According to the second paragraph of Article 197 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC), Members of the Commission may attend all meetings and shall, at their request, be heard on behalf of the Commission.
Under the consolidated Treaty of Lisbon, the first paragraph of Article 230 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) would shorten this to: The Commission may attend all the meetings and shall, at its request, be heard.
In the Framework Agreement mentioned below, the Commission seeks to ensure that, as a general rule, Members of the Commission are present at plenary sittings for agenda items falling under their responsibility, whenever Parliament so requests.
According to the Rules of Procedure, the Commission (as the Council and the European Council) can ask the EP President for permission to make a statement:
Rule 103 Statements by the Commission, Council and European Council
1. Members of the Commission, Council and European Council may at any time ask the President for permission to make a statement. The President shall decide when the statement may be made and whether it is to be followed by a full debate or by thirty minutes of brief and concise questions from Members.
Rule 104 provides for information from the Commission about its latest decisions:
Rule 104 Statements explaining Commission decisions
After consulting the Conference of Presidents, the President may invite the President of the Commission, the Commissioner responsible for relations with the European Parliament or, by agreement, another Commissioner, to make a statement to Parliament after each meeting of the Commission, explaining the main decisions taken. The statement shall be followed by a debate of at least thirty minutes in which Members may put brief and concise questions.
Relations more broadly
The provisions on hearing in the Chamber cover only a part of the multi-faceted relations between the European Parliament and the Commission.
Therefore we take a broader view of the relations between these institutions and look at how some of them have been regulated in the Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament (16th edition, October 2008).
The “institutional triangle” ─ the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council ─ have developed complementary rules through so called interinstitutional agreements.
The EP’s Rules of Procedure offer the following general principles concerning these agreements:
CHAPTER 6 INTERINSTITUTIONAL AGREEMENTS
Rule 120 Interinstitutional agreements
1. Parliament may enter into agreements with other institutions in the context of the application of the Treaties or in order to improve or clarify procedures.
Such agreements may take the form of joint declarations, exchanges of letters or codes of conduct or other appropriate instruments. They shall be signed by the President after examination by the committee responsible for constitutional affairs and after approval by Parliament. They may be annexed to the Rules of Procedure for information.
2. Where such agreements imply the modification of existing procedural rights or obligations or establish new procedural rights or obligations for Members or bodies of Parliament, or otherwise imply modification or interpretation of the Rules of Procedure, the matter shall be referred to the committee responsible for examination in accordance with Rule 201(2) to (6) before the agreement is signed.
There are several interinstitutional agreements, but Annex XIII to the EP Rules of Procedure contains the Framework Agreement on relations between the European Parliament and the Commission, which aims to ensure that their powers and prerogatives are exercised as effectively as possible.
Here is a summary of matters covered.
The rules concern the political accountability of the Commission, information at every stage of legislative and budgetary processes, as well as on the Commission’s legislative and work programme. The Commission undertakes to inform the EP about action taken on the basis of requests by the European Parliament.
The Commission promises information about negotiations on international agreements from the preparatory stage onwards.
The Commission presents proposals for the European Union’s multiannual programming, with a view to achieving consensus on inter-institutional programming between the Institutions concerned.
As a general rule, the Member of the Commission responsible for an item under consideration in a parliamentary committee shall be present at the relevant committee meeting, when invited. Members of the Commission shall be heard at their request.
Annex 1 of Annex XIII concerns the forwarding of confidential information to the European Parliament and Annex 2 presents a timetable for the Commission legislative and work programme.