Monday, 23 February 2009

European Parliament: Bureau ─ spider in the web

Whether you wonder at MEPs’ expenses or the funding debacle of Libertas, the spider in the web is the Bureau of the European Parliament.


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We have seen that the European Parliament elects its President and its officers among its members (Article 197 TEC; Article 14(4) TFEU in the consolidated Lisbon Treaty).

We have also seen that the English treaty text refers to the constituent parts (officers), whereas other language versions point to the Bureau.

After looking at the different offices ─ President, fourteen Vice-Presidents and five (now six) Quaestors ─ we turn to the internal ruling body of the European Parliament: the Bureau.




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Composition of the Bureau

Elected for two and a half years (Rule 16) the President and the fourteen Vice-Presidents automatically form the Bureau, with the Quaestors in an advisory capacity; Rule 21 of the European Parliament’s Rules of Procedure (16th edition, October 2008):


Rule 21 Composition of the Bureau

1. The Bureau shall consist of the President and the fourteen Vice-Presidents of Parliament.

2. The Quaestors shall be members of the Bureau in an advisory capacity.

3. Should voting in the Bureau result in a tie, the President shall have a casting vote.


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Duties of the Bureau

In the internal life of the European Parliament, the Bureau is the spider in the web. Finances, organisation, administration, members’ issues, personnel as well as funding for Europarties and their political foundations are either regulated or decided by the Bureau, as we see from Rule 22:


Rule 22 Duties of the Bureau

1. The Bureau shall carry out the duties assigned to it under the Rules of Procedure.

2. The Bureau shall take financial, organisational and administrative decisions on matters concerning Members and the internal organisation of Parliament, its Secretariat and its bodies.

3. The Bureau shall take decisions on matters relating to the conduct of sittings.

(Official explanation: The term 'conduct of sittings' includes the matter of the conduct of Members within all of Parliament's premises.)

4. The Bureau shall adopt the provisions referred to in Rule 31 concerning non-attached Members.

5. The Bureau shall decide the establishment plan of the Secretariat and lay down regulations relating to the administrative and financial situation of officials and other servants.

6. The Bureau shall draw up Parliament's preliminary draft estimates.

7. The Bureau shall adopt the guidelines for the Quaestors pursuant to Rule 25.

8. The Bureau shall be the authority responsible for authorising meetings of committees away from the usual places of work, hearings and study and fact-finding journeys by rapporteurs.

Where such meetings are authorised, the language arrangements shall be determined on the basis of the official languages used and requested by the members and substitutes of the committee concerned.

The same shall apply in the case of the delegations, except where the members and substitutes concerned agree otherwise.

9. The Bureau shall appoint the Secretary-General pursuant to Rule 197.

10. The Bureau shall lay down the implementing rules relating to European Parliament and Council Regulation (EC) No 2004/2003 on the regulations governing political parties at European level and the rules regarding their funding and shall, in implementing that Regulation, assume the tasks conferred upon it by these Rules of Procedure.

11. The President and/or the Bureau may entrust one or more members of the Bureau with general or specific tasks lying within the competence of the President and/or the Bureau. At the same time the ways and means of carrying them out shall be laid down.

12. When a new Parliament is elected, the outgoing Bureau shall remain in office until the first sitting of the new Parliament.


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Who are they?

Who are the ones responsible for the orderly and savoury conduct of EP affairs? Take the rules on MEPs’ expenses, the controls put in place, corrective measures and information to the public. The Bureau is the linchpin.


You can find the composition of the Bureau on the web pages of the European Parliament at:

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/members/expert/otherBodies/search.do?body=2370&language=EN



1.
PÖTTERING, Hans-Gert President
2.
KRATSA-TSAGAROPOULOU, Rodi Vice-President
3.
VIDAL-QUADRAS, Alejo Vice-President
4.
ONESTA, Gérard Vice-President
5.
McMILLAN-SCOTT, Edward Vice-President
6.
MAURO, Mario Vice-President
7.
MARTÍNEZ MARTÍNEZ, Miguel Angel Vice-President
8.
COCILOVO, Luigi Vice-President
9.
ROTHE, Mechtild Vice-President
10.
MORGANTINI, Luisa Vice-President
11.
ROURE, Martine Vice-President
12.
dos SANTOS, Manuel António Vice-President
13.
WALLIS, Diana Vice-President
14.
SIWIEC, Marek Vice-President
15.
BIELAN, Adam Vice-President
16.
NICHOLSON, James Quaestor
17.
LULLING, Astrid Quaestor
18.
DE VITS, Mia Quaestor
19.
FRIEDRICH, Ingo Quaestor
20.
FAZAKAS, Szabolcs Quaestor
21.
MULDER, Jan Quaestor


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Language arrangements

The Rules of Procedure mention a number of specific tasks for the Bureau. All documents of the European Parliament are drawn up in the official languages and the speeches of MEPs are interpreted simultaneously into the other official languages and other languages the Bureau may decide . Interpretation is provided in committees according to wishes of members. If committees or delegations meet outside the EP, the language arrangements can be more flexible, but in case of disagreement the decision is taken by the Bureau (Rule 138).

The Bureau recommends the abolishment or extension of provisional language arrangements (Article 139).


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Serious misconduct

The President rules on penalties for MEPs guilty of serious misconduct (Rule 147), but the member concerned can lodge an internal appeal to the Bureau (Rule 148).


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Funding of Europarties and their foundations

The 2009 EU budget for the European Parliament contains non-negligible funds for political parties at European level (10.9 million euros) and their foundations (7.0 million euros).

The main provisions have been laid down by Regulation (EC) No 2004/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 November 2003 on the regulations governing political parties at European level and the rules regarding their funding, originally published OJEU 15.11.2003 L 297/1, but amended by Regulation 1524/2007, so this is a link to the consolidated version (of 27 December 2007):

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CONSLEG:2003R2004:20071227:EN:PDF


More detailed rules were issued by the Decision of the Bureau of the European Parliament of 29 March 2004 laying down the procedures for implementing Regulation (EC) No 2004/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Regulations governing political parties at European level and the rules regarding their funding (OJEU 12.6.2004 C 155/1).
There is a second entry in the Official Journal OJEU 2008 C 252/1, but it was published in the C series, so it should not be an amending decision, only republication for informational purposes:

Decision of the Bureau of the European Parliament of 29 March 2004 laying down the procedures for implementing Regulation (EC) No 2004/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the regulations governing political parties at European level and the rules regarding their funding,
OJEU 3.10.2008 C 252/1.

Anyway, there are the hoops to jump through and the forms to fill out for the political parties and foundations concerned.

As we see, the Decision has been made by the Bureau.


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Deciding on funding for Europarties

After the provisions on the funding system and its implementation, the EP’s Rules of Procedure regulate the concrete decision making on funds to be distributed to the European level parties and their foundations:


Rule 199 Powers and responsibilities of the Bureau

1. The Bureau shall take a decision on any application for funding submitted by a political party at European level and on the distribution of appropriations amongst the beneficiary political parties. It shall draw up a list of the beneficiaries and of the amounts allocated.

2. The Bureau shall decide whether or not to suspend or reduce funding and to recover amounts which have been wrongly paid.

3. After the end of the budget year the Bureau shall approve the beneficiary political party’s final activity report and final financial statement.

4. Under the terms and conditions laid down in European Parliament and Council Regulation (EC) No 2004/2003 the Bureau may grant technical assistance to political parties at European level in accordance with their proposals. The Bureau may delegate specific types of decisions to grant technical assistance to the Secretary- General.

5. In all the cases set out in the above paragraphs the Bureau shall act on the basis of a proposal from the Secretary-General. Except in the cases set out in paragraphs 1 and 4 the Bureau shall, before taking a decision, hear the representatives of the political party concerned. The Bureau may at any time consult the Conference of Presidents.

6. Where Parliament - following verification - establishes that a political party at European level has ceased to observe the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, the Bureau shall decide that that political party shall be excluded from funding.


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Libertas controversy

As far as we know from statements to the media, the potential pan-European political party Libertas has fallen foul of these regulations, which its chairman Declan Ganley has interpreted as a conspiracy against Libertas.

In principle, Libertas’ application for status and funds has failed, if I understand correctly, but the Bureau has mandated the EP’s legal services to consider if Libertas should have fulfilled the requirements by the dead-line for the application (1 November 2008) or if irregular or defected “representatives” can be replaced by new ones, which Ganley has offered to do.


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Budget estimates

The Bureau draws up the preliminary draft estimates of the Euroepan Parliament on the basis of a report by the Secretary-General (Rule 73).


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Accountability and questions

We have seen that the Bureau has a crucial role in questions of utmost importance to the conduct of the MEPs and the handling of party funding. Therefore the openness, transparency and accountability of the Bureau towards the public are significant.

Rule 28 of the EP’s Rules of Procedure looks promising:


Rule 28 Accountability of the Bureau and the Conference of Presidents

1. The minutes of the Bureau and the Conference of Presidents shall be translated into the official languages, printed and distributed to all Members of Parliament and shall be accessible to the public, unless the Bureau or the Conference of Presidents exceptionally, for reasons of confidentiality, as laid down in Article 4(1) to (4) of European Parliament and Council Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001, decides otherwise with regard to certain items of the minutes.

2. Any Member may ask questions related to the work of the Bureau, the Conference of Presidents and the Quaestors. Such questions shall be submitted to the President in writing and published in the Bulletin of Parliament within thirty days of tabling, together with the answers given.


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Accessibility?

After navigating a fair number of pages on the European Parliament website, I am less certain if the European Parliament and I understand the same thing when we employ the term ‘accessible’.

By ‘accessible’ I mean information easily found, but I have failed to locate the decisions of the Bureau.

Based on earlier posts and this one I have come across a few areas, where I think that the European Parliament should step up its efforts to inform the public.

The European Parliament should post all the regulations concerning the European election procedures visibly (both permanently and on its election web pages).

The European Parliament’s decisions concerning MEPs’ allowances, control and the deliberate suppression of information including audit reports have been deplorable. The Bureau is the main responsible for the harm done to the EP’s reputation.

The Bureau’s minutes should be posted visbly on the EP’s web pages.

This includes decisions and documentation with regard to the Libertas funding controversy.



Ralf Grahn