Report of Joint Committee on European Affairs on EU Institutional Reform in the context of enlargement
1.The Joint Committee of European Affairs considered the question of institutional reform of EU institutions in the context of enlargement at its meetings on 30 September, 1998 and 14 and 28 October, 1998.
2.The Joint Committee had already noted the outcome of the informal meeting of Chairmen of European Affairs Committees held at the Belgian Parliament, Brussels on 5 July, 1998 and examined subsequent correspondence received from the Chairman of the meeting, Mr. Mark Eyskens, former Prime Minister, Member of the House of Representatives of Belgium.
3.The Chairman reported to the Joint Committee on the discussions which had taken place at the meeting of the Institutional Affairs Committee of the European Parliament on 21 and 28 September, 1998 at which national parliaments’ European Affairs Committees had been invited to participate.
4.The Joint Committee has noted the Protocol on the Institutions with the Prospect of Enlargement of the European Union to the Treaty of Amsterdam and its provisions:
(i)with regard to modification of the voting system in the Council before the next enlargement;
(ii)the related (conditional) possibility of each state nominating only one Commissioner;
(iii)the convening, at least one year before EU membership exceeds 20, of an Inter-Governmental Conference to carry out a comprehensive review of the composition and functioning of the institutions (of the EU).
5.The Joint Committee also notes the declaration by Belgium, France and Italy annexed to the Final Act of the Treaty and those countries’ view that the strengthening of institutions is an “indispensable condition” of enlargement. The view of these States on this sensitive issue has been reaffirmed at parliamentary level, with the Chairmen of the respective European Affairs Committees organising informal meetings of their counterparts in other EU States to discuss the issue. The most recent of such meetings is referred to in paragraph 2. above. The next one will be held in Rome in early November. A similar view was also articulated by some of our interlocutors in the course of a visit by the Oireachtas Joint Committee to some of the applicant countries in central and eastern Europe in early July of this year.
6.The Joint Committee is of the view that it is premature to look beyond the provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty on institutional matters even before the Treaty has been ratified. In light of this, at its meeting of 30 September, 1998 the Joint Committee agreed that the Chairman should reply to the letter of 10 September, 1998 from Mr. Eyskens. In that letter the Chairman pointed out that EU institutional affairs are a nexus of complex questions concerning the role of an existing and enlarged Union in the world, relationships between EU institutions, the functioning of those institutions and their relationship to the European citizen. These issues were examined in the course of the negotiation of the Amsterdam Treaty which subsequently contained provisions on such relevant areas as external relations, institutions including the European Parliament and national parliaments, subsidiarity, transparency and quality of legislation. It should be noted that Ireland was entirely satisfied with the outcome of the Amsterdam Treaty negotiations and the balances contained in its provisions in relation to institutional matters. Ireland would wish to see the ratification and entry into force of the Treaty at the earliest possible date in order to permit the benefit of its provisions in this area to be fully realised.
7.Because of the importance of the issue of institutional reform in the context of enlargement, the Joint Committee considers that this is a matter which should be brought to the attention of the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Joint Committee wishes to state clearly that Ireland’s very firm position on Commission reform must remain. The Joint Committee considers that we must insist on nominating a full member given our belief that the institution must be broadly balanced as well as sensitive to national concerns in a Member State and acceptable to public opinion.
8.The current debate on institutional reforms leads the Joint Committee to reflect on the unrealised potential of COSAC. The Joint Committee is of the view that COSAC, which is the formal structure for bringing the European Affairs Committees of the member States together once in the course of each Presidency, could develop its potential. If COSAC had the flexibility, not enshrined in its current rules, to hold special meetings, over and above its regular six monthly sessions, to deal with important and urgent issues as they arose, this would obviate the need for individual countries to have to organise ad hoc meetings on their own initiative.
9.The Joint Committee recommends to both Houses that debates on this report should be held as soon as possible in order to allow all members to make known their views to the Government on the question of institutional reform.
Bernard J. Durkan, T.D.