Vice-President of the European Commission Responsible for Interinstitutional Relations and Administration
Committees of Inquiry: VP ŠEFČOVIČ welcomes EP initiative
EP Plenary Session, Martin report on Committees of Inquiry
Strasbourg, 23 May 2012
The Lisbon treaty included many innovations in favour of the European Parliament, one of which is Parliament's new right of initiative to set the ground rules for Committees of Inquiry. This clearly puts democracy in the driving seat and we should all applaud that.
It is now our joint responsibility to implement this new provision as soon as possible, in constructive cooperation between the three institutions, with common sense and in full respect of the letter and the spirit of article 226 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
There have been many other improvements in Parliamentary oversight since the last time Committee of Inquiry procedures were up for discussion in the early 1990s: the election of the Commission President and the hearings of individual Commissioners; the boost given to the budgetary control committee; the structured dialogue between individual Commissioners and their respective committees, provisions for the transmission of confidential documents from the Commission to the EP, and the involvement of the EP in negotiations of international agreements, to cite just a few.
The Commission has always defended the need for strong Parliamentary oversight, and I would like to emphasise very clearly that we will naturally collaborate insofar as we can with the implementation of article 226 TFEU;
I hope, of course, that we will not need to resort to the new Regulation which will come out of Mr Martin's report, or at least not any more than the pre-Lisbon Decision which it will replace. But that is for you to decide, on the basis of a vote of a quarter or more of the Members of this House.
Nearly a year ago we engaged in the first discussions on Mr Martin's draft report. I already then drew your Rapporteur's attention to some rather problematic elements of the initial draft, but only a few of our concerns were reflected in the outcome of the final vote in the Constitutional Affairs Committee. Likewise, the Hungarian and now the Danish Presidency have also expressed certain concerns, and I welcome your Rapporteur's openness to take some of these on board.
We welcome Parliament's readiness to seek a constructive solution, which is clearly reflected by the set of compromise amendments Mr Martin tabled in view of today's vote, and which try to accommodate some of the main concerns previously expressed by the Council and Commission;
But it is probably no secret that there are still some key elements to be discussed before the necessary consents of the Commission and the Council, foreseen by article 226 TFEU, can be given.
Let me mention some of the important elements for the Commission:
We believe that the scope of the future Regulation should remain identical to the current Decision. Indeed, as Article 226 states, the European Parliament may only set up Committees of Inquiry in the course of its duties and, pursuant to Article 13 TEU, it shall act within the limits conferred on it by the Treaties. The Commission explicitly welcomes your compromise amendments in this regard.
We should also not forget that changes in Article 226 TFEU concern only the procedure and the type of act, not the mandate of a Committee of Inquiry and that Committees of Inquiry are a fundamentally political rather than legal tool at Parliament's disposal for the exercise of political control; this is why I believe further discussions will be necessary also on the investigative tools proposed in the EP draft, which still appear rather excessive.
Last but not least, let me also mention article 17 of the draft Regulation, which concerns the hearing of officials and other servants of the EU and of Member States: Your compromise amendments address some of our key concerns as regards the issue of "freedom to testify" and we can accept the inclusion of a "comply or explain" procedure, but a certain perplexity sill remains on our side as regards the different treatment of national and EU officials that you propose, and which in our view, cannot objectively be justified
Against this background, the Commission welcomes your intention to vote today only on the report, including some additional amendments, but not on the legislative resolution. This gives the three institutions the chance to engage in constructive trilateral discussions, after the vote, so as to agree on a text on which the Council and Commission could easily give their consent according to article 226 TFEU, after Parliament has voted on the legislative resolution.
I look forward to working together with you and with the Council in order to achieve an early and successful conclusion on this important file.