Select Committee on European Union First Report


APPENDIX 4

National Parliamentary Scrutiny in other Member States

Austria

Political System

The Austrian bicameral parliamentary system is very similar to that of Germany and consists of the Nationalrat and the Bundesrat.

Composition

As in Germany, the members of the Austrian Bundesrat are representatives of the Austrian Laender delegated by the Laender parliaments. The Austrian Bundesrat, however, has more limited constitutional rights than its German counterpart.

EU Committees

The Nationalrat has a Main Committee that has a Standing Sub-Committee on EU matters and can also convene as an EU Committee and as such functions in a similar way to the House of Commons EU Committee. Its membership reflects the political weighting in the Nationalrat. The EU Committee, when it convenes as such, can oblige the Government to take a particular approach at a European Council. The Government is only allowed to deviate from this position in stipulated instances. To deviate from the agreed approach on an EU Treaty change, it must ask permission of the Nationalrat Committee. In the Bundesrat, the main Committee can convene as the European Committee when important EU decisions are being negotiated.

Legislative Powers

The Government is obliged to provide the parliament with all EU documentation. This information is stored and is accessible to both chambers. The Bundesrat has the right to write to ministers with questions. It can also take views on particular EU matters, but does not have a formal right to oblige the Government to adhere to these, except in very limited circumstances.

Belgium

Political System

Belgium has a bicameral political system. The Kamer van Volksvertegenwoordigers (Chamber of Representatives) and the Senate. Since 1970, a number of far-reaching amendments to the Belgian Constitution has given Belgium a federal constitutional structure.

EU Committees

The Belgian Parliament deals with European matters through its Joint Advisory Committee on European Affairs, which involves MEPs.

Legislative Powers

There are three procedures for legislative decision-making in Belgium. 'Monocameral' competences are decided by the Chamber of Representatives and the King and cover matters such as the budget and national defence. 'Fully bicameral' competences must be agreed by the Chamber of Representatives, the Senate and the King. This procedure covers international agreements, the constitution, language laws and national suffrage. The third procedure is that of 'part bicameral laws' where the Senate's constitutional right is determined case by case.

Conclusion

As international agreements come under the second 'fully bicameral' procedure, the Belgian Government must have approval from both parliamentary chambers. The Government is also obliged to inform both chambers of its intent before amendments to EU treaties. The Senate has the right to submit questions to the Government.

Denmark

Political System

The Danish Parliament, the Folketing, is unicameral.

EU Committee

The European Affairs Committee (Europaudvalget) was created in 1972 and meets throughout the year, except for August. It has 17 permanent members and 11 substitutes. The parties are allocated places on the Committee according to their strength in the Folketing.

Role of EU Committee

The primary role of the European Affairs Committee is to provide a politically binding mandate for the Government's EU (and WTO) policies. The Committee may consider all proposals for legislative acts from the European Commission, regardless of subject. The Danish Government must submit memoranda indicating the nature and purpose of the proposal within four weeks of formal circulation by the Council.

The Government must also submit a mandate for negotiations for all Justice and Home Affairs issues. The Government does not require a mandate for Pillar II proposals, although it will often confer with the Committee on CFSP policies.

The Danish Prime Minister is required to report to the Committee, in person, prior to and after participating in the European Councils and Intergovernmental Conferences. MEPs are not normally allowed to participate in meetings of the European Affairs Committee but may be invited for consultation.

See also "conclusion" under Sweden, below.

Finland

Political System

The Finnish Parliament, the Eduskunta/Riksdag , is unicameral.

EU Committee

The Grand Committee (Suuri valiokunta/ Stora utskottet) was given its task to scrutinise EU policy in 1994 (the Committee was formed in 1906). It has 25 members and 13 substitutes. The Eduskunta/Riksdag selects committee members to reflect party strength. However, even the smallest party normally has at least one substitute place on the committee. The Grand Committee meets twice a week.

Role of EU Committee

The Grand Committee's most important task is to determine Finland's negotiating basis in relation to the Council proposals lying within the Parliament's competence. The Committee may consider all proposals for legislative acts from the European Commission, regardless of subject. The Government must submit memoranda indicating the nature and purpose of the proposal 'without delay'.

§ 96 of the Finnish Constitution prescribes that proposals relating to CFSP are to be considered in the Foreign Affairs Committee. The Legal Affairs Committee will advise the Grand Committee on matters falling under Pillar III.

The Finnish Prime Minister is required to report to the Grand Committee, in person, prior to and after participating in the European Councils and Intergovernmental Conferences. MEPs are not entitled to participate in meetings of the Grand Committee.

See also "conclusion" under Sweden, below.

France

Political System

France has a bicameral parliamentary system composed of the National Assembly and the Senat.

EU Committees

The mechanism for examining EU legislation by the national parliament has not been in place for very long, only around 10 years. It involves a "delegation" of each chamber. The objective of the French system is to allow the National Assembly and the Senat to adopt a position on legislation in preparation.

The delegations in the Assembly and the Senat are at the centre of the process, and are like committees but not called that as the latter are only for working on French law. The delegations of the Assembly and the Senat each comprise 26 Parliamentarians, representing all the political groupings, in the proportions of the plenary. Each of the 26 is a member of one of the specialist permanent committees dealing with national law.

The Government sends around 1000 texts per year for scrutiny.

Mechanism of examination

Examination is very similar in both Houses. The French Constitution distinguishes between laws: those voted for by Parliament, and regulations adopted by the Government. The initial sift is done by the Conseil d'Etat separating texts which have an impact on national law from the rest. However, if the delegations feel that a document which has not been sent to them after the initial sift presents a point of political interest and is worth a closer look, it is also sent to them. This ensures that documents which are of no real interest do not take up the time of the delegations.

Once sifted to the delegations, the majority of texts are of minor importance and are subject to written procedure only. For each, the secretariat provides the members of the delegation with a summary note outlining the contents and the reasons why an extensive scrutiny is not necessary. If, within eight days, a member feels that further scrutiny is necessary the text is retained for the following meeting, and reclassified as for examination.

In around fifty of the texts examined each year, a rapporteur is appointed who, with assistance from the secretariat, carries out an in-depth analysis of the proposal examining its influence on French legislation, the consequences for French interests and the Government position. If it is felt appropriate, officials will be called to provide further information and meetings held with the permanent representation in Brussels. When the rapporteur is ready the text is examined by the delegation.

If the delegation is satisfied with the progress of the proposal and the Government's position, the scrutiny ends there. If the delegation considers the proposal raises a question of significant political importance, the text itself is unsatisfactory, or it would like to question the Government further, they will propose a resolution. The proposal for a resolution is sent to the permanent competent committee and a final resolution is adopted by the committee, or the plenary.

In urgent situations the minister responsible for negotiations on a specific text can request the Parliament to give their opinion urgently. The request must be accompanied by a justification.

Perceived advantages

Parliamentarians can focus on the most important texts, and the sifting process is legitimised by the use of the Conseil d'Etat.

A specific Parliamentary organ can deal with the work, but debate is not restricted and involves the whole Senat.

Problems

They tend to be concerned with the timing of national and EU process. General delays resulting in the inability to provide timely comments from the Senat in some circumstances.

Germany

Political System

Germany has a bicameral parliamentary system. The Bundestag is the equivalent of the Commons. The members of the second parliamentary chamber, the Bundesrat represent the German federal Laender. Its constitutional role, therefore, is to take decisions in the interest of the second political level in Germany, the federal Laender.

Composition

The Bundesrat is composed of cabinet members from the 16 Laender delegated by the Laender governments. The Bundesrat provides a forum for intergovernmental cooperation between the regional and national political level. The number of Laender representatives in the Bundesrat is proportional to the population of each Land. North Rhine Westphalia therefore has six representatives whereas Saarland only has three. The votes awarded to each Land cannot be split and must be cast uniformly.

EU Committees

Both chambers have EU Committees. The Bundestag EU Committee links the national level to Europe by consisting of 14 MEPs and 36 MPs. The MEPs, however, do not have the right to vote in the committee. The Bundestag has the same system of Explanatory Memorandums as the UK Parliament.

Legislative powers

Act 23 of the German Basic Law states that both the Bundestag and the Bundesrat shall participate in European affairs. Both chambers have an entrenched right to be consulted on European legislation. The German government is legally obliged to provide all information on European matters to both chambers as soon as possible, to hear and take into consideration the view of both chambers before it goes to a European Council and to account for any deviance from the agreed view at a European Council and give clear reasons for it.

Whenever European legislation impinges on exclusive Laender competencies as set out in the Basic Law, government action is subject to Bundesrat opinion. The Bundesrat can veto the Bundestag's decision to cede sovereignty to European level, as such a decision would have clear ramifications for the Laender. The Bundesrat is permitted time to debate and review proposals before the German negotiation position for the European Council is determined.

Conclusion

The role of the Bundestag as constitutional representative of the Laender at the federal level has led to equal degrees of scrutiny in both the Bundestag and the Bundesrat. In cases where European legislation is deemed to impinge on exclusive Laender competencies there is even scope for a representative of the Bundesrat to take part in Council meetings.

Greece

Political System

Greece has a unicameral parliamentary system.

EU Committee

The composition of the Committee of European Affairs is mixed, consisting of national MPs and MEPs. The Committee has an advisory role but does not meet regularly. It can be convened by its Chairman, by a third of its members or by the Government. In general, the Chairman chooses topics for consideration but the Parliamentary Speaker may also do so.

Ireland

Political System

Ireland has a bicameral parliamentary system. The Houses of Parliament, the Tithe an Oireachtas is divided into the Dáil (The House of Representatives) and the Seanad (the Senate). While government administration and policy may be criticised in both Houses, the government is responsible to the Dáil only.

EU Committee

The Irish Parliament set up a Joint Committee on European Affairs (An comhchoiste um Ghnóthaí Eorpacha) in 1973, where members of both Houses are represented. Committee membership is proportionally representative of the Parliament. Committee Reports are published but it is for the House(s) to decide on any follow up action. With the exception of the month of August, the Committee meets throughout the year.

The rejection of the Nice Treaty by the Irish public in the first referendum was interpreted by the Oireachtas as evidence of a democratic deficit in relation to the EU and called, among others, for increased powers of scrutiny for the Joint Committee. The Irish Government accepted the argument and introduced, from the 1st of July 2002, a more transparent system for scrutiny.

The Joint Committee on European Affairs may now consider all proposals for legislative acts from the European Commission, regardless of subject. The Government must submit memoranda indicating the nature and purpose of the proposal within four weeks of formal circulation by the Council. Briefing on request will be given in relation to CFSP and Justice and Home Affairs business.

Ministers will also be available on request to offer oral briefing in advance of Council meetings. It was also agreed that the Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Minister for Foreign Affairs or Minister of State for European Affairs will, on request, brief the Committee in advance of European Councils.

Irish MEPs (including Northern Ireland MEPs) and members of the Irish delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe can attend and participate at their meetings but without voting rights. The Committee can also invite MEPs of other Member States to attend under similar conditions.

Conclusion

In the aftermath of the first Nice referendum the Oireachtas has recognised the crucial role played by national parliamentary scrutiny. The new system, introduced in 2002, is intended to give the Oireachtas more influence over Irish EU policy.

Italian System

Political System

Italy has a bicameral system consisting of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

EU Committees

In the Senate, the relevant Committee is the "Giunta per gli affari delle Comunitá europee", and in the Chamber of Deputies, the "Commissione le politiche dell Unione Europea"—also known as the XIV standing committee.

Traditionally in both Houses of the Italian Parliament direct competence on EU matters is the responsibility of standing committees, the EU Committees having a consultative role. In 1999 the Chamber of Deputies reformed its rules of procedure, giving the Chamber's EU committee standing committee status, with specific tasks. The Giunta of the Senate, however remains solely consultative, with the primary competence falling to the Constitutional Affairs Committee. This is felt to have created an imbalance between the two.

Mechanism of examination

According to Italian law, the Government must transmit all EU legislative proposals to the Chamber of Deputies in sufficient time for the relevant standing Committee to scrutinise them. However, there is no a regular process for the transmission of proposals, although the process has improved since ratification of the Amsterdam Treaty.

The insufficient flow of proposals, usually once negotiations are in an advanced state, has meant that Parliament's opinion has been ineffective. There has also been a lack of Explanatory Memoranda, the Government giving very little in the way of detailed information on any proposals. It is felt that this due to EU matters being split between Foreign Affairs and EU Affairs ministers, and poor co-ordination between ministries.

The two Parliamentary scrutiny committees do not study proposals uniformly. For example, between September 2000 and March 2001 the Giunta scrutinised around seventy documents, but the Standing Committee, which had primary competence, looked at only one proposal.

Since the new legislature in April 2001 scrutiny has become more sporadic, due to a decline in the number of documents deposited to the Committees by Government. Both the Giunta and the XIV Standing Committee have requested that the Government regularly deposit documents, provide an Explanatory Memorandum outlining the negotiating position in Brussels and the likely impacts on Italy, and forward the Parliament's comments to the Permanent Representative in Brussels.

A legislative proposal has recently been presented by the Government to address the problems outlined above, and improve Italy's scrutiny system.

Luxembourg

Luxembourg's Chamber of Deputies has a Committee for Foreign and European Affairs and Defence, which scrutinises, investigates and reports on EU documents, sometimes after taking evidence and the Committee's opinions are sent to Government. The Committee has 16 members, reflecting proportionate strengths of part groups. Luxembourg MEPs may attend in advisory capacity.

Portugal

The Assembly of the Republic follows and analyses Portugal's involvement in the construction of the European Union. Parliament is informed, through the Government, of all proposals presented in the Council. The whole Parliament—Plenary and Specialist Committees—is involved in an ongoing review process of EU laws and initiatives and evaluates them.

The Committee of European Affairs is the specialist committee for all matters related to the European Union. The Committee has an umbrella responsibility, distributing the issues among the relevant Specialist Committees. The Committee may then request Opinions from the individual Specialist Committees on which it bases reports to the Government. These reports, whether based on other Committee opinions or not, may lead to the presentation of resolutions to the plenary. The European Affairs Committee is the only Committee with such a power.

Parliament in particular assesses the structural funds and the Cohesion Fund in the light of national programmes in which the use of those funds is envisaged.

The Committee for European Affairs:

a) Evaluates subjects of interest to Portugal within the framework of the European institutions or of inter-governmental cooperation, in particular the activities of the Government with reference to those affairs;

b) Encourages greater participation by Parliament in the activities undertaken by the European institutions;

c) Stimulates exchanges between Parliament and the European Parliament;

d) Appoints the Portuguese representatives to COSAC

Spain

Spain's bicameral parliament has a single Joint European Affairs Committee of 32 members (based on proportional representation) with some alternates and a series of sub-committees. The Committee scrutinises and ranks proposed laws, and makes reports to the plenary and the government. Joint meetings are held with Spanish MEPs. There is currently a sub-committee on the 2004 IGC.

Sweden

Political System

The Swedish Parliament, the Riksdag, is unicameral.

EU Committees

The Advisory Committee on EU Affairs of the Riksdag (EU-Nämden) was established in 1995. It has 17 permanent members and 30 substitutes. The Advisory Committee on EU Affairs reflects the parties' strength in the Riksdag. The Committee meets weekly throughout the year, except in August.

Role of EU Committee

The primary role of the Advisory Committee on European Affairs is to provide a politically binding mandate for the Government's EU (and WTO) policies.

The Committee may consider all proposals for legislative acts from the European Commission, regardless of subject within five weeks of formal circulation by the Council. The Swedish Government must seek a mandate for matters falling under the second and third pillar using the same guidelines as for Pillar I issues.

The Swedish Prime Minister will report, in person, to the Advisory Committee before participating in European Councils and Intergovernmental Conferences. During the final negotiations at the Intergovernmental Conferences there are normally telephone conferences between the Advisory Committee and the Minister of Foreign Affairs or the Prime Minister's closest associates. MEPs are not normally allowed to participate in meetings of the Committee but may be invited for consultation.

Conclusion

Finland, Sweden and Denmark all have similar systems for scrutinising their Governments' European policy, sometimes referred to as the Nordic Model. The Nordic Parliaments all mandate their Governments to conduct negotiations in the Council, reflecting a consensual style of policy making. The European Committees will also report, and in the case of the Danish Parliament organise public events, on Commission Green and White Papers.

All three Parliaments give high priority to openness and transparency. 95% of documents dealt with by the Committees are made public on their websites. Both the Swedish and Danish Parliaments operate EU Information Centres, the task of which are to provide neutral information to the general public. The Finnish Eduskunta/Riksdag operates a similar service through its external information centre.

The Netherlands

Political system

Holland has a bicameral parliamentary system. The Tweede Kamer (second chamber) is the equivalent of the House of Commons. The Eerste Kamer (first chamber) is the equivalent of the House of Lords.

Composition

The 75 members of the Eerste Kamer are part-time politicians who have other professional positions and responsibilities. They are appointed for their policy expertise by a body that consists of directly elected representatives of each of the 12 Dutch provinces. The Eerste Kamer assures the quality of legislation by double-checking proposals in detail.

Legislative powers

The Eerste Kamer can only accept or reject legislation. In fact the threat of it rejecting proposed legislation leads to it having practical influence. Since 1945 there have only been a handful of proposals that have been rejected by the Eerste Kamer. Members of the Eerste Kamer can submit written questions to the Government.

EU Committees

Both chambers have an EU Committee. In the Tweede Kamer, membership of the Committee reflects the political weighting of the second chamber. The Tweede Kamer EU Committee broadly functions under the same terms as the Commons EU Committee, though in a more ad hoc manner. The Committee in the Eerste Kamer conducts general work on EU affairs, and refers particular issues to specialised committees. It plays a particular role in transposition.





 
previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002