Monday 6 September 2010

Help me find legal and political decisions concerning EU “State of the Union” debate

The European Commission’s agenda from 6 September to 3 October 2010 tells us:

During his second mandate, the President has agreed with the European Parliament to give a yearly address on the State of the Union. This has been incorporated into the Framework Agreement that has been agreed with the European Parliament. President Barroso will give an assessment of where the Union stands and outline the political challenges for the next 12 months.

I looked for the framework agreement between the European Commission and the European Parliament, annexed to the European Parliament’s Rules of Procedure (July 2010): Annex XIV, from page 177 (including its annexes).

Even if there are many commendable provisions on how the Commission shall keep the European Parliament informed, I failed to find an annual address on the “State of the Union” or a speech resembling that scheduled for September.

The newsletter from the European Parliament on the 6-9 September 2010 Strasbourg plenary session offers us the following information about the State of the Union debate with President Barroso:

Commission President José Manuel Barroso will give his first-ever State of the Union address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday. The ensuing debate will enable MEPs to review with Mr Barroso the developments in the European Union since the EP elections of June 2009 and the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in December 2009.

The Legislative Observatory Oeil adds the following referral regarding the procedure: EP 110-p2. Let us quote the first two paragraphs of Rule 110:

Rule 110 Statements by the Commission, Council and European Council

1. Members of the Commission, the Council and the European Council may at any time ask the President of Parliament for permission to make a statement. The President of the European Council shall make a statement after each of its meetings. The President of Parliament shall decide when the statement may be made and whether it is to be followed by a full debate or by 30 minutes of brief and concise questions from Members.

2. When placing a statement with debate on its agenda, Parliament shall decide whether or not to wind up the debate with a resolution. It shall not do so if a report on the same matter is scheduled for the same or the next part-session, unless the President, for exceptional reasons, proposes otherwise. If Parliament decides to wind up a debate with a resolution, a committee, a political group or at least 40 Members may table a motion for a resolution.

If Barroso’s “statement” has morphed into a “State of the Union” debate, does this mean that all other members of the Commission, the Council and the European Council can, from now on, use the same epithet for their statements to the EP plenary?

How about the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, whose duty it is to make a statement after each meeting of the European Council?

Since I must have missed some pertinent points, could the European Commission or the European Parliament, please give me more accurate information about the legal and political decisions concerning this major institutional novelty, the State of the Union address?

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Comments relevant to the topic discussed in each Grahnlaw blog post are most welcome. However, the number of spam comments has skyrocketed. This is the sad reason for comment moderation, so it may take a while before your valued comment appears.

It is easier to understand a language than to use it correctly. As Eurobloggers we could and should promote interaction among Europeans across borders and between linguistic communities. Grahnlaw has adopted a multilingual comment policy:

I do my best to read comments in Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish or Swedish, even if the Grahnlaw blog and my possible replies are in English.


  1. I wonder why you don't have any Slavic language in your portfolio :-)

  2. Hmmmm...

    Interesting. And I do take your point about how they came to this situation vis the speech itself.

    My focus is currently on the way in which the daft fine was decided upon and how it could be implemented.

    You are right by the way that he needs to produce a Lincoln, Churchill, Cato style address even toi come close to the hype.

  3. citizen of Europe,

    Despite the Smiley, your question is pertinent.

    Language learning reflects my personal history and interests during decades, and the history, politics and culture of Western Europe, the Western World, felt more interesting during the times when East and Central Europe were open mainly for official state level contacts.

    With the fall of the Berlin Wall and EU enlargement in 2004 and 2007 I became conscious of my lack of skills regarding languages in Central and Eastern Europe, but felt overwhelmed by their number.

    Geographically closest to me among EU countries is Estonia, but Estonian is not a Slavic language. I try to read it at times, but do not understand Estonian well enough to list it on the blog.

    The only Slavic language I have tried to learn, on and off, is Russian, but I am still stuck below reading comprehension.

    Nowadays, when the borders are open and with Russia neighbouring Finland, I should really make the necessary effort to be able to read and listen.

  4. Gawain,

    I did not pronounce anything definite on the offered basis for the "State of the Union" address, but had to admit that I came up short.

    However, I have been promised the "missing link" from the EP, so the jury (= I) is still out on that one.

    The fine was probably decided or at least agreed by the Conference of Presidents.

    I have not taken a closer look, but my impression is that absent MEPs are not entitled to their per diems, and that this sanction may have been used in situations resembling the Barroso speech, but possibly this time the intended use goes one step further than before.

    I don't think that my efforts are needed, since the European Parliament is full of expert officials and staffers who can research the details, as well as a (great) number of MEPs up in arms.

    Politically and PR-wise the decision on the "fine" was a disaster for the EP presidency (and Barroso's speech).

    Paradoxically, this is probably the first time in history when the general public (the ones who care to follow EU and EP affairs) takes sides FOR the MEPs' "gravy train".

    A unique achievement, I would say.

  5. As for the "fine", Italian journalist Marco Zatterin argues on his blog ( that the idea of fining MEPs not attending the State of the Union address came from Schulz and the Greens (another journalist @jogillette told me on twitter that she heard the idea came in fact from Cohn-Bendit).



    P.S. What about Prodi's State of the Union Speech in 2003? Just came to my mind today!

  6. @Elena2020,

    After being keelhauled by their political groups, media, bloggers etc., many of the members of the Conference of Presidents were apparently keen to distance themselves from the original decision to discipline the EP and "fine" the absent MEPs.

    Your information about a Prodi "State of the Union" address was new to me, or I had forgot. Interesting.

  7. Another Prodi's State of the Union speech dated back to 2001 (I have to check if it was a consuetude, then!)

    @Elena 2020

  8. Elena2020,

    You make a fair point that Prodi used the same title, even if you seem to be the only one to remember.

    Still, when the "State of the Union" address is launched now, as a novelty, each of us has to assess it against a) the comaparison with the USA and b) the institutional setup of the EU.

    Paradoxically, I want to see the European Union as a parliamentary democracy, with a politically accountable government (executive), but I don't see it as a correct procedure for the Commission and the EP to usurp the powers of the European Council and Council, even symbolically as in this case.

  9. The draft EP-Commission fraemwork agreement can be found here:

    (The one annexed to the EP's current rules of procedure is the 2005 one.)

    The immortal words "state of the union" appear in annex 4, point 5.

    The EP has not yet formally approved this text, nor corresponding amendments to its rules of procedure. It's currently before the AFCO committee and should be voted in plenary before December.

  10. Anonymous,

    Thank you for taking the trouble. I searched for more information yesterday evening and found Barroso's letter to the MEPs, the two EP (AFCO) draft reports and the Council document on the revised draft agreement you referred to, including the annex with the words.

    The information about Romano Prodi's references to annual state of the Union debates made me think that I would still have to (re)check the existing EC-EP agreement (or even earlier) to compare with the revised agreement. Lack of time made me postpone the matter.

    At least formally, the revised agreement is not yet in force.

    By the way, the Commission and Parliament say that their agreement does not prejudice the position of the Council in any way, but the Council seems to harbour some reservations. It might be interesting to know.


Due deluge of spam comments no more comments are accepted.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.