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The European Parliament

INTRODUCTION

Enlargement of the European Union into Eastern and Central Europe will entail changes in the workings of the European institutions. The present structure is that of an organisation set up for six Member States and although it has undergone adjustments to take account of the accession of new Member States, it is still working on the basis of the same institutional principles.

The Intergovernmental Conference which drew up the Treaty of Amsterdam was endeavouring both to confer greater democratic legitimacy on the European institutions and to improve the efficiency of the institutional framework in anticipation of enlargement. The wider role accorded to the European Parliament following the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam will allow the first of these objectives to be met. However, a further intergovernmental conference will be necessary to prepare the institutions for the accession of new member states. This is provided for in a protocol annexed to the Treaties.

The European Parliament now has a greater say in the European Union's decision-making process. The legislative procedures have been simplified and reduced in number. The new Treaty provides for the virtual abolition of the cooperation procedure and a substantial extension of the codecision procedure, thus giving the European Parliament equal legislative powers with the Council.

CODECISION PROCEDURE

Extension of codecision

The scope of the codecision procedure involving both Parliament and the Council, has been widened substantially. It is now the general rule both for matters where qualified-majority voting applies and for the new areas brought into the Treaty for the first time. The one exception is agriculture, where the Council decides by a qualified majority but needs only to consult Parliament. Codecision also applies to certain questions where the Council decides by unanimous vote. The cooperation procedure is required only for certain decisions relating to economic and monetary union.

To be precise, the codecision procedure has been extended to cover the following areas of the EC Treaty (the article numbers reflect the new numbering):

  • prohibition of any discrimination on grounds of nationality (Article 12);
  • right to move and reside freely within the territory of the European Union (Article 18(2));
  • social security for migrant workers (Article 42);
  • right of establishment for foreign nationals (Article 46(2));
  • arrangements for the professions (Article 47(2));
  • implementation of the common transport policy (Articles 71 and 80);
  • incentives for employment (Article 129);
  • certain provisions from the "Social Agreement" incorporated into the EC Treaty by the Treaty of Amsterdam;
  • customs cooperation (Article 135);
  • measures to combat social exclusion (Article 137(2));
  • equal opportunities and equal treatment (Article 141);
  • implementing decisions relating to the European Social Fund (Article 148);
  • vocational training (Article 150(4));
  • public health (Article 152);
  • certain provisions relating to trans-European networks (Article 156);
  • implementing decisions relating to the European Regional Development Fund (Article 162);
  • research (Article 172);
  • environment (Article 175(1));
  • development cooperation (Article 179);
  • transparency (Article 255);
  • measures to combat fraud (Article 280);
  • statistics (Article 285);
  • establishment of an advisory body on data protection (Article 286).

Simplification of the codecision procedure

The procedure introduced by the Maastricht Treaty involved up to three readings of legislative proposals in the Council if disagreement persisted between it and the European Parliament. If the Council and Parliament had not reached agreement after the second reading, the Council could reaffirm its common position at the third reading. The proposal was then adopted, unless Parliament rejected it by an absolute majority of its members. Since an absolute majority is difficult to obtain in the European Parliament, the Council's view tended to predominate in the legislative procedure.

The Treaty of Amsterdam has removed the possibility of a third reading in the Council, shortening the procedure. If the two institutions fail to reach a compromise, the proposal is rejected. So in terms of its legislative power, Parliament now stands on an equal footing with the Council, which will have to seek a compromise if it wishes the proposal to be adopted.

A Declaration adopted by the intergovernmental conference calls on the institutions concerned (Parliament, the Council and the Commission) to respect the deadlines set by Article 251 (ex Article 189b). The actual period between the second reading by Parliament and the outcome of the Conciliation Committee's deliberations must not exceed nine months.

FUTURE ORGANISATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT

The Treaty of Amsterdam limits the size of the European Parliament to 700 members. This figure is not to be exceeded even when the European Union is enlarged to include the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

The European Parliament will draw up proposals for elections by direct universal suffrage, in accordance with a uniform procedure in all Member States or in accordance with principles common to all Member States.

With the approval of the Council, and acting by unanimity after consulting the Commission, the European Parliament will lay down regulations governing the performance of its Members' duties.

Parliament's role in the procedure for appointing the members of the Commission has been strengthened through changes to the confirmation procedure introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht. Parliament first has to approve the Member States' choice for President of the Commission before confirming the other members of the Commission nominated by common accord of the Member States in consultation with the President.

A Protocol on the seats of the institutions will be annexed to the various Treaties, confirming the agreement reached at the Edinburgh European Council (December 1992) and stating that the European Parliament is to have its seat "in Strasbourg where the twelve periods of monthly plenary sessions, including the budget session, shall be held". Any additional plenary sessions are to be held in Brussels, as are the meetings of the various Parliamentary committees. "The General Secretariat of the European Parliament and its departments shall remain in Luxembourg."

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