Evaluation of the Questionnaire on “European Agenda” in National Parliaments

The questionnaire was distributed along with a covering letter by the Secretary General of the Senate before the accession of the Czech Republic to EU. The questionnaire was sent out to parliamentary chambers in the following countries: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Austria, Romania, Greece, Slovakia, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and Great Britain. Seventeen chambers answered our questions, i.e. approximately 55% of the total number of the approached institutions. The present evaluation takes into account only the answers in the questionnaire, not information available through other sources (e.g. literature, Internet etc.)

Question no. 1:

How many members does the European Affairs (or Integration) Committee of your chamber have ? What is its structure (subcommittees, membership of its members in other standing committees)? Are other bodies engaged in European affairs? Do the members of the European Parliament elected for your country take part in discussing the “European agenda” in your parliamentary chamber? If so, how ?

  • Austria: In the Nationalrat, the Main Committee deals with the matters regarding the EU membership. The same role plays the EU-Committee in the Bundesrat. The Main Committee consists of 28 full members who are appointed by the political group on a proportional basis. The Main Committee may set up a Standing Sub-committee consisting of 14 full members and 14 substitutes. Only the Main Committee may decide that a project or report on EU-matters should be considered by the Nationalrat. The EU-Committee of the Bundesrat consists of 15 members and 15 substitutes that are also members in other committees. The Austrian EP members may attend meetings of both chambers but may not vote.
  • Belgium: The Federal Advisory Committee on European Affairs has 30 members (10 members of the House of Representatives, 10 members of the Senate and 10 members of the European Parliament who are elected in Belgium). The Committee is not subdivided into subcommittees. The 10 MEPs are full members; they can participate in discussions and in voting procedures of the Advisory Committee just as the members of the national parliament. They do not have a right to participate in the plenary meetings of the Senate. (Although on two exceptional occasion the MEP who was a co-rapporteur for the advisory committee was granted the possibility to address the plenary). The Federal Advisory Committee has no exclusive competence to treat European matters. All other committees are involved in European Affairs when there is a link with their competencies.
  • Finland: The Grand Committee adopts, on behalf of Parliament, parliament’s positions on all proposed European acts that are decided by the EU Council and contain provisions that would have required an act of the Parliament if Finland were not a member of EU. Prior to adopting its position, it consults reports of appropriate departmental committees. Proposals relating to the 2nd pillar lie within the competence of the Foreign Affairs Committee. The Grand Committee has 25 members and 13 full-fledged substitute members who are simultaneously members of other committees (mostly chairpersons of other committees and sections). The chairpersons, two vice-chairpersons and one deputy of each section organise regular activities of the Committee. At present, there are two subcommittees: the subcommittee on the WTO and the subcommittee on the 3rd pillar; until recently there was also the subcommittee on Finnish views on the future of Europe.
  • France:
    • Senate: The delegation for the EU is a joint committee composed of 36 members; members of the European Parliament can participate in its activities as counsellors.
    • National Assembly: The delegation is a joint committee consisting of 36 members; members of the European Parliament are invited to participate in its sessions. Respective departmental committees supervise the Government’s activities pertaining to European agenda and can be asked to submit their position on proposals of European acts.
  • Germany:
    • Bundesrat: The European Affairs Committee consists of 16 members. The meetings are mostly attended by civil servants of the land governments, only in the case of sensitive political questions the Ministers attend the meetings. The Chairman of the Committee is nominated by the members of the Committee and subsequently elected by the plenary of the Bundesrat. Some members of the committee belong to other standing committees, subcommittees are not established. Other specialised committees are asked for their opinion of the documents in their jurisdiction. Members of the European Parliament do not take part in the committee’s discussions.
  • Great Britain:
    • House of Commons: The European Scrutiny Committee has 16 members, some of whom are also active in departmental select committees; the Committee does not appoint subcommittees. Departmental select committees, especially the Foreign Affairs Committee, sometimes examine some EU matters (2nd pillar). MEPs do not participate in any formal House of Commons proceedings.
    • House of Lords: The European Union Committee has 19 members and operates through six Sub-Committees. (economical and financial affairs, trade and external relations; energetics, industry and transport; common foreign and security policy; environment, agriculture, health care and consumer protection; law and institutions; social affairs, education and home affairs); other subcommittees may be established ad hoc. The House itself, however, often debates questions, motions and legislation on European matters. Members of the European Parliament cannot take part in proceedings but it is quite common for them to give evidence to the EU Committee.
  • Greece: The Committee on European Affairs has 31 members that can be simultaneously members of other committees. Its sessions may be attended by representatives of the European Parliament who can submit their reports, proposals etc. The other committees can discuss “European proposals“ within the scope of their respective authority.
  • Hungary: The Committee on European Integration Affairs has 26 members and it is not divided into subcommittees. Many of the members are chairpersons of integration subcommittees. The European Committee exercises parliamentary control over the Government in the EU matters. The Committee follows all aspects of enlargement process and preparation of Hungary for the EU membership. The Committee is entitled to hear the ministers and ambassadors prior to their appointment and acts as the Hungarian side of the JPC.
  • Luxembourg: The Committee on Foreign and European Affairs and Defence is a joint committee composed of 11 members; it is not divided into subcommittees. Before and after the European Council meetings the Committee receives reports from the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Some issues (including proposals of directives) are referred to other appropriate departmental committees. Members of the European Parliament are also invited to attend all the committee’s sessions dealing with European agenda.
  • The Netherlands:
    • House of Representatives: The Committee on European Affairs has 25 members and is responsible for informing about, co-ordinating and initiating the discussion of European issues to the plenary. The Committee meets once in two weeks, discusses information on the EU Council meetings delivered by respective ministers, legislative proposals submitted by the Commission etc. Large hearings of the Committee, or plenary sessions, are held on the occasion of the EU Council summit meetings.
  • Poland:
    • Sejm (Lower Chamber): The European Committee is the biggest committee in the Chamber. It is composed of 46 Representatives, which amounts to 10% of the entire number of the Representatives. The Committee has established a subcommittee that is to supervise the use of the subsidiary funds from EU.
  • Portugal: The Committee on European Affairs is a proportionately composed committee, has 26 members and consists of 2 subcommittees: the Subcommittee on Economic and Monetary Union and the Subcommittee on Economic and Social Cohesion (each composed of 8 members). Representatives of the European Parliament are invited to attend every session of the European Committee and those sessions of other committees that deal with, for instance, the Agenda 2000, the future of EU etc.
  • Slovakia: The Committee on European Integration consists of 19 members who are simultaneously members of other committees.
  • Spain: The Parliament has a joint Committee on European Affairs that is composed of 33 representatives and 21 senators. At present, it has two subcommittees (each consisting of 14 members) one charged with the EU enlargement process and the other working on the preparation for the 2004 Intergovernmental Conference. Other committees, with regard to their particular competence also discuss European affairs. Members of the European Parliament are not invited to attend sessions of these committees.
  • Sweden: The Government continuously informs the Parliament of developments within the framework of EU co-operation and on its positions on significant proposals. European affairs are also discussed at the plenary (it debates on outcomes of the EU Council summits), special committees (proposals of the Commission and governmental memoranda pertaining to their respective competence, negotiations with ministers before and after the EU Council meetings, the supervision of transposition) and the Advisory Board on EU Affairs. The Advisory Board is a joint body and is composed of 17 members and 30 substitute members. It convenes once a week in order to discuss the Government’s positions prior to the EU Council meetings. Contacts with members of the European Parliament are maintained within political parties and the MEPs are also invited to hearings organised by the Parliament.

Question no. 2:

If your country has a bicameral parliament, do the “European” committees of both chambers co-operate or is there a joint committee ?

Bicameral parliaments exist in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Great Britain. Joint committees operate in Belgium and Spain. In the remaining countries committees work independently of each other even though in France and Great Britain there exists a sort of implicit differentiation of labour between them. In Great Britain, for example, the Commons Committee scrutinises all EU documents, but not in great detail, whereas the Lords Committee selects a small number of documents for more detailed examination, staff members of both committees co-operate. In Austria, the committee members co-operate on parliamentary group basis; staff members of those so-called "Clubs" are responsible for informing their members in both chambers. In Germany, both committees conduct a frequent exchange of views and information, form time to time they meet jointly if there are politically important initiatives, sometimes they organise joint events, such as hearings etc.

Question no. 3:

Does the committee deal primarily with transposition of normative acts of the EU into the domestic legislation or does it have different tasks (in case of candidate countries e.g. to review the negotiation process, in case of member countries to discuss proposals of normative acts of the EU bodies, to review the position of the government in the EU Council etc.)? How often does the committee meet? Does the committee decide by itself or does it prepare decisions for the plenary? How do you guarantee knowledge of the European affairs for the other members of your chamber ?

  • Austria: The Main Committee meets in general once or twice a month, but the affairs; concerning the European Union are treated about four to six times a year. The Standing Sub-Committee of the Nationalrat meets also four to six times a year. The EU-Committee of the Bundesrat meets only on request, that is about three to five times a year. The Federal Government informs the Nationalrat and the Bundesrat on all projects of the European Union and invites them to take position on them. Positions of the Nationalrat are binding when the EU project is to be transformed into domestic law; departure from such a position is only permissible for compelling foreign policy or integration policy reasons. A position adopted by the Bundesrat is binding in all cases, in which the project must of necessity be transformed into domestic law by a Federal Constitutional Act which would require the approval of the Bundesrat.
  • Belgium: The transposition of European normative acts lies within the competence of respective committees. The Advisory Committee mainly co-ordinates the parliamentary supervision of European decision-making processes; reviews the implementation of adopted parliamentary measures on European affairs. It also delivers opinions on the process of revising establishing treaties. It organises hearings of the Government before and after the EU Council meetings. It informs the other committees about significant legislative proposals of the Commission, about the EU legislative programme, green and white books, the Ministerial Council agenda etc.; also analyses the Government’s annual reports on the implementation of establishing treaties etc. The joint committee meets three times per year; conclusions of its meetings are submitted to the plenary sessions of both chambers.
  • Finland: Transposition lies within the competence of special committees. The Grand Committee focuses on formulating its position on proposals of European normative acts and on ministerial hearings organised before regular meetings of the EU Council that confirms the governmental negotiating positions. The Grand Committee meets twice per week. The two appointed Committees take decisions on behalf of the Parliament; the plenary sessions may discuss issues, however, they may not make decisions.
  • France:
    • Senate: Transposition lies within the competence of departmental committees; the delegation examines proposals of European acts and directives and monitors the EU activity. The delegation convenes once per week at the time of parliamentary sessions. The delegation takes decisions by itself or initiates decisions of departmental committees or those of the Senate.
    • National Assembly: Transposition is in the competence of departmental committees. The EU delegation convenes once per week; deals with the proposals of European legislative acts and with written documents provided by the Government; organises ministerial hearings and hearings of the experts etc. If a parliamentary reservation is passed, the Government is obliged not to vote for the examined proposal in the EU Council until the examination is concluded. The Government annually supplies the delegation with 2.000 – 2.500 documents that are sorted by the delegation’s chairperson and his/her secretariat so that approx. 1.200 documents are eventually examined in greater detail.
  • Germany:
    • Bundesrat: The committee deliberates on EU’s draft positions affecting the legislative powers of the Laender and suggests recommendations for comments of the plenary. The plenary can either adopt a resolution or make amendments to them. The Federal Government is obliged to consider the resolution before establishing a negotiating position; where such an initiative affects the legislative powers of the Laender, the establishment of their authorities or their administrative procedures, the opinion of the Bundesrat is binding. The committee meets every three weeks. The committee secretariat looks through the documents and decides which documents have to be deliberated and passes them on to the Laender.
  • Great Britain:
    • House of Commons: The specialised Committee deals with all the proposals of EU legislative acts and with other documents, as well as with the activity of ministers in the EU Council; however, it is not active in the transposition process. The committee meets weekly. It gathers information on possible legal and political impact of discussed proposals and recommends which documents should be debated in detail.
    • House of Lords: The EU Committee reviews the whole integration process and all European legislative documents arising form the accession process are presented to it for examination (all three pillars - ca 1000 documents per year). After every European Council the Committee hears evidence from the Minister for Europe. The European Union Select Committee meets usually every fortnight and the Sub-Committees each meet usually once a week; all relevant subjects are considered. If the Committee starts to consider a proposal, the government may not vote for it in the European Council until the consideration has been finished. When the work of the Committee leads to a substantive report (about 25% of the documents) this will be published and made available (about 50% of them) for debate in the House. The Government is obliged to take a stand on the Committee report within two months.
  • Greece: The European Committee adopts recommendations on European legislative acts and consultative positions on EU institutional issues and submits them to the Parliament and to the Government. The Committee convenes twice per month.
  • Hungary: The European Committee focuses on the supervision of the Government on one side, and on the revision of the process of approximation of laws, on the other side. The Committee convenes once in three weeks and, in addition, each month it holds extended meetings attended by the chairperson of the integration subcommittee and by chairpersons of all European subcommittees, in which the minister of foreign affairs informs about the advancement of negotiations.
  • Luxembourg: The Committee on Foreign and European Affairs and Defence mostly deals with institutional issues (at present, for instance, with the future of Europe and the role of national parliaments in Europe), but with transposition as well. The Committee is now discussing effective ways of the parliamentary revision of proposals of European acts and directives. The Committee prepares decisions for the plenary.
  • The Netherlands:
    • House of Representatives: The European Committee concentrates on the examination of proposals of European normative acts and positions taken by individual departments. Advisors to the Committee elaborate additional reports evaluating the impact of proposals upon the national legislation and policy. Transposition of adopted proposals lies within the competence of departmental committees. In addition, the Committee pays considerable attention to amendments in establishing treaties and to their ratification.
  • Poland:
    • Sejm (Lower Chamber): The European Committee has just been recently established; it has taken over the tasks of the Committee on European Integration Affairs and the Committee on European Legislation, i.e. both the supervision of the negotiating process and the supervision of transposition of European legislation – if a particular proposal is referred to the Committee. It convenes once per week. All representatives may consult all the relevant governmental documents available from the President of the Sejm.
  • Portugal: European acts are transposed by the delegation in form of laws or decree-laws passed by the Government, or in the form of other measures taken by the Government; the European Committee does not play any role in this process. Departmental committees scrutinise proposals of acts and can even propose amendments to decree-laws that – provided that the amendments are adopted – become laws. The Parliament rather concentrates on the preparation of proposals of European normative acts than on their transposition – it is the European Committee that is charged with preliminary reviewing of acts. The committee scrutinises European models, elaborates reports for the Government (these also rely, besides other things, on positions taken by departmental committees) and proposals of resolutions for the plenary. The supervision of the Government consists of regular debates dealing with reports on European integration, hearings on the EU Council meetings, discussions on proposals of legislative acts and discussions on financial contributions to EU. The Committee convenes at least once per week; members of relevant departmental committees are invited to attend these sessions or at least their position is requested.
  • Slovakia: The Committee on European Integration Affairs reviews the implementation of the Association Agreement, the negotiating process and the approximation of laws, the use of subsidiary funds designed for the EU candidate countries; it meets approximately once per month.
  • Spain: The joint Committee discusses proposals of European normative acts and adopts resolutions to guide the action of the Government in EU matters; it convenes approximately once in two or three weeks. The Committee either makes decisions by itself or submits specific issues to the plenary to decide.

Question no. 4:

How do you provide the committee with administrative and professional background? How many staff members work for the committee? Does the committee co-operate with other bodies of the parliamentary chancellery, e.g. legislative department, special department on European Affairs, international relations department etc ?

  • Austria: The committee uses fourteen staff members responsible for all the affairs of the Bundesrat.
  • Belgium: The secretariat of the joint Committee consists of clerks delegated by both chambers. The Senate delegates two secretaries and one assistant to secretary who belong to the External Relations Department of the Senate.
  • Finland: The Grand Committee employs three legal counsellors, three administrative assistants, one assistant, one usher, one research officer and one public information officer. One counsellor and one assistant are based right in Brussels. The Grand Committee’s secretariat and the secretariat of the Foreign Affairs Committee form the EU Secretariat that takes care of both relations with the EU institutions in EU issues and relations with national parliaments. The EU Secretariat draws on the resources of other administrative bodies.
  • France:
    • Senate: The secretariat of the delegation is the Department for European Affairs that also looks after the activities of inter-parliamentary delegations and elaborates comparative surveys of legislative systems. The secretariat is composed of 6 clerks working on a permanent basis (one of them in Brussels) and two clerks appointed for a shorter period.
    • National Assembly: The EU delegation has 25 employees: Director of the secretariat, eleven counsellors specialised in individual areas, seven administrative clerks, four assistants and two ushers. The secretariat forms a part of the Department of International Relations and European Affairs; it mainly co-operates with the Department of Legislation.
  • Germany:
    • Bundesrat: A joint secretariat for the Committees on Foreign Affairs, Defence and European Affairs has been set up. It draws up the agenda for meetings, gathers and distributes documents and prepares recommendations for the statement of opinion. It has fifteen staff members.
  • Great Britain:
    • House of Commons: The Committee has fifteen members of staff, of whom three are shared with other committees: these include four advisors with expertise in particular areas, two legal counsellors, two administrative clerks etc. Each governmental department appoints a co-ordinator to collaborate with the Committee.
    • House of Lords: The Committee currently has 16 staff The Committee currently has 16 staff, comprising Legal Advisers, Clerks and Assistants. Three further posts, primarily Research Assistants, are shortly to be filled. The Committee and the Sub-Committees also employ Specialist Advisers on an ad-hoc basis. The Clerks and other staff work closely with their counterparts in Government, principally the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, correspond with the Ministries seeking clarification on matters arising from a particular European legislative proposal and get an Explanatory memorandum from the relevant Government department for each legislative proposal.
  • Greece: The secretariat is composed of four clerks from the Department of European Affairs, who closely co-operate with the Legislative Department and with other experts collaborating with the Parliament.
  • Hungary: The secretariat of the European Committee consists of three counsellors, two administrative workers and several trainees (students). In the area of international affairs, the secretariat co-operates with the Department of International Relations.
  • Luxembourg: The secretariat of the Committee, i.e. a secretary and her assistant, only performs tasks of administrative nature, in other activities the secretariat co-operates with the Department of International Relations. Due to the new agenda emerging in the European decision-making process, the secretariat is to be enlarged.
  • The Netherlands:
    • House of Representatives: The European Committee has a secretary and two counsellors for contact with individual departments. The counsellors co-operate with advisors from the other committees and with the Department of Legislation (preparation of amendments to proposals of European normative acts). Respective departmental bodies also discuss European agenda.
  • Poland:
    • Sejm (Lower Chamber): The EU department also works as the secretariat of the European Committee (its director is at the same time the secretary of the Committee) and provides specialised and organisational background for relations with EU (the Accession Committee, Conference of Parliamentary Chairmen etc.). The department is composed of nine clerks. In addition, the agenda in question is also scrutinised by the Department of European Legislation (consisting of six lawyers) of the Research Department that prepares legal positions. The Research Department (equivalent to the Parliamentary Institute) is in charge of translations and expertise. The Department of Legislation participates in discussing proposals of acts.
  • Portugal: The European Committee consists of a secretary and two counsellors; it makes use of expertise elaborated in the parliamentary library and also co-operates with the Department of International Relations.
  • Slovakia: The secretariat of the Committee consists of a secretary and an assistant to secretary. The Committee closely co-operates with the Parliamentary Institute, especially with the Department of Legislation and Approximation of Laws, the Department of Analyses and Education, the Parliamentary Library, as well as with the International Relations Department and Protocol.
  • Spain: The joint Committee has two legal counsellors and three administrative clerks who collaborate with the Department of European Studies, Department of Studies and Documentation, Library, Department of International Relations, Protocol etc.
  • Sweden: The secretariat of the Committee is composed of ten employees: Director, three secretaries, administrator, four assistants and a public information officer.

Presented by Mr. Pavel Pelant
the Secretary General of the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic