It was mystifying: The European Commission informed the public that president José Manuel Barroso had agreed with the European Parliament to deliver a yearly “State of the Union” address, incorporated into the Framework Agreement between the institutions. However, I failed to find any such speech in the agreement annexed to the latest version of the European Parliament’s Rules of Procedure (July 2010; Annex XIV, Annex 2).
How could it be that an institutional innovation with high symbolic meaning was not where it was supposed to be?
Concluding that I must have missed something, I asked for help from readers and I decided to look for more information.
This search led me to two draft reports by Paolo Rangel for the EP Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO).
The first document concerns a draft revised framework agreement:
DRAFT REPORT on the revision of the framework agreement on relations between the European Parliament and the Commission; 5.8.2010; 2010/2118(ACI)
[ACI = Interinstitutional agreement procedure]
Even after renewed reading, I failed to find any explicit mention of the symbolically important and supposedly new “State of the Union” address. The agreement to be approved and “annexed to this decision” (point 11) was in fact not included.
The second draft report concerned changes to the EP’s Rules of Procedure, caused by the new agreement:
DRAFT REPORT on the adaptation of Parliament's Rules of Procedure to the revised framework agreement on relations between the European Parliament and the Commission; 12.8.2010; 2010/2127(REG)
[REG = Parliament’s Rules of Procedure]
As we see, these amendments are intended to enter into force on the first day after the entry into force of the revised framework agreement. No mention of a “State of the Union” address was found in this report either, including the proposed amendments to the Rules of Procedure.
The AFCO Committee had not voted on its final report. The final AFCO report had not been approved by the EP plenary. The revised framework agreement was not in force.
In addition, the Rangel draft reports are deficient. No mention of a major novelty, the “State of the Union” address. Despite the wording, the agreement to be approved is absent, so lack of transparency adds to the material flaw.
Based on these findings, the Commission’s information about the agreement with the European Parliament on the delivery of a yearly “State of the Union” address, incorporated into the Framework Agreement between the institutions, looks incomplete, not to say misleading.
In both cases, the members of the AFCO Committee have until 15 September 2010 to table amendments to the draft reports.
There are enough blog and other media reactions to show that the title “State of the Union” led to false expectations and detracted from the real purpose of the speech: to introduce the Commission’s Work Programme to the European Parliament, offering the EP an opportunity to add its views to the process.
All is not lost
Members of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO), you still have the opportunity to put this right. Table and agree on an amendment to exclude the “State of the Union” address from the revised framework agreement between the European Parliament and the Commission.
It would be a wise move to protect the image of your own institution, the European Parliament, and it would save the European Commission from its own foolishness.