SPEECH BY Mr KLAUS HÄNSCH AT THE PLENARY SESSION OF THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS ON 20 JULY 1995
This background document has been prepared by the services of the Secretariat-General for the debate to be held at the Plenary Session of the Committee of the Regions with the President of the European Parliament, Mr HÄNSCH.
Its aim is to provide a picture of the current relations with the Parliament and identify areas where the two bodies may possibly move closer together.
1)Curriculum Vitae of Mr Klaus HÄNSCH
2)Text entitled “Relations between the European Parliament and the Committee of the Regions”
3)Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on the “Revision of the Treaty on European Union”, adopted on 21 April 1995
4)Resolution of the European Parliament on the “Functioning of the European Union with a view to the 1996 Intergovernmental Conference – Implementation and development of the Union”, adopted on 17 May 1995.
RELATIONS BETWEEN THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
1)From the very outset the Committee of the Regions has endeavoured to foster ties with the European Parliament. Today this is one of the COR’s priorities, given the European Parliament’s key role in narrowing the democratic deficit. This document seeks to provide an overview of relations between the European Parliament and the Committee of the Regions, covering the whole period from the founding of the COR until the preparation of the Intergovernmental Conference to be held in 1996.
I.THE ROLE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT IN THE CREATION OF THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
2)In the course of its history the European Parliament has demonstrated its desire to promote the participation of local and regional authorities in the European Union’s decision-making process. In a Resolution dating back to 22 April 1982 the European Parliament had already emphasized the need to “guarantee the greatest possible participation of local and regional authorities”. In a Resolution of 13 April 1984 the European Parliament stated that “the European Community needs an accredited body, which is in a position to speak on behalf of the local and regional authorities, to consult on a permanent basis in the field of Community regional policy”.
3)Shortly afterwards the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, in a joint declaration of 13 February 1985, said that they “recognize the importance of a more effective relationship between the Commission of the European Communities and the regional or, where appropriate, local authorities. (…) This will enable the interests of the regions to be taken more fully into account when regional development programmes and intervention programmes are being drawn up.
4)On 18 November 1988, in a Resolution on Community regional policy and the role of the regions, the European Parliament proposed the “decentralization of certain tasks (…) to regional authorities which represent the will of the people”, which “would make it possible to inform European citizens about, and involve them in, Community policies”. The European Parliament considered it essential that “any planned progress towards European Union should open up the possibility of institutionalizing the democratic representation of the regions and should assign to the regional and local authorities the necessary powers to enable them to participate actively in the achievement of European political, social and economic unity”. In its Resolution of 12 December 1990, the Parliament proposed the creation of a “Committee of Regions and Local Authorities, which shall have consultative status and shall consist of members of elected regional or local authorities”.
5)During negotiations on the Treaty on European Union (TEU), the Member States decided, with the support of the European Parliament, to set up a Committee of the Regions. In its Resolution of 14 October 1992, the European Parliament reaffirmed “the need to ratify the Treaty on European Union as it stands, so that it can enter into force as soon as possible” whilst expecting the members of the European Council to “confirm their commitment”. The first Resolution of the European Parliament (23 April 1993) on the Committee of the Regions adopted after the signing of the Treaty on European Union stated that:
– “(…) the Committee of the Regions must be conceived as an authoritative contributor to the process of constituting the European Union (…); its present form must not be considered as definitive: the Committee itself must be consulted on the most appropriate arrangements for improving regional and local authority representation and participation in anticipation of the review of the Treaty in 1996 and the future Constitution of the European Union”.
6)The European Parliament asked for guarantees that members of the Committee of the Regions:
– “be elected representatives at sub-central government level and/or derive direct democratic legitimacy from a regional or local assembly”, and that the Committee “should be allocated adequate funding and staffing, and its establishment plan and budget should be fully self-sufficient.”
7)In its Resolution of 18 November 1993 entitled “Resolution on the participation and representation of the regions in the process of European integration: the Committee of the Regions”, the European Parliament:
– “considers that Article 3b of the EC Treaty, which defines the principle of subsidiarity as a criterion for the exercise of powers shared between the Community and the Member States, does not refer only to the central structures of the state;
-(…) welcomes the establishment of the Committee of the Regions as a first step towards integrating the regions in the Community decision-making process and reiterates that it must be seen as an important element in the process of establishing European Union; considers that Parliament and the Commission must examine, in the light of the experience acquired in relation to the operations and activities of the Committee, future possible amendments to the Treaties to ensure that it functions on the most effective and representative basis possible;
-(…) considers that a ‘legal person’ entitled to institute proceedings within the meaning of the fourth paragraph of Article 173 of the EC Treaty is to be understood as including regions and regional authorities;
-(…) stresses that all Community institutions must strictly observe the rights conferred on the Committee by the Treaty and the Committee must also have the means of ensuring that its rights are observed”.
8)The European Parliament has also organized two conferences, “The European Parliament – Regions of the Community” and “The European Parliament – Local Authorities of the European Union”. The first of these was held in Strasbourg between 25 and 27 January 1984.
9)During the second Conference (27 to 29 November 1991) a Resolution on the representation of the regions underlined the importance of maintaining and strengthening direct links with existing and future regional institutions and of guaranteeing their right to contribute generally to the development of the Community venture by submitting comments, documents and proposals to the institutions concerned during the different phases of the decision-making process (recognition in particular of the right of initiative vis-à-vis the Commission and Parliament); these comments could be presented either by the regions separately or by a committee representing them, pending the creation of a body under the reform of the Treaty for the representation and participation of the regions.
10)The final declaration of this second Conference urged the European Union to recognize “the specific powers of the regions, whilst complying with the principle of subsidiarity, and to promote cooperation between different levels of government on questions of common interest; the principle of subsidiarity should be spelt out more carefully in the Treaty and regarded as a criterion for separating out the tasks and powers of the Community, Member States and regions; in the event of non-observance of this principle, the regions should be entitled to institute proceedings before the Court of Justice of the European Communities”.
11)The European Parliament showed its interest in local authorities by organizing between 6 and 8 April 1994 a first Conference on “The European Parliament – Local Authorities of the European Union”, this being the natural follow-up to the two Conferences mentioned earlier. In its “Resolution on local authorities in the political and institutional construction of the European Union: the principle of subsidiarity and the Committee of the Regions”, adopted unanimously, the Conference recommended that the Committee should make use of its capacity for initiative recognized under the Treaty to engage in an institutional debate on its own role as a representative of local and regional authorities in the process of European construction, more particularly in the light of the revision of the Treaty in 1996 and the future Constitution of the Union. The Conference also called upon the European Parliament and its appropriate Committee to do everything in their power to establish fruitful dialogue with the Committee of the Regions (…).
12)In the final Declaration of the Conference adopted unanimously on 8 April, it was emphasized that the principle of local autonomy, a general legal principle derived from the common constitutional traditions of the Member States, and recognized as such by Article F of the Treaty, sprang out of the principle of subsidiarity.
13)However, the Treaty on European Union does not mention the relations between the Committee of the Regions and Parliament and in Article 198c does not include the Parliament as one of the institutions consulting the Committee of the Regions. The Rules of Procedure of the Committee of the Regions, approved by the Council of the European Union on 25 May 1994, nevertheless expressly refer to the European Parliament:
– “Representatives of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission shall be entitled to attend Plenary Sessions. They may take the floor”;
– “(…) The Plenary Session shall adopt the draft estimates of the Committee’s revenue and expenditure and forward them to the Commission and, for information, to the Council and the Parliament (…)”;
– “Representatives of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission may attend the deliberations of the Commissions and reply to questions from their members.”
14)A number of important general policy discussions have been held during Committee of the Regions’ Plenary Sessions, including those with top-ranking personalities of the European Commission and the European Parliament such as Mr Roberto SPECIALE, Chairman of the Committee on Regional Policy of the European Parliament. Mr Klaus HÄNSCH, President of the European Parliament, will be taking the floor at the next Plenary Session of the Committee of the Regions to be held on 19 and 20 July 1995.
II.INSTITUTIONAL REFORM: THE POSITIONS OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
15)The European Parliament and the Committee of the Regions are both pillars of democratic legitimacy, each in its own right: whereas the European Parliament represents European citizens through members directly elected by universal suffrage, the Committee of the Regions as a whole is the spokesman for local and regional authorities in the European Union. Under the Corfu mandate, the European Parliament and Committee of the Regions have recently adopted Opinions and Resolutions on the revision of the Treaty on European Union.
A.THE POINT OF VIEW OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
16)In its Opinion on the functioning of the Treaty on European Union of 23 February 1995, the Regional Policy Committee of the European Parliament considered it necessary to extend the provisions on the composition and functions of the Committee of the Regions in order to confer full autonomy on this Committee by separating its structures from those of the Economic and Social Committee. It also considered that the definition of the principle of subsidiarity should be rounded off by making an explicit reference to regions with legislative powers whilst this same principle should be offered stronger legal guarantees. Finally, the Regional Policy Committee considered that the Committee of the Regions should have full rights to institute proceedings before the Court of Justice in the event of infringements of the principle of subsidiarity affecting the powers of local and regional authorities.
17)In the draft Report of the Committee on Institutional Affairs of 12 April 1995 on the functioning of the Treaty on European Union with a view to the 1996 Intergovernmental Conference – Implementation and development of the Union, the Rapporteurs, Mr BOURLANGES and Mr MARTIN, proposed the following:
– “It is necessary to strengthen the consultative role of the Committee of the Regions – which should be composed of elected representatives of regional and local authorities – by allocating it separate premises and separate staff. Parliament should be able to consult the Committee (as well as the Economic and Social Committee) on the same footing as can the Council and Commission.”
18)When a vote was taken on 03.05.1995 the Committee on Institutional Affairs approved the following point:
– “The members of the Committee of the Regions to whom Article 198a of the Treaty refers must be the elected members of a local or regional assembly. It must also be guaranteed that the Committee of the Regions is able to operate independently. Parliament should be able to consult the Committee (as well as the Economic and Social Committee) on the same footing as can the Council and Commission.”
19)On 17 May 1995 the Plenary Assembly of the European Parliament adopted its Resolution “on the functioning of the Treaty on European Union with a view to the 1996 Intergovernmental Conference – Implementation and development of the Union”. After having voted on the former paragraph 21 of the Committee on Institutional Affairs sentence by sentence, the Plenary Session finally approved the following points:
– “The members of the Committee of the Regions to whom Article 198a of the Treaty refers must be the elected members of a regional or local assembly. Parliament should be able to consult the Committee (as well as the Economic and Social Committee) on the same footing as can the Council and Commission.
–To improve the economic and social cohesion of the European Union and abide by the principle of subsidiarity, it is necessary to strengthen the role of the Committee of the Regions in drawing up policies which concern it.”
B.THE POINT OF VIEW OF THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
20)In its Resolution on the principle of subsidiarity (5 December 1994) the Committee of the Regions:
– “calls for the principle of subsidiarity to be affirmed in the wording of Article 3b and applied at all institutional levels: European institutions and bodies, the Member States, regions and local authorities;
-(…) calls for the Committee of the Regions to be accorded the right to bring proceedings before the Court of Justice regarding breaches of the principle of subsidiarity which affect the powers of local and regional authorities”.
21)The Committee of the Regions recognizes the fundamental role of the European Parliament in the decision-making process. This is reflected in the Opinion of the Committee of the Regions of 21 April 1995 on the Revision of the Treaty on European Union which states:
– “that, as far as the consultative function is concerned, Article 198c of the EC Treaty, as amended by the Maastricht Treaty, should be worded as follows:
‘The Committee of the Regions shall be consulted by the European Parliament, by the Council or by the Commission where this Treaty so provides and in all other cases in which these institutions consider it appropriate. (…)
The Opinion of the Committee, together with a record of the proceedings, shall be forwarded to the European Parliament, to the Council and to the Commission. (…)'”
22)The Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on the Revision of the Treaty on European Union proposed in short the following points:
-without its consultative status being amended, the Committee of the Regions must become a fully-fledged institution of the European Union. The Committee of the Regions also calls for complete organizational and budgetary autonomy vis-à-vis the Economic and Social Committee, with whom it currently shares a common structure;
-the Committee of the Regions’ consultative function should be strengthened by allowing the European Parliament to consult it, and by expanding the areas in which its opinion must be sought by the other European Union institutions; these areas would be expanded to include vocational training, social policy, the environment and transport;
-the definition of the principle of subsidiarity, whereby the authorities are required to take decisions as close as possible to the ordinary citizen, must be reviewed to include a specific reference to the role of local and regional authorities;
-the Committee of the Regions must be able to bring actions before the Court of Justice of the European Communities to protect its prerogatives or in the event of violations of the principle of subsidiarity. This right could also be conferred on regions endowed with legislative powers.
-members of the Committee of the Regions must have a mandate from the electorate or be politically accountable to an Assembly elected by direct universal suffrage;
-the Committee of the Regions must be able to offer its cooperation and advice in the drawing up of legislative programmes, Green Papers (debates) and White Papers (forward planning) and in preparing other initiatives in respect of policies affecting the powers of regional and local authorities;
-the principle of local autonomy, as enshrined in the Council of Europe’s Charter on Local Autonomy, must be enshrined in the Treaty;
-the Treaty must explicitly spell out the need to promote cross-border cooperation between regions and local authorities.
23)Institutional, political and technical opportunities for cooperation between the European Parliament and Committee of the Regions have gradually emerged and enable them to envisage fruitful complementarity. The specific nature of each of the two bodies objectively rules out any kind of competition. It is therefore up to the politically-elected members of the two Assemblies to introduce some sort of original cooperation, thereby strengthening the European venture and leading to an “ever-closer union between the peoples of Europe”.
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PE 87.632/PE 88.600 final. The European Parliament proposes holding a conference during the lifetime of each parliament.
REG 92, NC 69.141 (Arts. 5 and 7)
REG 92, NC 69.141 (Art. 6)
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CdR 136/95 (Art. 8)
CdR 136/95 fin