Monday, 16 March 2009

European Parliament: Motion of censure (non-confidence)

The European Union has some of the trappings of a parliamentary system. The hurdle is high, but by a motion of censure the European Parliament can force the Commission to resign (and the EP plays a role in the process to appoint the President of the Commission and its members).


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Current treaty

Article 201 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC) regulates a motion of censure against the Commission (OJEU 29.12.2006 C 321 E/135):


Article 201 TEC

If a motion of censure on the activities of the Commission is tabled before it, the European Parliament shall not vote thereon until at least three days after the motion has been tabled and only by open vote.

If the motion of censure is carried by a two-thirds majority of the votes cast, representing a majority of the Members of the European Parliament, the Members of the Commission shall resign as a body. They shall continue to deal with current business until they are replaced in accordance with Article 214. In this case, the term of office of the Members of the Commission appointed to replace them shall expire on the date on which the term of office of the Members of the Commission obliged to resign as a body would have expired.


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Original Lisbon Treaty

Article 2, point 188 of the original Treaty of Lisbon amended Article 201 TEC (OJEU 17.12.2007 C 306/103):

188) In Article 201, the second paragraph shall be replaced by the following:

‘If the motion of censure is carried by a two-thirds majority of the votes cast, representing a majority of the component members of the European Parliament, the members of the Commission shall resign as a body and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shall resign from duties that he or she carries out in the Commission. They shall remain in office and continue to deal with current business until they are replaced in accordance with Article 9 D of the Treaty on European Union. In this case, the term of office of the members of the Commission appointed to replace them shall expire on the date on which the term of office of the members of the Commission obliged to resign as a body would have expired.’.


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Consolidated Lisbon Treaty


In the consolidated Lisbon Treaty the provision was renumbered Article 234 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), published OJEU 9.5.2008 C 115/152:


Article 234 TFEU
(ex Article 201 TEC)

If a motion of censure on the activities of the Commission is tabled before it, the European Parliament shall not vote thereon until at least three days after the motion has been tabled and only by open vote.

If the motion of censure is carried by a two-thirds majority of the votes cast, representing a majority of the component Members of the European Parliament, the members of the Commission shall resign as a body and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shall resign from duties that he or she carries out in the Commission. They shall remain in office and continue to deal with current business until they are replaced in accordance with Article 17 of the Treaty on European Union. In this case, the term of office of the members of the Commission appointed to replace them shall expire on the date on which the term of office of the members of the Commission obliged to resign as a body would have expired.


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Lisbon Treaty changes

The substantial change by the Lisbon Treaty concerns the “double-hatted” High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission, who loses his Commission hat if the Commission as a body is forced to resign. His tasks as (the Council’s) High Representative are not affected.


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EP Rules of Procedure


The procedure within the European Parliament is laid down in its Rules of Procedure (16th edition, October 2008):


Rule 100 Motion of censure on the Commission

1. A motion of censure on the Commission may be submitted to the President by one tenth of the component Members of Parliament.

2. The motion shall be called 'motion of censure' and supported by reasons. It shall be forwarded to the Commission.

3. The President shall announce to Members that a motion of censure has been tabled immediately after having received it.

4. The debate on censure shall not take place until at least twenty-four hours after the receipt of a motion of censure is announced to Members.

5. The vote on the motion shall be by roll call and shall not be taken until at least forty-eight hours after the beginning of the debate.

6. The debate and the vote shall take place, at the latest, during the partsession following the submission of the motion.

7. The motion of censure shall be adopted if it secures a two-thirds majority of the votes cast, representing a majority of the component Members of Parliament. The result of the vote shall be notified to the President of the Council and the President of the Commission.


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New Commission

If the motion of censure is carried, the Commission resigns but continues to deal with current business until replaced by a new Commission. The new Commission stays in office only for the rest of the original term of the old Commission.


The appointment takes place under the current Article 214 TEC, but according to the Lisbon Treaty the relevant provision would be Article 17 TEU.

First the President and then the President and the Commission as a body need the approval of the European Parliament. The Treaty of Lisbon would add the requirement for the European Council to take the results of the European elections into account when proposing the Commission President.



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Lack of confidence

The motion of censure concerns the Commission as a body, but through point 3 of the interinstitutional agreement between the European Parliament and the Commission the EP has extended its possibilities to express its lack of confidence in an individual member of the Commission (Annex XIII to the Rules of Procedure, Framework Agreement on relations between the European Parliament and the Commission; published officially OJEU 18.5.2006 C 117 E/123, with point 3 on page 126):



3. If Parliament decides to express lack of confidence in a Member of the Commission, the President of the Commission, having given serious consideration to that decision, shall either request that Member to resign, or explain his or her decisions to Parliament.



Ralf Grahn