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Vice-President of the European Commission
Cooperation between the European Commission and the European Parliament in the post-Lisbon era
European Policy Centre Policy Dialogue
Brussels, 3 May 2011
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to speak to you today, and I am particularly happy to share with you my thoughts on the institutional cooperation between the European Commission and the European Parliament.
As you will all be aware, the Lisbon Treaty has brought about major changes both in the institutional landscape and in terms of policy-making. In particular, the European Parliament has been further reinforced as a political, budgetary and a legislative actor.
These institutional changes, I would note, do not happen in a vacuum: rather they come at a time of severe economic crisis, a crisis which "stress tests" the European Union as never before.
And already since the entry into force, we have seen that Parliament has been keen to use its new powers in all areas, from the creation of the European External Action Service to SWIFT, from the free trade agreement with South Korea to negotiations on 2011 budget.
As time goes on, the enhanced role and increased powers of the European Parliament are being reflected in the policies, practices and tools of day-to-day cooperation which define its relations with the other institutions.
As the Commissioner responsible for inter-institutional relations, I live the "institutional triangle" from the inside. Let me therefore give you an overview of these relations, as seen from the Commission's perspective. I will talk about three points:
First, you may recall that President Barroso, as a major plank of his second mandate, launched a Special Partnership with the European Parliament. He called for this in his political guidelines of September 2009; he reiterated it in his mission letter which he sent to each and every member of the new College. He committed that under his mandate the College would take the Commission's "partnership with the European Parliament to a new level". [He urged all members of the College to invest time and political attention to ensure this happened, with a special emphasis on personal attendance at EP events; after all, presence at plenary and committee sessions is a central part of a Commissioner's responsibilities, and directly linked to the accountability and legitimacy of the Commission as a whole.]
This Special Partnership defines the spirit in which our College cooperates with Parliament; and it guides our inter-institutional actions. The concrete mechanisms are set out in a special instrument, the "Framework Agreement".
A Framework Agreement between Parliament and Commission is nothing new; it has been in place in one form or another since 2000. As soon as this Commission entered into office, I began negotiating a revision, primarily to adapt it to the Lisbon Treaty.
Overall, the Framework Agreement aims to achieve four things:
The Framework Agreement operationalises the new Special Partnership. There are a number of elements to this. For example, it includes enhancing the well-established practice of regular dialogue between Commissioners and their respective parliamentary committees. That includes areas which are now subject to co-decision, like trade, agriculture and justice and home affairs. In those areas there has had to be a significant cultural shift in the Commission, and I have striven to bring about that shift. And it also means the President and I talking directly with the Conference of Presidents of Political Groups and with the Conference of Committee Chairs.
Beyond that, some truly innovative practices are also introduced. There is the annual "State of the Union" address by the Commission President in the European Parliament. The Commission President holds a dedicated Question Hour in the plenary session; other Commissioners will do so soon. The EP President is to be regularly invited to meet the College of Commissioners itself. And, every year, the College will meet with the whole Conference of Committee Chairs, as part of preparation of the Commission's Work Programme. This new system of programming has already made a positive contribution to making legislative priorities converge between our two institutions.
Another important element of the Agreement is that the Commission commits to apply the basic principle of equal treatment for Parliament and the Council. In this context, and in the interests of transparency, the Commission has pledged to provide full information and documentation on its meetings with national experts when preparing or implementing legislation.
And as a final illustration of how the Framework Agreement has been adapted to the Lisbon Treaty, let me mention the rules governing international agreements. This was one of the most debated issues we had in the negotiations of the Framework Agreement, covering information to the EP about ongoing negotiations and access to international meetings. We had to make a careful balance here: the Treaties do not foresee any role for Parliament in negotiating international agreements; however, Parliament has to give its consent to such agreements and should be kept immediately and fully informed of ongoing negotiations. The dividing line is delicate, and discussions were long and difficult, but I believe that the result reflects the institutional balance intended by the Treaties.
My initial assessment is that, overall, the revised Framework Agreement offers a broad and robust basis for cooperation between Commission and Parliament after the Lisbon Treaty.
Of course it is still early days in implementing the Framework Agreement. Some of the mechanisms are not yet fully operational (for example Question Hour with Members of the Commission). While others have not yet reached cruising speed in terms of efficiency (for example parliamentary questions). There will be a first review next year to pick up any structural issues. And in any case, the agreement will remain a living tool, which will have to be taken forward in the institutional spirit of the Treaty and bearing in mind the most effective ways to serve the EU.
But, more generally, I am encouraged by the success of the model of the framework agreement. It is a model which I think could be adapted and used for some of the other interinstitutional challenges we face, including those which involve the Council.
Finally I'd like to give some broader context. Yes, we the Commission have a special and very crucial partnership with the European Parliament, and yes the Parliament is an institution which has gained significant new powers with the new Treaty. But these are not the only institutions.
First, it's clear that under the new Treaty the Council, the third apex of the institutional triangle, has an important role to play and is a crucial part of any discussion of post-Lisbon institutional relationships. For example, the EP and Council are currently "clearing the terrain" on a limited number of inter-institutional issues, namely access to confidential documents, international negotiations and correlation tables; we in the Commission follow these talks closely, and this is one area in which I hope that our own Framework Agreement could serve as an inspiration and perhaps a model.
Also, some innovative Treaty provisions can only be implemented by all three of the major EU Institutions together; for example, on delegated and implementing acts, where I'm confident that the 3 institutions will progressively establish some good practices on the interpretation of the criteria set out in the Treaty, in particular as regards the demarcation line between them.
Looking more broadly, beyond the purely institutional questions, it's clear we have a number of significant policy challenges ahead, including delivering the Europe 2020 programme to secure growth and jobs; economic governance to assure the stability of the euro; and a sound multiannual financial framework for the next years of EU spending.
Solving these will require the input of not just the institutional triangle – but also of the other institutions whose role is strengthened by Lisbon: namely the European Council and its President, national parliaments, the external action service, and indeed the citizen directly, for whom the European Citizen's Initiative creates a new tool for participatory democracy.
Perhaps we should start talking not of an institutional triangle, but an "institutional constellation". But whatever you call it, it's clear that the institutional framework is more complex and diverse now than before; and there is quite rightly a very particular balance of power set out in the Treaties between all the institutions and bodies. I remain convinced that we need to enrich our "toolbox" for inter-institutional cooperation to deliver the intentions of the Lisbon Treaty, including the increased powers of Parliament. Our effort with the Parliament should show the way forward towards more constructive, stronger and closer relations with all institutions, which in turn should add political legitimacy and public acceptability to our actions.
By doing this, we can make improvements for political dialogue and decision-making, for the benefit of the Union as a whole.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I believe that the European project is best achieved not when there is confrontation between all those different actors, but cooperation. And cooperation is in our "institutional" DNA. So we will continue to make cooperation the key to successful relations between all European institutions – and what we have achieved with the European Parliament can be seen as a real success story, which I hope can be extended to others.
Institutional relations is not a zero sum game. Power gained by one of its institutions does not come at the expense of others: rather, it is to the benefit of the whole Union.
We have a tough agenda ahead of us, and the citizen will, quite rightly, look to Europe to ensure a better future for all. The Commission and the European Parliament are the two Communitarian institutions 'par excellence': our relationship is at the core of the institutional constellation, and we must make full use of it if we are to achieve the Europe of tomorrow.
Thank you for your attention.