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Since 1989 members of the national parliaments and the European Parliament have been meeting at six-monthly intervals within the Conference of European Affairs Committees (COSAC), essentially for the purpose of exchanging information.
When the Treaty of Maastricht came into force, the powers of the European institutions were extended to areas such as justice and home affairs, which had traditionally been national preserves. It was therefore important that the national parliaments should be kept informed, as fully and as rapidly as possible, so that they (and through them the citizens of the European Union) could be more closely involved in the Community's decision-making process and exercise better control over their country's representatives within the Council.
Given the diversity of their national traditions, the Member States recognised the need to lay down common principles on information for and contributions from the national parliaments. For this reason, a Protocol on the role of national parliaments has been annexed to the founding Treaties.
Parliamentary scrutiny of individual national governments depends on the constitutional practice followed by each Member State. It was considered important, however, to encourage greater involvement of national parliaments in the activities of the European Union and to enhance their ability to express their views on matters which might be of particular interest to them.
PROVISION OF INFORMATION TO THE NATIONAL PARLIAMENTS OF THE MEMBER STATES
The following documents must be promptly forwarded to national parliaments:
- white papers;
- green papers;
- proposals for legislation.
The procedure for adopting legislative acts or measures under Title VI of the EU Treaty (police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters) requires there to be at least six weeks between the date when the Commission sends its proposal to the European Parliament and the Council and the date when it is placed on the Council agenda. This gives national parliaments sufficient time to discuss the proposal, if necessary, with their respective governments.
THE CONFERENCE OF EUROPEAN AFFAIRS COMMITTEES (COSAC)
The new Protocol acknowledges the valuable role played by COSAC. The committee can send the EU institutions any contribution it thinks appropriate, especially concerning proposed acts which representatives of the national governments may jointly decide to forward to it in view of the subject matter involved.
Above all, COSAC can examine any legislative proposal concerning the area of freedom, security and justice that might have a direct bearing on the rights and freedoms of individuals. Its observations are forwarded to the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission.
COSAC can also address to the three institutions "any contribution which it deems appropriate on the legislative activities of the Union, notably in relation to the application of the principle of subsidiarity, the area of freedom, security and justice as well as questions regarding fundamental rights".
The national parliaments will thus be able to play a larger role in the decision-making process and contribute more to the drafting of EU legislation.