Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Thursday, 20 May 2004

Role of Regional Legislative Assemblies within COSAC.

Welcome to the second session of the 31st COSAC. The draft contributions have been circulated and we will come to them later. The fifth item on the agenda is the discussion on proposals regarding the role of regional legislative assemblies within COSAC. In anticipation of this discussion today, and as directed by the Chairpersons in February, the COSAC secretariat surveyed the views of the participating parliaments on the question of whether representatives of regional assemblies of member' states should be included in the make up of parliamentary delegations.

We have examined the results of the survey and have 20 replies from 15 different parliaments. In nine of the 20 replies, it was stated that there should be some involvement of regional legislative assemblies in COSAC, either as observers or participants in the relevant national delegation. Five supported the idea of having a number of observers appointed, while four delegations suggested that it should be left to the discretion of each national parliament to decide whether it wishes to cede one of its places to a representative from a regional legislative assembly. In ten of the 11 remaining replies, the idea was rejected. Spain responded that it was not in a position to reply.

The results of the survey so far indicate that there is clearly no consensus on the best approach to this problem. A minority of members seem to be of the view that representatives of regional assemblies should be accommodated as observers. The only conclusion the Presidency can draw from the survey on this question is that as there is clearly no consensus, it is not possible at this time to amend the rules and facilitate the attendance of regional assembly members. However, as this does not solve the problem that gave rise to the discussion in the first place, I would like to propose that the working group of chairmen should reconvene under the Dutch Presidency to consider this matter further and to present a compromise proposal to the next COSAC if they can reach one, by which time there may be a complete set of responses to the questionnaire.

The first speaker is Mr. Jansson from Finland, followed by Mr. De Croo from Belgium.

Mr. Roger Jansson

From Finland's point of view, there is in this matter a problem to be solved that perhaps differs from member state to member state and does not exist at all in some member states. It is a problem of constitutional significance in some and of legitimacy of the European Union in others.

In Finland we have one self-government area, which has complete legislative powers within many of the Union's political sectors. In practice our constitution does not in those sectors give our Parliament, the Eduskunta, any power whatsoever over the self-government of the Aland Islands. Thus we have to involve the self-government authorities in any way possible in the processes of legislation within the Union.

One of the ways to make it possible for the regional assembly is to take part in the COSAC co-operation. Other ways also have to be used. We suggest and support, therefore, that our Parliament be given free choice to give, when needed, one seat in our delegation to the regional assembly to the autonomous Aland Islands.

I cannot see any reason for member states which do not have this problem or similar constitutions to obstruct a logical solution from those countries with more decentralised legislative systems. We support the Presidency's proposal for the working group.

Mr. Herman De Croo

I express my pleasure at being here. I have been in Strasbourg at another speakers' conference and I am pleased to express my gratification at what Ireland is doing.

With regard to the proposal, I share the Chairman's opinion. Let us urge that those responses which are still missing should be sent to ensure we have a clear survey of the points of view so that the working group can make a proposal in six months.

With regard to the content, of the 25 countries about one third of them have the same difficulties because regional assemblies often still have powers so there has to be a means of associating them with the process. We proposed the broadest approach. We thought that among the national delegates each country could follow its own procedures when this situation pertained and could invite a representative of the regional authorities to attend. We should not have too many rules though, because if we do there could be challenges to appointments or representatives here and there. We should be as flexible as possible.

Maximum flexibility is our position and I thank my Finnish colleague for having realised other countries are in a different situation. Some countries in Europe have a federal organisation and so it is a good idea to find a way for regional assemblies to participate in COSAC's work. That will only enhance the positive role of COSAC and I fully agree with that viewpoint.

Mr. Giacomo Stucchi

I do not think that we should pass up the opportunity this morning of looking at change in regard to a position which has hitherto prevented the participation of representatives of regional legislative assemblies in our work. Such regional assemblies have a key role to play in some EU member states. In Italy, they are becoming more prominent following recent constitutional amendments giving them enhanced powers. We have come up with a proposed amendment to allow for the possibility of inviting the representatives of regional legislative assemblies as observers but, having heard my Finnish colleague, the best solution might be to leave to it to the discretion, the free choice, of each national delegation to bring in a representative of their own regional legislative assemblies as one of the six persons on the national delegation. That would be fair recognition of the important role of such assemblies. I recognise that in certain countries, which do not have such structures, people might tend to overlook the importance of such assemblies where they exist but, on the basis of the subsidiarity principle, which has come out of the Convention, this is the appropriate line to follow.

Mr. Jerzy Czepultkowski

There are two main issues to examine in the context of including representatives of regional legislative assemblies within COSAC. First, their role will be determined by the constitutional make up of the member state in question and, second, we should note also the existence of COSAC is the result of the protocol to the Amsterdam treaty on the role of national parliaments in the Union.

There is a clear reference to national parliaments. The draft constitutional treaty prepared by the Convention includes a protocol on the role of national parliaments within the EU and does not make reference to other legislative assemblies. Chapter 2.1 on international co-operation states the European Parliament and national parliaments will jointly determine how one can effectively develop co-operation among parliaments within the Union. It can be concluded from this that if there is such a need, national parliaments and the European Parliament can jointly decide to open their doors to representatives of regional legislative assemblies as well so one could envisage some form of participation of representatives of such assemblies in debates that concern their spheres of competence.

However, to have them represented on a permanent basis within COSAC is a more dubious question. One could envisage an obligation on member states to consult regional legislative assemblies and put forward their positions in the case of certain debates but COSAC cannot impose such an obligation on national parliaments. If we were to make it possible for representatives of regional legislative assemblies to participate in the work of COSAC, then they should be invited by the corresponding national delegation in accordance with the rules of procedure and without the delegation being larger as a result.

Mrs. Ankie Broekers-Knol

I will make use of the English language as the Dutch delegation is in favour of a new language regime for COSAC meetings, a subject that will be debated shortly.

We thank the COSAC secretariat for its report of 6 May on the involvement of regional legislative assemblies, RLAs, in COSAC. What does the report tell us? After sending a reminder, 15 parliaments answered the questionnaire and 20 replies were received due to the bicameral system pertaining in some countries. Ten national parliaments did not reply. Of the 20 replies, ten gave a negative answer to the question of whether RLAs should be involved in COSAC. Five said RLAs should be involved but added that the RLAs should have observer status. Four responded positively to the suggestion that RLAs should participate in national delegations. Ten did not reply and one can well imagine that was because this is not a problem that arises in those countries.

The Dutch delegation feels that the outcome means one can conclude that support for RLA involvement in COSAC is very weak and the delegation therefore recommends that they have no involvement in COSAC. RLAs have their own body, the Committee of the Regions, while COSAC, as mentioned in the protocol to the Amsterdam treaty, is for national parliaments. If national delegations decide to incorporate RLAs in their delegations, they can do so. COSAC has much work to do on the role of national parliaments in a European context. Let us, therefore, proceed and dedicate our time and efforts to those tasks.

Mr. Christian Philip

We are not in favour of having representation within COSAC for regional legislative assemblies. COSAC is a forum where national parliaments meet the European Parliament. If we enlarge COSAC we would change its very nature. We are not talking about stopping countries from considering their constitutional make-up, but we can find other mechanisms to meet those concerns. As was highlighted by our Dutch colleagues, we have the Committee of the Regions, which is one instrument. Many of our national parliaments are bicameral, with the second Chamber representing regional assemblies. Therefore, RLA members are present and are representing those interests on COSAC.

Co-operation and dialogue between our national parliaments are perfectly legitimate. If we turn COSAC into a mixed meeting or forum we would lose that. Also, it would not be in conformity with the protocols to the Amsterdam treaty, as a previous speaker pointed out; nor would it be in conformity with a protocol which will soon be added to the constitutional treaty. Therefore, if COSAC is to move ahead, we would also have to change the treaty along the same lines, which is unlikely.

Subsidiarity is an issue within the remit of each member state. We should not mix up different issues and this matter should not delay our work too much. We have had questions answered but notwithstanding that, if we continue like this we may end up answering questions which are of secondary importance. It is important to close this debate. National parliaments can find their own solutions, taking into account their constitutions or make-up. This is not something that belongs within COSAC.

Mr. Carlos Rodrigues

We have been debating RLAs in COSAC, an issue which is very important to a country like Portugal. We have two autonomous regions which are also peripheral, the Azores and Madeira. Their autonomy is constantly being improved and modernised. A month ago our constitution was revised in such a way as to boost substantially the legislative powers of those two regions. The only things outside their powers are issues of national sovereignty such as defence, foreign affairs, justice and internal security. As they can adopt European directives, which brings them closer to the European Union, this is a Europe of the regions also.

There are different ways to organise structures that have been successful and have produced positive results. For example, if we exacerbate regionalism we can counteract that with the examples of the Azores and Madeira, which have been able to fulfil their functions successfully. Over 20 years the regions have moved from 30% of community GDP to 80%, so the EU has been beneficial to the regions, which are capable of developing.

Given the geographical and social necessities, the regions deserve special attention from the European institutions. In that regard we should promote greater participation and keep them closer to European decision-making centres. This is necessary for greater cohesion in Europe despite its diversity. We can create positive synergies in inter-regional relations and lead to the development of competencies. This is particularly important for the peripheral regions which are smaller and further away, though they are also more flexible and have more room for development. For those reasons I conclude the participation of regions in COSAC would have benefits for both sides — it would introduce a new perspective, which would enrich our debate. We are aware that we need to find a functional solution to this problem and we consider that including an RLA delegation as COSAC observers would be the answer. We could guarantee that they participate in that way and would be completely represented.

Mr. Jozef Jerovsek

Thank you. In this room I said that Slovenia does not oppose the inclusion of RLAs in the work of COSAC in principle but this must be done on a reasonable basis, taking account of broad democratic principles. Of course local and regional interests are essentially protected by the second Chamber in Slovenia's Parliament, but there are other areas such as economic, cultural and civil society interests which are not dealt with in sufficient depth in the day-to-day work of the first Chamber of Parliament. Looking at the table of answers, we do not yet have Slovenia's answer.

Mr. Jimmy Hood

I take this opportunity to congratulate the President and his staff on the work involved in the preparation of this meeting. Yesterday's business was as good as I have experienced at a number of COSAC meetings over the years. I congratulate everyone involved. I congratulate in particular the Foreign Minister who was outstanding in reminding us what being members of the European Union means.

It is a difficult subject because we all seek to accommodate each other in the European Union, particularly COSAC. As we do not like to have too much controversy, we always seek the middle road.

I will try to respond to our Finnish colleague who said there is a problem for Finland and a number of other member states, and certainly for the United Kingdom. Prior to 1 May, there were approximately 250 regions in the European Union, and following that date, there will be approximately 400 regions. To talk about involving sub-regional assemblies in the work of COSAC would weaken what COSAC is about. COSAC is about the role of national parliaments. When my colleague from Finland talks about the problems of regional assemblies in member states, it is a problem, but it is an issue that should be resolved within the member state itself. When the UK responded to the President's question, we said we would have no objection to observers. That was our way of trying to meet people mid-way.

Having listened to some of contributions during the conference, I do not know if we should confront the issue and say there will be no solution. I cannot see the United Kingdom delegation agreeing to involve regional assemblies in the work of COSAC. We tried our best in recent years to improve the effectiveness of COSAC and make sure that the role of national parliaments was given priority. We must ensure that this organisation is all about scrutinising what governments are doing in our name within the European Union. I do not know if we can support the recommendation to go for a working party because I cannot see the UK delegation agreeing a settlement in the House of Commons.

I apologise if I appear to have been blunt towards our colleagues, but it is necessary not to take our eye off the ball, particularly at this historic moment when we have enlarged the Union to 25 member states, soon to be 27 or 28 member states. We must concentrate on our main function, which is not to exclude the role of national parliaments within the European Union.

Mr. Michel Vandeborne

Mr. Chairman and colleagues, I will be brief because I agree with the argument of my colleague from Portugal. I would insist on the necessity of roles and regions with legislative competencies. I am talking about regions with legislative powers to be involved in the work of COSAC. It does not involve 400 regions, and I would like to see how many regions there are with legislative powers. The reasons for this are as follows. Many powers and rules within the European Union belong to the regions. In Belgium, there is inclusive competence on education and culture for the regions, and partial competence on economic and environmental policies. The regions are expected to implement directives into their own legislation. The European Union needs the regions to implement directives in their own legislation. In my view, therefore, it is necessary to involve the regional assemblies in the work of COSAC.

Dr. Werner Fasslabend

Bearing in mind that our country has a federal structure and that regional legislative assemblies would like to be involved in COSAC, we have always stated that the participation of these RLAs should be made possible. Therefore, we would like to thank you for the fact that this issue has been placed on the agenda for discussion. I am pleased we have had a very serious debate on the matter, which is a good thing. As we are democrats, we take note of the fact that a majority does not support the proposal. We see it more as a long-term issue. We would like to thank the delegations who have supported the motion.

Mr. Justinas Karosas

I thank you, Mr. Chairman, and colleagues. Today's discussion shows that the participation of regional parliaments in the work of COSAC is a real, not an imaginary problem. As we are discussing the problem and seeking solutions, we should think about the nature and role of COSAC. We heard a number of times that COSAC is a meeting of national parliaments. Therefore, we understand that MPs from national parliaments are represented in COSAC, irrespective of the structure of a country. In our opinion, if we want to preserve the nature and role of COSAC, we should involve states which have bicameral or regional assemblies. We should allow such countries to include MPs from such regional assemblies as observers among their delegations. This would be a compromise solution. I do not think we should ignore the problem.

Mr. Sotirios Hatzigakis

Participation of representatives of regional legislative assemblies in the work of our assembly could profoundly alter the nature of COSAC and its work. We must consider whether this is acceptable. We are here to demonstrate the difficulties facing national parliaments. We are here to voice the concerns of national parliaments at European level. There is the Committee of the Regions where the regional assemblies have direct participation. It appears that we must be careful to remain in compliance with the treaties which refer to the representation here of national parliaments and the European Parliament. Of course, concerns are voiced by some countries with a more federalist structure, which may include representatives of regional legislative assemblies within their delegation. I agree that the Dutch Presidency should continue to examine this matter in order that we can take all views on board.

The question is whether the Dutch Presidency should continue to examine this matter, or do we agree that we cannot agree? I think the most reasonable thing to do is to allow the Dutch Presidency to continue to examine the matter. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Sitting suspended at 10 a.m. and resumed at 10.25 a.m.