Friday, 6 March 2009

European Parliament: Questions for oral answer

Parliamentary questions give elective representatives opportunities to profile themselves and issues outside the legislative treadmill.

UK Prime Minister’s Question Time has probably set the trend in Europe, including the European Parliament, to find ways of more direct interaction between parliaments and governments.

The structure of the European Union is more complicated, but in this blog post we look at the rules concerning oral questions by the EP or MEPs to the Commission.




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Current treaty

Article 197 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC) contains bare bones provisions on two areas concerning the European Parliament:

a) internal organisation, and
b) relations with the Commission and the Council.

The third paragraph of Article 197 TEC concerns oral and written questions to the Commission.

The text is from the latest consolidated version of the treaties, published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) 29.12.2006 C 321 E/134:


Article 197 TEC

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The Commission shall reply orally or in writing to questions put to it by the European Parliament or by its Members.

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Original Lisbon Treaty (ToL)

Article 2, point 185 of the original Treaty of Lisbon did not affect Article 197 TEC with regard to questions by the European Parliament or its members to the Commission (OJEU 17.12.2007 C 306/102).



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Consolidated Lisbon Treaty


Article 197 (ToL) was renumbered Article 230 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) in the consolidated Lisbon Treaty, with the questions to the Commission in the second paragraph (OJEU 9.5.2008/151):


Article 230 TFEU
(ex Article 197, second, third and fourth paragraph, TEC)

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The Commission shall reply orally or in writing to questions put to it by the European Parliament or by its Members.

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Admissibility of questions

Among the powers of the President of the European Parliament is to rule on the admissibility of questions to the Council and the Commission, according to Rule 19(2) of the Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament (16th edition, October 2008).


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Questions for oral answer

Attentive readers may have noticed my deliberately sloppy language above, calling the questions oral and written.

As we see from Rule 108 the questions are submitted to the EP President in writing. Hence ‘Questions for oral answer with debate’.

Submission is reserved for committees, political groups or at least forty MEPs.

The Conference of Presidents decides if a question is placed on the agenda and in what order.

Questions have to be communicated to the Commission one week in advance.

The oral part of the proceedings commence at the sitting where the question is aired and answered (paragraph 4).

Rule 103(2) to (5) refers to winding up the debate with a resolution (paragraph 5).


Rule 108 Questions for oral answer with debate

1. Questions may be put to the Council or the Commission by a committee, a political group or at least forty Members with a request that they be placed on the agenda of Parliament.

Such questions shall be submitted in writing to the President who shall immediately refer them to the Conference of Presidents.

The Conference of Presidents shall decide whether and in what order questions should be placed on the agenda. Questions not placed on Parliament's agenda within three months of being submitted shall lapse.

2. Questions to the Commission must be referred to that institution at least one week before the sitting on whose agenda they are to appear and questions to the Council at least three weeks before that date.

3. Where the questions concern matters referred to in Articles 17 and 34 of the EU Treaty, the time limit provided for in paragraph 2 of this Rule shall not apply, and the Council must reply with sufficient promptness to keep Parliament properly informed.

4. One of the questioners may move the question for five minutes. One member of the institution concerned shall answer.

[Official explanation: The author of the question is entitled to use the whole period of speaking time mentioned.]

5. Rule 103(2) to (5) shall apply mutatis mutandis.


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Eur-Lex

In principle, you can search on Eur-Lex for Parliamentary questions, but when I tested I got the improbable result that no such questions had been posed during the time span 2008 to 2009. A number of other search options yielded results of a similar nature.

But if you want to try your luck, go to:

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/RECH_questions_parlementaires.do



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EP website

You may be luckier if you try the European Parliament’s web page Parliamentary questions:

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/QP-WEB/home.jsp?language=en


The so called oral questions are found here:

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/QP-WEB/application/home.do?SELECT_TAB=qo_param


For the year 2009 there were 46 oral questions listed under Rule 108:

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sidesSearch/sipadeMapUrl.do?PROG=OQ&L=EN&SORT_ORDER=D&REF_OQ=O-2009-*&F_REF_OQ=O-*/2009



Ralf Grahn