Friday, 20 February 2009

European Parliament session

The legislative term of the European Parliament is divided into annual sessions, part-sessions and sittings, but the internal autonomy of the EP does not extend to where it sits.


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Current treaty

Article 196 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC) in force offers us information about the sessions of the European Parliament. The annual session meets on the second Tuesday in March. Extraordinary sessions can be convened (latest consolidated version of the treaties, OJEU 29.12.2006 C 321 E/134):


Article 196 TEC

The European Parliament shall hold an annual session. It shall meet, without requiring to be convened, on the second Tuesday in March.

The European Parliament may meet in extraordinary session at the request of a majority of its Members or at the request of the Council or of the Commission.


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Original Lisbon Treaty

Article 2, point 184 of the original Treaty of Lisbon makes two small amendments to the wording of Article 196 TEC (OJEU 17.12.2007 C 306/102):


184) In the second paragraph of Article 196, the words ‘in extraordinary session’ shall be replaced by ‘in extraordinary part-session’ and the words ‘of its Members’ shall be replaced by ‘of its component members’.


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Consolidated Lisbon Treaty

When extraordinary part-session and component members have been inserted and the provision renumbered, the consolidated (readable) Lisbon Treaty version of Article 229 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) looks like this (OJEU 9.5.2008 C 115/151):


Article 229 TFEU
(ex Article 196 TEC)

The European Parliament shall hold an annual session. It shall meet, without requiring to be convened, on the second Tuesday in March.

The European Parliament may meet in extraordinary part-session at the request of a majority of its component Members or at the request of the Council or of the Commission.


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Comment

After the amendments Article 229 TFEU is identical with Article III-336 of the Constitutional Treaty. Component members does not alter the meaning, although it makes it clearer for the reader. Part-session takes into account that the annual session in practice lasts the whole year.

At the first glance a provision like this may look dull or even meaningless, but it is significant for the orderly conduct of parliamentary business and has connections with other provisions.


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EP Rules of Procedure

Internally the European Parliament has arranged for the conduct of business in its Rules of Procedure (16th edition, October 2008):


http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//NONSGML+RULES-EP+20081022+0+DOC+PDF+V0//EN&language=EN


Title VI Sessions starts with Chapter 1 Sessions of Parliament, comprising Rules 126 to 129:


TITLE VI SESSIONS

CHAPTER 1 SESSIONS OF PARLIAMENT


Rule 126 Parliamentary term, sessions, part-sessions, sittings

1. The parliamentary term shall run concurrently with the term of office of Members provided for in the Act of 20 September 1976.

2. The session shall be the annual period prescribed by the Act and the Treaties.

3. The part-session shall be the meeting of Parliament convened as a rule each month and subdivided into daily sittings.


(Explanation: Sittings of Parliament held on the same day shall be deemed to be a single sitting.)


Rule 127 Convening of Parliament

1. Parliament shall meet, without requiring to be convened, on the second Tuesday in March each year and shall itself determine the duration of adjournments of the session.

2. Parliament shall, moreover, meet without requiring to be convened on the first Tuesday after expiry of an interval of one month from the end of the period referred to in Article 10(1) of the Act of 20 September 1976.

3. The Conference of Presidents, stating its reasons, may alter the duration of adjournments decided pursuant to paragraph 1 at least two weeks before the date previously fixed by Parliament for resuming the session; the date of resumption shall not, however, be postponed for more than two weeks.

4. Exceptionally, after consulting the Conference of Presidents, the President shall convene Parliament at the request of a majority of its component Members or at the request of the Commission or the Council.

Exceptionally, with the approval of the Conference of Presidents, the President may convene Parliament in cases of urgency.


Rule 128 Venue of sittings and meetings

1. Parliament shall hold its sittings and its committee meetings in accordance with the provisions of the Treaties.

Proposals for additional part-sessions in Brussels and any amendments thereto will require only a majority of the votes cast.

2. Any committee may decide to ask that one or more meetings be held elsewhere. Its request, with the reasons therefor, shall be made to the President, who shall place it before the Bureau. If the matter is urgent, the President may take the decision himself. Should the request be rejected by the Bureau or the President the reasons for the rejection shall be stated.


Rule 129 Attendance of Members at sittings

1. An attendance register shall be laid open for signature by Members at each sitting.

2. The names of Members present, as shown in the attendance register, shall be recorded in the minutes of each sitting.


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Traveling circus

The so called traveling circus is impractical for the members of the European Parliament, costly for taxpayers and bewildering for EU citizens.

It has been imposed by the member states at treaty level through ─ in the consolidated Lisbon Treaty ─ Protocol (No 6) on the location of the seats of the institutions and of certain bodies, offices, agencies and departments of the European Union (OJEU 9.5.2008 C 115/265).

Point (a) of the Sole Article dictates twelve monthly (part-)sessions to be held in Strasbourg:


(a) The European Parliament shall have its seat in Strasbourg where the 12 periods of monthly plenary sessions, including the budget session, shall be held. The periods of additional plenary sessions shall be held in Brussels. The committees of the European Parliament shall meet in Brussels. The General Secretariat of the European Parliament and its departments shall remain in Luxembourg.


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Rational decision-making, the will of the MEPs or citizens’ initiatives do not count. As a treaty level provision Protocol No 6 can be changed only unanimously by the member states, one of which is France.

But a great victory for all those who extol the virtues of voluntary intergovernmental cooperation between free, independent and sovereign European states!

Outside the Strasbourg part-sessions the European Parliament convenes for so called mini-sessions in Brussels, where its committees meet and the Commission is located, as well as the Council.


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Immunity


In the consolidated Lisbon Treaty Protocol (No 7) on the privileges and immunities of the European Union means that the year long annual session of the European Parliament protects the immunity of MEPs, unless waived by the EP:

Article 9
(ex Article 10)

During the sessions of the European Parliament, its Members shall enjoy:

(a) in the territory of their own State, the immunities accorded to members of their parliament;

(b) in the territory of any other Member State, immunity from any measure of detention and from legal proceedings.

Immunity shall likewise apply to Members while they are travelling to and from the place of meeting of the European Parliament.

Immunity cannot be claimed when a Member is found in the act of committing an offence and shall not prevent the European Parliament from exercising its right to waive the immunity of one of its Members.


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Assessment of available information

Most of the information about the European Parliament seems to be available and fairly well ordered, but when the Rules of Procedure refer to the Act of 20 September 1976 (which leads to the amending 2002 decision) there are voids to fill.

Ahead of the European elections it is necessary for the European Parliament to upgrade the available, accessible and updated information about European electoral rules (however little there is to be proud of).



Ralf Grahn