Saturday, 11 September 2010

“State of the Union”: Draft Framework Agreement on relations between the European Parliament and the Commission

Despite saying so, the draft report for the Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) on the revision of the framework agreement on relations between the European Parliament and the Commission [5.8.2010; 2010/2118(ACI)] did not contain an annex with the agreement, nor did the draft reports by Paolo Rangel clarify the supposedly new “State of the Union” address.

In order to find the legal base for the “State of the Union” debate and to fill the gaps in my knowledge, I decided to search the register of the Council of the European Union. Luckily, I found what I was looking for:

Council document 12717/10: Draft Framework Agreement on relations between the European Parliament and the Commission - Reply to the letter of 30 June 2010 of the President of the Coreper

When we search the document, we actually find the “State of the Union” address and debate. Their position is far from prominent: We have to go Annex 4 – Timetable for the Commission Work Programme, which starts on page 24 of the Council document (and page 22/23 of the draft agreement).

On the same page, in point 5, we find the relevant text:

Each year in the first part-session of September, a State of the Union debate will be held in which the President of the Commission shall deliver an address, taking stock of the current year and looking ahead to future priorities for the following years. To this effect, the President will in parallel set out in writing to the Parliament the main elements guiding the preparation of the Work Programme for the following year.

After continued exchanges (point 6), the Commission adopts its Work Programme for the following year in October (point 7) and the European Parliament may hold a debate and adopt a resolution in December (point 8).

I am happy, if the European Parliament and the European Commission further develop an orderly, harmonious and forward-looking relationship.

However, the advance information from the Commission gave the public (on Barroso’s website and in his letter to the MEPs) the distinct impression that the “State of the Union” address was based on the (new) framework agreement, but as we have seen, this agreement has not been approved by the EP plenary, nor has it entered into force.

In my humble view, the “State of the Union” address and debate constitute institutional innovations of a highly symbolic nature, not to be buried into an obscure provision of an annex to an agreement.

In addition, the AFCO Committee failed to mention this novelty in either of its draft reports, and it neglected to annex it to its report, despite the contrary wording.

Thus, the EC and the EP have failed to act transparently.

Luckily, as I pointed out in the previous blog post, the members of the AFCO Committee still have the possibility to table amendments to the Rangel reports before the final versions are voted on. Excluding the “State of the Union” would protect the image of the EP and the EC.

Outside help

In an earlier blog post on the “State of the Union” debate, I asked for help to find relevant legal and political decisions.

I am grateful for valuable comments, which strengthen my belief in collaboration and quick corrections in the online world.

The Twitter pseudonym @Elena2020 offered links to two state of the Union speeches by Romano Prodi, which punctured the impression of a first ever and led to a corrective blog entry.

An Anonymous commenter supplied a reference to the Council document and a succinct description of the decision-making process. Even if I had found the document by then, and located the provision, this confirmed the view I had formed.

Yesterday, after the Strasbourg session week, the EP spokesperson Jaume Duch Guillot sent me a useful parallel text of the current and future framework agreement, which clarified matters further (Wikipedia).

I want to thank them for their kind assistance and contributions.

Council reservations?

This is more like a footnote to the “State of the Union” saga:

The third party in the “institutional triangle”, namely the Council, seems to have (had) some reservations about the deal between the other two. Thus, on the heavy agenda of the Committee of the Permanent Representatives (Coreper, Part 2) for 9 September 2010 (document 13257/1/10) was the following point:

44. Draft framework agreement on relations between the European Parliament and the Commission
− Legal Service opinion 12964/10 JUR 348 INST 302

We can surmise that the Council’s Legal Service has either been asked to draft an opinion, or done so on its own initiative, but the contents are not public.


Today’s two blog posts add some information, but confirm our earlier view: The “State of the Union” is in fact the mislabelled state of the Commission’s Work Programme for 2011.

Ralf Grahn