The Lisbon amendment of the Founding Treaties for the first time brought about basic Treaty provisions defining on the European level the role of the national Parliaments, including inter-parliamentary cooperation.
Article 12 of the Treaty on the EU
National Parliaments contribute actively to the good functioning of the Union:
- through being informed by the institutions of the Union and having draft legislative acts of the Union forwarded to them in accordance with the Protocol on the role of national Parliaments in the European Union;
- by seeing to it that the principle of subsidiarity is respected in accordance with the procedures provided for in the Protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality;
- by taking part, within the framework of the area of freedom, security and justice, in the evaluation mechanisms for the implementation of the Union policies in that area, in accordance with Article 70 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, and through being involved in the political monitoring of Europol and the evaluation of Eurojust’s activities in accordance with Articles 88 and 85 of that Treaty;
- by taking part in the revision procedures of the Treaties, in accordance with Article 48 of this Treaty;
- by being notified of applications for accession to the Union, in accordance with Article 49 of this Treaty;
- by taking part in the inter-parliamentary cooperation between national Parliaments and with the European Parliament, in accordance with the Protocol on the role of national Parliaments in the European Union.
Nevertheless, cooperation of the national Parliaments and the European Parliament had been developing even prior to the Lisbon Treaty entering into force, in connection with increasing involvement of the national Parliaments in European affairs. The aims and forms of inter-parliamentary cooperation are defined in the Guidelines for inter-parliamentary cooperation on the European Union. According to the Guidelines, among those aims are promotion of the exchange of information and best practices with a view to reinforcing parliamentary control, influence and scrutiny at all levels, ensuring of effective exercise of parliamentary competences in EU matters, in particular in the area of monitoring the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, and promotion of cooperation with Parliaments from third countries.
Forms of inter-parliamentary cooperation
There are several levels of inter-parliamentary cooperation. The highest one is the Conference of Speakers of EU Parliaments associating Speakers of the Parliaments of the Member States of the EU and the European Parliament. The Conference meets once a year. Preparation of the meeting of Speakers and drafting of the agenda is the purpose of the meeting of the Secretaries General of the Parliaments which regularly takes place several weeks before the Speakers’ meeting.
Conference of Parliamentary Committees on European Union Affairs, COSAC, is a platform of committees of the national Parliaments dealing with European affairs and of the European Parliament. COSAC met for the first time in May 1989 on the proposal of the President of the French Assemblée Nationale, L. Fabius, in reaction to concerns of the national Parliaments that they had been losing contact with EU policies since the introduction of direct election to the European Parliament in 1979. COSAC was formally recognized by the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997. COSAC meets twice a year, under the auspices of the Parliament of the Member State holding the EU Presidency. Several months before the ordinary meeting, preparatory meeting of chairpersons of the committees on EU affairs and the European Parliament takes place. According to the Protocol on the Role of the National Parliaments in the EU, attached to the Founding Treaties as amended by the Lisbon Treaty, COSAC shall “… promote the exchange of information and best practice between national Parliaments and the European Parliament, including their special committees. It may also organise interparliamentary conferences on specific topics…”
Since the accession of the Czech Republic to the EU, the Senate regularly takes part at COSAC meetings. From 1998 until the accession, it participated at the COSAC meetings as an observer.
Besides regular meetings of the two above mentioned Conferences, there are meetings of specialized parliamentary committees organized on topics falling within their respective agendas. Inter-parliamentary meetings of specialized committees are usually organized either by the Parliament of the country holding the EU Presidency or by the European Parliament.
More general topics of common interest are discussed at Joint Parliamentary Meetings or Joint Committee Meetings. Both formats are organized in cooperation by the Parliament of the country holding the rotating EU Presidency and by the European Parliament. First Joint Parliamentary Meeting (JPM) took place in 2005 on the initiative of the Austrian EU Presidency with the aim of bringing the discussion on the future of the EU to the parliamentary level. Currently, the trend is a spring and an autumn JPM held to discuss topical issues of European integration.
Joint Committee Meetings are committee-level meetings organized by the European Parliament in cooperation with the Parliament of the Member State holding the EU Presidency to discuss the development of the EU integration in a particular field.
Contacts among the national Parliaments and the European Parliament are also fostered through visits of Members of the European Parliament to national Parliaments or of delegations of national Parliaments to the European Parliament.
Administrative and Technical Support
On the administrative level, the inter-parliamentary cooperation is supported by representatives of the national Parliaments based in the European Parliament in Brussels and by the so-called liaison officers, i.e. contact persons in the Member States.
What are the tasks of the representatives of the national Parliaments in Brussels? Although they differ in individual national Parliaments and chambers, they generally involve facilitation of exchange of information from/to Brussels, communication of the opinions of the respective chambers/Parliaments to the European institutions and maintaining contacts with officials in the European institutions, national permanent representations to the EU and the Members of the European Parliament. Furthermore, representatives of the national Parliaments are involved in organization of visits of politicians and officials to Brussels. With the exception of Malta, all of 40 chambers/parliaments have a representative in Brussels.
Inter-parliamentary cooperation is not only about contacts but also about sharing of information, most often in electronic form. Interparliamentary EU Information Exchange, IPEX, has been launched as a project of inter-parliamentary exchange of information on the recommendation of the Conference of Speakers of EU Parliaments held in Rome in 2000. IPEX contains, among other, all opinions of the national Parliaments on draft legislative acts or communication documents of the European Commission debated within the framework of preliminary scrutiny of the EU legislative process. In particular, IPEX is designed to
- facilitate inter-parliamentary exchange of information regarding the EU;
- provide a platform for exchange of opinions concerning parliamentary scrutiny of European legislative process including aspects of the subsidiarity principle;
- provide up-to-date information on inter-parliamentary meetings.