Question Time and Questions for oral answer with debate may be more “media sexy”, but Questions for written answer offer individual members of the European Parliament more freedom to query the Commission or the Council.
The number of “written questions” is high, but with patience you may find valuable nuggets of information about interesting details not readily available elsewhere.
“The Commission shall reply orally or in writing to questions put to it by the European Parliament or by its Members.”
This is the text of the third paragraph of Article 197 of the current Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC), published in the consolidated version of the treaties OJEU 29.12.2006 C 321 E/134.
Its substance would not be affected by Article 2, point 185 of the original Treaty of Lisbon (OJEU 17.12.2007 C 306/102).
Article 197 (ToL) appears renumbered as Article 230 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) in the consolidated Lisbon Treaty, with the same wording of the second paragraph (OJEU 9.5.2008/151).
EP Rules of Procedure
Naturally, more detailed rules are needed to complement or implement treaty provisions. The general resource concerning procedures in the European Parliament is the Rules of Procedure (16th edition, October 2008).
Rule 110 concerns questions for written answer to the Council or the Commission. Each member can table one priority question each month, to be answered within three weeks. Non-priority questions should be answered within six weeks, but the Rule does not limit their number. The questions and answers are published:
Rule 110 Questions for written answer to the Council or the Commission
1. Any Member may put questions for written answer to the Council or the Commission in accordance with guidelines laid down in an annex to these Rules of Procedure. The content of questions shall be the sole responsibility of their authors.
2. Questions shall be submitted in writing to the President who shall forward them to the institution concerned. Doubts concerning the admissibility of a question shall be settled by the President. His decision shall be notified to the questioner.
3. If a question cannot be answered within the time limit set it shall, at the request of the author, be placed on the agenda of the next meeting of the committee responsible. Rule 109 shall apply mutatis mutandis.
4. Questions which require an immediate answer but not detailed research (priority questions) shall be answered within three weeks of being forwarded to the institution concerned. Each Member may table one priority question each month.
Other questions (non-priority questions) shall be answered within six weeks of being forwarded to the institution concerned.
Members shall indicate which type of question they are submitting. The final decision shall be taken by the President.
5. Questions and answers shall be published in the Official Journal of the European Union.
Guidelines: Annex IIa
More detailed rules are laid down in Annex IIa. While Rule 110 concerns questions to the Council or the Commission, the reference to Rule 111 is with regard to questions to the European Central Bank.
The guidelines set fairly basic norms for the relevance and language of an admissible question, if need be with advice on drafting. In addition, the guidelines try to avoid burdening the Commission and the Council with repetitive answers to essentially the same question or when the information is readily available. The Commission or Council can bundle answers on related matters:
ANNEX II a Guidelines for questions for written answer under Rules 110 and 111
1. Questions for written answer shall:
- fall within the competence and sphere of responsibility of the institution concerned and be of general interest;
- be concise and contain an understandable interrogation;
- not contain offensive language;
- not relate to strictly personal matters.
2. [In effect after the 2009 European elections] If a question does not comply with these guidelines, the Secretariat shall provide the author with advice on how the question may be drafted in order to be admissible.
3. [In effect after the 2009 European elections] If an identical or similar question has been put and answered during the preceding six months, the Secretariat shall transmit a copy of the previous question and answer to the author. The renewed question shall not be forwarded to the institution concerned unless the author invokes new significant developments or is seeking further information.
4. If a question seeks factual or statistical information that is already available to Parliament's library, the latter shall inform the Member, who may withdraw the question.
5. Questions concerning related matters may be answered together.
Just as questions for oral answers with debate become “oral questions” in everyday parlance, questions for written answer turn into “written questions” colloquially. In other words, search for “Answers to written question(s)” if you want to know more.
But the search and search options did not feel especially intuitive, so try the European Parliament’s web page Parliamentary questions:
A cottage industry opens up. The latest written question this year was numbered P-1583/09 and we are little more than two months into 2009 (an election year).
You can access the most recent questions or all the questions for the year. The headlines give an indication of what the questions are about.
You can find the most recent questions with answer, which might give you valuable information about a certain topic. Because of the number of questions and topics you might want to try the search option on the page.