The “institutional triangle” of the European Union ─ the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament ─ needs internal cooperation to function properly.
The treaties define the competences of the European Union (European Community) as a whole and assign the roles to the players, but much of their interaction is left unregulated at this level.
The institutions have therefore developed practices and concluded agreements to ensure functioning relations. Interinstitutional agreements are a means to this end.
These agreements are neither well indexed nor presented on the web pages of the institutions, but we aim to present a rough sketch on the basis of what we find on the basis of the Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament. This leaves certain interinstitutional agreements outside the scope of this blog post (at least in part: Council, budget procedures, comitology, subsidiarity, better regulation).
One of the annexes to the EP Rules of Procedure has direct bearing on the rights of EU citizens. We add some information about the current stage of the Commission’s controversial proposal regarding public access to documents.
EP Rules of Procedure: General rule
The Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament (16th edition, October 2008) illustrate the aims and the forms of so called interinstitutional agreements. The aim is to improve or clarify procedures. According to Rule 120 these interinstitutional agreements can appear in various forms. They are subject to scrutiny before approval by the European Parliament:
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.
Annexing interinstitutional agreements to the EP Rules of Procedure
As we saw in Rule 120, interinstitutional agreements may be annexed to the EP’s Rules of Procedure. Rule 204 gives further directions on the arrangement of annexes, with point (c) dedicated to interinstitutional agreements.
Rule 204 Arrangement of annexes
The annexes to these Rules of Procedure shall be arranged under the following three headings:
a) implementing provisions for procedures under these Rules, adopted by a majority of the votes cast (Annex VI);
b) provisions adopted in implementation of specific terms of the Rules of Procedure and in accordance with the procedures and majority rules laid down therein (Annexes I, II, III, IV, V, VII(A) and (C), IX and XV);
c) interinstitutional agreements or other provisions adopted pursuant to the Treaties which are applicable within Parliament or which have a bearing on its operation. Decisions to annex such provisions to the Rules of Procedure shall be taken by Parliament by a majority of the votes cast, on a proposal from its committee responsible (Annexes VII(B), VIII, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV and XVI).
Annexed interinstitutional agreements
The annexes mentioned in Rule 204(c) and in the Index of the EP Rules of Procedure give an indication of the subjects covered.
VII.B.Access by Parliament to sensitive information in the field of security and defence policy
Interinstitutional Agreement of 20 November 2002 between the European Parliament and the Council concerning access by the European Parliament to sensitive information of the Council in the field of security and defence policy (OJ 30.11.2002 C 298/1).
VII.C.Implementation of the Interinstitutional Agreement governing Parliament access to sensitive information in the sphere of security and defence policy
European Parliament decision of 23 October 2002 on the implementation of the Interinstitutional Agreement governing European Parliament access to sensitive Council information in the sphere of security and defence policy (OJ 30.11.2002 C 298/4).
Annex VIII Detailed provisions governing the exercise of the European Parliament's right of inquiry
Decision of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission of 19 April 1995 on the detailed provisions governing the exercise of the European Parliament's right of inquiry (OJ 19.5.1995 L 113/2).
Annex X Performance of the Ombudsman's duties
Annex X.A Decision of the European Parliament on the regulations and general conditions governing the performance of the Ombudsman's duties (adopted by Parliament on 9 March 1994, OJ 4.5.1994 L 113/15, and amended by its decisions of 14 March 2002, OJ 9.4.2002 L 92/13, and 18 June 2008, OJ 17.7.2008 L 189/25), and Annex X.B Decision of the European Ombudsman adopting implementing provisions (adopted on 8 July 2002 and amended by decision of the Ombudsman of 5 April 2004), are at least formally separate decisions, but the inquiries of the Ombudsman require cooperation from the EU institutions and bodies.
Annex XI OLAF
At least formally Annex XI contains a unilateral decision adopted on 18 November 1999 by the European Parliament, but it pertains to investigations by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF):
ANNEX XI Prevention of fraud, corruption and any illegal activity detrimental to the Communities' interests
European Parliament Decision concerning the terms and conditions for internal investigations in relation to the prevention of fraud, corruption and any illegal activity detrimental to the Communities' interests
Annex XII Comitology
The so called Comitology procedures are mainly played out between the Council (member states) and the Commission, but a complementary agreement between the European Parliament and the Commission provides that the EP is to be kept informed about the committee proceedings.
In a gracious bow to transparency the EU member states even allow the European Parliament to know ‘lists of the authorities to which the persons designated by the Member States to represent them belong’. [Wow!]
ANNEX XII Agreement between the European Parliament and the Commission on procedures for implementing Council Decision 1999/468/EC laying down the procedures for the exercise of implementing powers conferred on the Commission, as amended by Decision 2006/512/EC.
Annex XIII Framework agreement Commission
The relations with the Commission have been covered in a Framework Agreement (EP decision of 26 May 2005), with provisions on confidential information in Annex 1 and a timetable for the Commission’s legislative and work programme in Annex 2.
Annex XIII Framework Agreement on relations between the European Parliament and the Commission has the following scope:
1. The two Institutions agree on the following measures to strengthen the political responsibility and legitimacy of the Commission, extend constructive dialogue, improve the flow of information between the two Institutions and improve the coordination of procedures and planning.
They also agree on specific implementing measures for the forwarding of confidential Commission documents and information, as set out in Annex 1 and on the timetable for the Commission’s legislative and work programme, as set out in Annex 2.
Annex XIV is mentioned in Rule 204(c), but it has been deleted.
Annex XVI Public access to documents
The provisions on the public’s access to documents takes the form of a joint Regulation:
Annex XVI Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 on public access to documents
European Parliament and Council Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 of 30 May 2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents (OJ 31.5.2001 L 145/43).
This Regulation has direct bearing on the rights of EU citizens. Therefore there is reason to mention the Commission’s controversial proposal to amend the Regulation: Draft Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents (Brussels, 30.4.2008 COM(2008) 229 final).
On 19 February 2009 the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) has tabled a report A6-0077/2009, by rapporteur Michael Cashman.
The report proposes the approval of the proposal as adapted to the recommendations of the Consultative Working Party of the Legal Services of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission (and incorporating the technical amendments approved by the Committee on Legal Affairs), with amendments: