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National parliaments

INTRODUCTION

During the building of Europe, the powers of the EU 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 EU's decision-making process.

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.

The Treaty of Lisbon constitutes a fundamental stage in the European integration of national parliaments in that, for the first time, it devotes a whole Article to them. Article 12 of the Treaty on European Union brings together the provisions relating to national parliaments, which were dispersed across the Treaties. Their participation mainly takes two forms: a right to information and a right of opposition.

RIGHT TO INFORMATION

The following documents must be promptly forwarded to national parliaments:

  • white papers;
  • green papers;
  • communications;
  • annual legislative programme;
  • proposals for legislation.

In addition, national parliaments have a right to information specifically concerning the area of freedom, security and justice. They jointly implement the policies carried out in this field. The national parliaments also participate in assessing the activities of Eurojust and in monitoring the activities of Europol.

Furthermore, national parliaments are kept informed of requests for accession to the EU.

RIGHT OF OPPOSITION

The Protocol on applying the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality gives the national parliaments a right of opposition in legislative procedures. Thus, a third of national parliaments may request the review of a draft legislative text if they consider that the principle of subsidiarity has not been complied with. The Commission may then withdraw, amend or keep the draft legislation, stating reasons for its decision. If the Commission decides to keep the draft legislation even when it has been contested by a simple majority of national parliaments, as a last resort the European Council and the Parliament shall decide whether or not the procedure should continue. A posteriori, a national parliament may also contest a legislative act which it considers to be contrary to the principle of subsidiarity before the Court of Justice of the EU.

In addition, national parliaments have a right of opposition for decisions which relate to certain aspects of family law and have cross-border implications (Article 81 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU). Such a decision may only be adopted in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure if no national parliament opposes it.

Furthermore, the Treaty of Lisbon fully associates the national parliaments with the procedures for the revision of the Treaties:

  • under the ordinary procedure, representatives of the national parliaments participate in the Convention responsible for assessing draft revisions;
  • under the simplified revision procedure, the revision of the Treaties does not require the convening of a Convention. However, the entry into force of new provisions is dependent on their approval by each Member State in accordance with their respective constitutional rules and therefore requires the intervention of national parliaments;
  • under ‘passerelle clauses’: switching from the special legislative procedure to the ordinary legislative procedure, or from voting by unanimity to voting by qualified majority, cannot be undertaken without approval from the national parliaments.

THE CONFERENCE OF PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEES FOR EUROPEAN AFFAIRS (COSAC)

Since 1989, members of the national parliaments and the European Parliament have been meeting at six-monthly intervals within the Conference of Community and European Affairs Committees of Parliaments of the European Union (COSAC), essentially for the purpose of exchanging information.

The Treaty of Lisbon changes the name of COSAC, which is henceforth called the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for European Affairs. Its role is confirmed in the Protocol on the role of national parliaments in the Union. The Conference of Parliamentary Committees for European Affairs may 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.

This summary is for information only. It is not designed to interpret or replace the reference document, which remains the only binding legal text.

Last updated: 25.01.2010
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