the Ombudsman is to be appointed. The requirement that he or she be appointed by the European Parliament (Article 195 TEC) is an important guarantee of the Ombudsman's independence which we believe could usefully be included in this Article rather than in Part Two of the new Treaty.

Article 35a: Political parties at European level

Political parties at European level contribute to forming a European awareness and to expressing the political will of the citizens of the Union.

Explanatory note

"This Article is based on Article 191 TEC and the wording of Article 12(2) of the Charter."


14.  The notion of European Political Parties (EPPs) was first recognised in the Maastricht Treaty. They have operated as umbrella groups for like-minded national parties. The larger EPPs share the same name as their respective MEP Groups in the European Parliament: the European People's Party (centre-right); the Party of European Socialists (centre-left); and the European Liberal, Democratic and Reformist Group (ELDR).

15.  Article 35(a) repeats the wording of Article 191 TEC. There are, however, two significant changes. First, the new text contains no reference to EPPs being "important as a factor for integration within the Union". Some explanation would be helpful. Second, the second paragraph of Article 191, which was added by the Nice Treaty to give an express power to provide for the regulation and funding of EPPs, is omitted. Proposals[11] for a Regulation on the status and funding of EPPs have been the subject of controversy, not least as to the definition of EPPs (whether they need be active in more than one Member State), the principles by which EPPs would have to abide, and the possibility of individual or corporate donations to EPPs. It is unclear whether the omission of the second sentence of Article 191 TEC is deliberate and if so what and where in the new Treaty is provision to be made for regulating EPPs.

7   Article 7(1) states: "Every national of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to national citizenship; it shall not replace it. All citizens of the Union, women and men, shall be equal before the law". Back

8   Doc COM (2001) 418, at p 14. For a more precise definition the Commission refers the reader to the Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on "The role and contribution of civil society organisations in the building of Europe", [1999] OJ C 329/30. Back

9   The Future of Europe: "Social Europe" (14th Report, Session 2002-03, HL Paper 79). Back

10   14th Report at para 28. The issues identified were: the definition of what constitutes "civil society"; the different functions that civil society can perform in the Union; the difference in outcomes between greater consultation of civil society and greater involvement in decision-making processes; how civil society would be supported by the Union; the criteria for deciding which groups from civil society should be given a greater role to play in the Union; and whether there is a role for "pan-European" representation of civil society (and of social partners) given the greater processes of European integration. Back

11   The latest version, Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Statute and Financing of European Political Parties (Doc COM (2003) 77) is currently under scrutiny in Sub-Committee E (Law and Institutions). Back

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