Wednesday 11 March 2009

European Parliament: Hearing the Council

The rotating EU Council Presidency still in force is crucial for how the European Union is represented externally and the Council internally, six months at a time. The Treaty of Lisbon would preserve the rotating Presidency generally, but give the European Council a more permanent President and the double-hatted High Representative/Vice-President would chair the Foreign Affairs Council.

Under the Treaty of Lisbon the European Council would become an official institution. This has been noted in the provision on hearing by the European Parliament, but we lack public information about how the member states intend to implement the Lisbon Treaty.

In this post we look at the rules on hearing the Council by the European Parliament.


Current treaty

The fourth paragraph of Article 197 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC) lays down the principle that the European Parliament can hear the Council (which has both legislative and executive powers):

“The Council shall be heard by the European Parliament in accordance with the conditions laid down by the Council in its Rules of Procedure.”


Lisbon Treaty

The corresponding provision of the Treaty of Lisbon is the third paragraph of Article 230 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). The Council and its Rules of Procedure remain as before. (The European Council and its Rules of Procedure are added.)

“The European Council and the Council shall be heard by the European Parliament in accordance with the conditions laid down in the Rules of Procedure of the European Council and those of the Council.”


Council’s Rules of Procedure

It is not for a “sovereign” European Parliament to dictate how the Council is to be heard, but for the Council to decide in its Rules of Procedure (based on various treaty provisions drafted by the representatives of the member states).

As in many other instances, working relationships require cooperation between the EU institutions.

Council Decision 2006/683/EC, Euratom of 15 September 2006 adopting the Council's Rules of Procedure was originally published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) 16.10.2006 L 285/47.

Each year the Council has to approve the population figures relevant for voting in the Council (Annex 3), and since there is a consolidated version of the Council’s Rules of Procedure (of 1 January 2009) it is the one we use:


Representation before the European Parliament

The general rule concerns the acting Council Presidency, the main responsible to be heard by the European Parliament or to delegate the tasks.

Usually the head of government (or state) of the Presidency member state presents its programme at the beginning of the six month turn in office and sums up its achievements at the end.

Article 26 of the Council’s Rules of Procedure assigns this task primarily to the acting Presidency, although there are other options, such as the following Presidency.

The role of the Secretary-General includes the task of High Representative, so keeping the European Parliament informed about CFSP and CSDP developments can be delegated to him (instead of the Foreign Minister of the country holding the Presidency).

At committee level Council officials can also be instructed to appear (instead of the relevant Ministers of the Presidency government). This includes the Deputy Secretary-General, practically unknown to the general public, but with the High Representative/Secretary-General more than occupied by foreign policy, one of the real powers within the EU:

Article 26
Representation before the European Parliament

The Council may be represented before the European Parliament or its committees by the Presidency or, with the latter's agreement, by the following Presidency or by the Secretary-General. The Council may also be represented before those committees by its Deputy Secretary- General or senior officials of the General Secretariat, acting on instructions from the Presidency.

The Council may also present its views to the European Parliament by means of a written statement.


Parliamentary questions and silence procedure

The number of questions for written answer (written questions) from members of the European Parliament is great. Preparing draft replies to them is largely routine work for the Council Secretariat, so facilitated procedures have been adopted to ease the work load of Coreper (the Committee of Permanent Representatives) and especially of the Council.

Article 12(2) of the Council’s Rules of Procedure mentions a simplified written procedure called “silence procedure”, applicable to (written) questions and some other matters. If none of the member states react within a time limit (normally three working days), the text is considered adopted:

2. On the initiative of the Presidency, the Council may act by means of a simplified written procedure called “silence procedure”:

(a) for the purpose of adopting the text of a reply to a written question or, as appropriate, to an oral question submitted to the Council by a Member of the European Parliament, after the draft reply has been examined by Coreper [the time limit is normally three working days];


(c) for the purpose of deciding to consult other institutions or bodies wherever such consultation is required by the Treaties;


In that case, the relevant text shall be deemed to be adopted at the end of the period laid down by the Presidency depending on the urgency of the matter, except where a member of the Council objects.

3. The General Secretariat shall establish that the written procedures have been completed.


Lisbon Treaty

With regard to hearing the Council Article 230 TFEU does not alter the text of Article 197 TEC. It only adds the European Council and its Rules of Procedure.

The procedures in the European Parliament are regulated in its Rules of Procedure, which the EP plans to amend (Corbett Report). In addition, Lisbon Treaty implementation and interinstitutional relations are dealt with in the Leinen, Brok and Dehaene reports, and they have been covered in a number of blog posts.

But the Council’s Rules of Procedure have to be adapted to the amending Treaty of Lisbon. I have found no public proposal concerning the needed changes.

Ralf Grahn

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