Advisory committee on European Affairs
INFORMAL MEETING OF THE CHAIRPERSONS OF THE PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEES ON EUROPEAN AFFAIRS IN THE EUROPEAN UNION
BRUSSELS, 6 JULY 1998
1.None of the participants at the informal consultation of 6 July 1998 is in any way mandated by his own parliament, parliamentary committee or government. They gathered due to an individual preparedness to work together of the members of parliament. All participants - coming together in a sort of ad hoc discussion committee - were convinced of the necessity for institutional reforms, in the spirit of the protocol provided by the Treaty of Amsterdam, that will be approved by the 15 parliaments. The participants are however of the opinion that the reform of the European institutions is very urgent and that it is most desirable to involve the parliaments of the 15 member states, so as to avoid a dangerous deficit of democracy and increasing distrust of the political process by public opinion.
2.Besides, according to the present European treaties, the national parliaments still maintain a large judicial authority concerning inter-governmental matters and therefore remain an essential link in the European decision-making process. In the case of community matters it is of the utmost importance that the national parliaments - together with the European Parliament - should put pressure on the European Council and the authorised European Councils of Ministers in order to urge the policy responsibilities to include reforms, with a view to more suitability for the purpose, partnership and democratic transparency within the EU. In addition to all this, there remains the beginnings of setting the trend towards subsidiarity, which implies that only the matters that exceptionally cannot be handled by the individual member states are raised to the European level.
3.The responsibilities of the parliaments have also to do with the lack of any other efficient alternative. Normally,
1)if the 15 parliaments take absolutely no initiative on the subject of institutional reforms of the EU, then these reforms will sooner or later be settled intergovernmentally, without any parliamentary involvement, by the Ministers in the European Councils.
2)if each of the 15 governments approves a separate resolution off their own bat and with differing concepts, positions and proposals, the Ministers in the European Councils, in consequent incoherence, will place these different positions next to one another with no follow-through.
3)the valuable and useful alternative is therefore to develop a maximal synergy between the 15 parliaments and the European Parliament. This partnership must lead to harmonised visions on institutional reforms, which does not necessarily mean that these visions will be linked together equally. The striving for harmony and convergence does not yet mean making everything uniform.
4.There is no danger that the initiative of our inter-parliamentary discussion committee will delay the approval of the Treaty of Amsterdam in the respective parliaments. In almost all parliaments it is being underlined that institutional reforms are necessary. The governments have also indicated Initiatives. Belgium, Italy and France have taken steps in this connection (the so-called BIF initiative) and under the Austrian chairmanship of the EU, informal and formal meetings will be devoted to this subject.
5.Finally, it must be emphasised that the informal inter-parliamentary discussion committee is no alternative to the more all-embracing operations of the COSAC. Our committee has a specific task (institutional reforms), which is limited in time.
6.The discussion held on 6 July 1998 in Brussels, has led to the following concrete proposal.
1.All participants of the discussions of 6 July are to receive a condensed report of the assembly as quickly as possible.
2.A message is being formulated, which following the advice of the participants, will be made known to the members of governments who will be participating in the informal discussions under Austrian chairmanship (24 and 25 October 1998). This message - with references to a number of initiatives - will contain an ‘appeal’ in which the governments will be called upon to take up their responsibilities.
3.An informal editorial committee - e.g. consisting of participants from the BIF countries, of the “troika countries” and of the European Parliament -will make an attempt to formulate ideas - possibly with alternatives - about a number of concrete institutional reforms.
These will take as their starting point the so-called Amsterdam Triangle i.e.
1)the extension of the qualified majority
2)the re-weighting of the votes in the European Council of Ministers and/or bringing in a double majority and finally
3)the composition of the European Commission. The suggestions will be provided in written form to all participants, so they can state their reactions. Also, if the positions taken do not appear to coincide, it is important for the governments to be aware of which positions are being developed in the 15 parliaments and where the margins are drawn in order to come to a consensus. The process will be carried out in writing as much as possible.
4.In a later phase, and insofar as our informal discussion committee displays solidarity and suitability for the purpose, it could be considered whether to deliberate and discuss more fundamental reforms, to do with for example:
-the common foreign and security policy
-the third pillar (police, justice, immigration)
-a possible evolution towards a European 2-chamber system
-the institutionalised partnership between the 15 parliaments and the synergy with the European Parliament.
-European integration on the basis of subsidiarity and its application.
The conclusions of chairman Mark Eyskens are approved by the meeting, which broke up at 4.30 pm. A new gathering will certainly be held in the Autumn.
Member of the House
Member of the Advisory Committee on
Former Prime Minister of Belgium
ROYAUME DE BELGIQUE
ASSEMBLEES LEGISLATIVES NATIONALES
Brussels, September 10th, 1998
Mister President and Dear Colleague,
Concerns:follow up of the informal meeting of the Presidents of the parliamentary committees on European affairs - Brussels, 6 July, 1998
During the meeting on July 6th, 1998 at the House of Representatives of Belgium, it was agreed that an “appeal” would be transmitted to the informal Council organised by the Austrian presidency on October 24th and 25th, 1998.
This special Summit on the future of Europe shall be devoted to the institutional aspects of the European Union.
Further to the informal meeting of July 6th, 1998, which I chaired, I have drawn up the enclosed draft appeal on the basis of the general reflexion note I sent to you on August 14th, 1998. It goes without saying that the Chairman of each committee on European affairs has the right to handle this document according to the internal provisions of his assembly.
In order to respect the autonomy of the parliamentary assemblies, we propose that they transmit this document, if they decide to do so, to the above mentioned Council via their own government.
Former Prime Minister
Member of the House of representatives
To the Presidents
of the Committees on European affairs
ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON EUROPEAN AFFAIRS
Appeal to the Heads of State and government from members of Parliaments of the EU member states and the European Parliament
The vital and urgent institutional reform of the European Union
Without an urgent and thorough institutional reform, the danger is real that the European decision making will come to a standstill at a time when European Union leaders are facing most important and complex challenges.
As the twentieth century draws to a close the European Union is facing a challenge that is without precedent and without equal: to bring all the states of Europe together in a European integration project. The countries of Europe are linked by commonly shared values of democracy, freedom, social justice and human rights, which are deeply engrained in their cultural histories and identities. The end of the Cold War brought about a favourable structural breakthrough in the otherwise tragic chapter of European history that this century will be known for. European unification, gradually extending to a Union of 25 to 30 member states, will bring with it a radical change to the concept, objectives, structures and operation of the original European Community, the foundations of which were laid fifty years ago after the Second World War.
Doubling the number of member states of the Union in the next few decades is an exceptional challenge that also includes risks regarding our ability to maintain a cohesive European integration project. However, history shows that risks have to be taken if opportunities are to be seized.
Nevertheless the risks must be calculated and the potential obstacles correctly assessed in order to overcome them. In so doing, one inescapable issue is brought to light: the reform of the EU institutions in the light of the coming enlargement in order to create more effectiveness, more democracy, and more involvement of the people.
The danger is very real that the entry of new member states without a thorough institutional reform will lead to a dilution of the Union, an erosion of the benefits of the community, increasing administrative complexity and inefficiency, and a growing lack of credibility among public opinion in the European member states. The EU would then deteriorate into an extensive free trade zone, with the ambition to complete a cohesive European political project abandoned, at least implicitly.
In this scenario of enlargement without institutional reform it is clear that the countries that join European economic and monetary union (EMU) could encounter considerable problems. The most probable development would consist of the EMU states forming an increasingly separated block within a large diluted Union. Thus a two or three speed Europe would then be institutionalised without the prospect of a close union of all democratic countries in Europe. The dream contained in the Treaty of Rome, to achieve “an increasingly closer union between the peoples of Europe” would then have passed us by.
Without institutional reform an efficient common foreign and security policy (CFSP = second pillar), including the gradual integration of the WEU into European structures, would be impossible. The same applies with respect to the third pillar for police and judicial matters.
In the meantime the complexity and opacity (the workability of integrated co-operation, the 3 pillars with their subsystems, the Euroland institutions that will lead a de facto existence, comitology, etc) of the EU will become ever greater, certainly in the minds of public opinion which is feeling increasingly alienated by the workings of the European institutions.
Despite the improvements made by the Treaty of Amsterdam to the co-decision power of the European Parliament, there is still a case of a democratic deficit, especially with regard to parliamentary control over European Commission policy.
On account of the non-application of the principle of the qualified majority, the harmonisation of tax and social security matters is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Within EMU countries this will lead to the development of competing tax systems and tax erosion. Distortions threaten to arise as a result that could form a threat to the operation of Monetary Union.
According to a protocol attached to the Treaty of Amsterdam, negotiations between member states (intergovernmental) on institutional reform must start as soon as the number of EU members exceeds 20. From this it follows that the enlargement from 15 to 20 member states does not include a requirement to negotiate over the institutions. But the Amsterdam protocol also says that institutional negotiations may begin before the EU has its next new entrant. It is in this context that the BIF initiative (Belgium, Italy and France) has to be seen.
The protocol also adds that when the next enlargement comes into effect, the composition of the Commission will have to be adjusted to one person per member state, on condition that the weighting system for the votes in the European Council of Ministers is adjusted at the same time, either by using another weighting system for the votes of each member state, or by introducing a double majority where the second vote would be based on the population represented. In the absence of agreement on these reforms, the current system would remain in force and the general provision of the protocol would be the one applied - negotiations on institutions must start as soon as the EU has expanded to more than 20 members.
For the moment the Amsterdam protocol marks out the areas considered to be a priority for the institutional negotiations: the composition of the Commission and the weighting system for the votes of each member state. A number of member states immediately added a third element to the above two, ie. the generalisation of the qualified majority (QMV). This brings about the Amsterdam triangle: 1/ greater use of qualified majorities, 2/ different composition of the Commission and 3/ different weighting system for votes.
These three issues, inextricably bound up with each other, have to be tackled urgently if the EU leaders want to secure the construction of a united Europe and preserve it from inefficiency and the increasing lack of credibility among public opinion and European electors.
Solutions are possible whereby one must strive for conciliation of standpoints. The discussions in the fifteen national parliaments and in the European Parliament, are a proof thereof.
The democratic institutions of Europe offer their good offices, in a constructive way, to the political leaders of the EU.
The reform of the EU institutions ultimately depends on the awareness by these responsible of the need and urgency of these reforms, on the political will to develop these reforms, and on the imagination of those dealing with such problems.