Tuesday, 17 February 2009

European Parliament: Committee of Inquiry

What can EU law teach us about the powers of the European Parliament to investigate alleged contraventions or maladministration of European Community (European Union) law?

We look at the current treaty provisions, the Treaty of Lisbon, detailed provisions, internal EP rules and a few examples of inquiries.



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Current treaty

Article 193 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC) foresees that an extraordinary Committee of Inquiry in relation to the implementation of Community law, to investigate:

· contraventions or
· maladministration.

The Committee of Inquiry is temporary. One quarter of the MEPs must request the setting up of the Committee, but the decision is taken by the plenary.

If the matter is being examined before a court, no Committee shall be set up during the proceedings, but otherwise the provision is without prejudice to other investigations and actions.


The text of Article 193 TEC is from the latest consolidated version of the treaties, OJEU 29.12.2006 C 321 E/133:


Article 193 TEC

In the course of its duties, the European Parliament may, at the request of a quarter of its Members, set up a temporary Committee of Inquiry to investigate, without prejudice to the powers conferred by this Treaty on other institutions or bodies, alleged contraventions or maladministration in the implementation of Community law, except where the alleged facts are being examined before a court and while the case is still subject to legal proceedings.

The temporary Committee of Inquiry shall cease to exist on the submission of its report.

The detailed provisions governing the exercise of the right of inquiry shall be determined by common accord of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission.


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Original Lisbon Treaty

Article 2, point 182 of the original Treaty of Lisbon amended Article 193 TEC (OJEU 17.12.2007 C 306/102):


182) Article 193 shall be amended as follows:

(a) in the first paragraph, the words ‘of its Members’ shall be replaced by ‘of its component Members’;

(b) the third paragraph shall be replaced by the following:

‘The detailed provisions governing the exercise of the right of inquiry shall be determined by the European Parliament, acting by means of regulations on its own initiative in accordance with a special legislative procedure, after obtaining the consent of the Council and the Commission.’.


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Consolidated Lisbon Treaty

In the consolidated (readable) Lisbon Treaty the provision appears renumbered as Article 226 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, TFEU (OJEU 9.5.2008 C 115/150):


Article 226 TFEU
(ex Article 193 TEC)

In the course of its duties, the European Parliament may, at the request of a quarter of its component Members, set up a temporary Committee of Inquiry to investigate, without prejudice to the powers conferred by the Treaties on other institutions or bodies, alleged contraventions or maladministration in the implementation of Union law, except where the alleged facts are being examined before a court and while the case is still subject to legal proceedings.

The temporary Committee of Inquiry shall cease to exist on the submission of its report.

The detailed provisions governing the exercise of the right of inquiry shall be determined by the European Parliament, acting by means of regulations on its own initiative in accordance with a special legislative procedure, after obtaining the consent of the Council and the Commission.


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Comment

The addition of the word ‘component’ to the quarter of members needed for a request makes life easier for the reader, without changing the substance. In theory, this would mean 188 MEPs under the Lisbon Treaty, if it enters into force and if the actual number of members at some point tallies with the 751 intended by Article 14(2) TEU.

The decision to set up the Committee of Inquiry is still taken by majority vote.

The material scope of the provision encompasses the implementation of EU law. The greater part of the EU budget is spent in the member states, where most of the implementation of Union law takes place.

Rephrasing the third paragraph makes it into one of the few instances where a special legislative procedure emanates from the European Parliament (not the Council), but since the consent of the Council and the Commission is still needed, there is little change in practice.


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Detailed provisions on Committees of Inquiry

Annex VIII of the European Parliament’s Rules of Procedure reproduces the text of Decision of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission of 19 April 1995 on the detailed provisions governing the exercise of the European Parliament's right of inquiry (OJ 19.5.1995 L 113/2).




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EP Rules of Procedure

Rule 176 of the European Parliament’s Rules of Procedure (16th edition, October 2008) provides detailed internal provisions on Committees of inquiry:


Rule 176 Committees of inquiry

1. Parliament may, at the request of one-quarter of its component Members, set up a committee of inquiry to investigate alleged contraventions of Community law or alleged maladministration in the application of Community law which would appear to be the act of an institution or body of the European Communities, of a public administrative body of a Member State, or of persons empowered by Community law to implement that law.

The decision to set up a committee of inquiry shall be published in the Official Journal of the European Union within one month. In addition, Parliament shall take all the necessary steps to make this decision as widely known as possible.

2. The modus operandi of a committee of inquiry shall be governed by the provisions of these Rules relating to committees, save as otherwise specifically provided for in this Rule and in the Decision of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission of 19 April 1995 on the detailed provisions governing the exercise of the European Parliament's right of inquiry which is annexed to these Rules.

3. The request to set up a committee of inquiry must specify precisely the subject of the inquiry and include a detailed statement of the grounds for it. Parliament, on a proposal from the Conference of Presidents, shall decide whether to set up a committee and, if it decides to do so, on its composition, in accordance with the provisions of Rule 177.

4. A committee of inquiry shall conclude its work with the submission of a report within not more than twelve months. Parliament may twice decide to extend this period by three months.

Only full members or, in their absence, permanent substitutes may vote in a committee of inquiry.

5. A committee of inquiry shall elect its chair and two vice-chairs and appoint one or more rapporteurs. The committee may also assign responsibilities, duties or specific tasks to its members who must subsequently report to the committee in detail thereon.

In the interval between one meeting and another, the bureau of the committee shall, in cases of urgency or need, exercise the committee's powers, subject to ratification at the next meeting.

6. When a committee of inquiry considers that one of its rights has been infringed, it shall propose that the President take appropriate measures.

7. A committee of inquiry may contact the institutions or persons referred to in Article 3 of the Decision referred to in paragraph 2 with a view to holding a hearing or obtaining documents.

Travel and accommodation expenses of members and officials of Community institutions and bodies shall be borne by the latter. Travel and accommodation expenses of other persons who appear before a committee of inquiry shall be reimbursed by the European Parliament in accordance with the rules governing hearings of experts.

Persons called to give evidence before a committee of inquiry may claim the rights they would enjoy if acting as a witness before a tribunal in their country of origin. They must be informed of these rights before they make a statement to the committee.

With regard to the languages used, a committee of inquiry shall apply the provisions
of Rule 138. However, the bureau of the committee:

- may restrict interpretation to the official languages of those who are to take part in the deliberations, if it deems this necessary for reasons of confidentiality,

- shall decide about translation of the documents received in such a way as to ensure that the committee can carry out its deliberations efficiently and rapidly and that the necessary secrecy and confidentiality are respected.

8. The chair of a committee of inquiry shall, together with the bureau, ensure that the secrecy or confidentiality of deliberations are respected and shall give members due notice to this effect.

The chair shall also explicitly refer to the provisions of Article 2(2) of the Decision referred to above. Annex VII(A) of the Rules of Procedure shall apply.

9. Secret or confidential documents which have been forwarded shall be examined using technical measures to ensure that only the members responsible for the case have personal access to them. The members in question shall give a solemn undertaking not to allow any other person access to secret or confidential information, in accordance with this Rule, and to use such information exclusively for the purposes of drawing up their report for the committee of inquiry. Meetings shall be held on premises equipped in such a way as to make it impossible for any non-authorised persons to listen to the proceedings.

10. After completion of its work a committee of inquiry shall submit to Parliament a report on the results of its work, containing minority opinions if appropriate in accordance with the conditions laid down in Rule 48. The report shall be published.

At the request of the committee of inquiry Parliament shall hold a debate on the report at the part-session following its submission.

The committee may also submit to Parliament a draft recommendation addressed to institutions or bodies of the European Communities or the Member States.

11. The President shall instruct the committee responsible pursuant to Annex VI to monitor the action taken on the results of the work of the committee of inquiry and, if appropriate, to report thereon, and shall take any further steps which are deemed appropriate to ensure that the conclusions of the inquiry are acted upon in practice.


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The Rules of Procedure add the following explanations to Rule 176:


Only the proposal from the Conference of Presidents concerning the composition of a committee of inquiry (paragraph 3) is open to amendments, in accordance with Rule 177(2).

The subject of the inquiry as defined by one-quarter of Parliament's component Members (paragraph 3) and the period laid down in paragraph 4 are not open to amendments.


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Examples of Committees of Inquiry


Under the existing Decision (inter-institutional agreement) the following procedures can be mentioned. The interested readers can follow the procedures after the decisions setting up the Committees of inquiry:


A temporary committee of inquiry to investigate alleged contraventions or maladministration under the Community transit system [of goods under customs supervision], OJ 12.1.1996 C 7/1.
EP file to follow INI/1995/2321



European Parliament Decision of 17 July 1996 setting up a temporary commitee of inquiry to investigate alleged contraventions or maladministration in the implementation of Community law in relation to BSE, without prejudice to the jurisdiction of the national and Community courts, Official Journal 17.8.1996 C 239/1; plus follow-up committee.


Decision 2006/469/EC of the European Parliament of 18 January 2006 on setting up a Committee of Inquiry into the crisis of the Equitable Life Assurance Society, OJ 7.7.2006 L 186/58.
EP file INI/2006/2199

European Parliament decision setting up a temporary committee on the alleged use of European
countries by the CIA for the transportation and illegal detention of prisoners, based on P6_TA(2006)0012, published OJ 24.11.2006 C 287 E/159.
EP file 2006/2027(INI)


Ralf Grahn