COSAC and the scrutiny role of
consisting of members of the European committees of the EU's parliaments,
together with those of the candidate countries, meets twice a
year for a day and a half in the country which holds the EU Presidency.
Each parliament, including the EP, can send six Members. In 1997
a Protocol to the Amsterdam Treaty recognised COSAC in the Treaties
for the first time, allowing it to address 'any contribution which
it deems appropriate on the legislative activities of the Union'
to the EU institutions.
Its meetings are useful for networking and to some extent for
exchanging information, but the opportunities it could provide
are largely squandered. Its agendas consist largely of speeches
by Ministers of the Presidency country followed by questions and
by debates on general subjects. Little attention is paid to the
role of national parliaments or the practical problems of parliamentary
scrutiny, on which the committees could usefully share information.
The initial agenda for the Madrid COSAC in May 2002 was a perfect
example, with four speeches by the Prime Minister and other Ministers
and only an hour on the role of national parliaments, despite
the fact that the Convention was shortly to consider the role
of national parliaments. Our predecessors criticised the way COSAC's
time is spent as long ago as 1995, and our Lords counterparts
did so last year.
150. We would not wish to see COSAC given a legislative
role or become the basis of a second Chamber.
Instead, we would re-define COSAC's main role as assisting
national parliaments to improve their scrutiny of government activities
in the EU, by sharing best practice and information and acting
as a strategic body on behalf of national parliaments. COSAC's
agenda should then concentrate on the roles of national parliaments
rather than general issues. In addition, COSAC needs to have
a small secretariat to facilitate the exchange of information
(e.g. on scrutiny problems, in respect of particular documents
or more generally),
to monitor activities relevant to national scrutiny (e.g. compliance
by the Council with the protocol on the role of national parliaments),
and to take up procedural matters of concern with the Council
Secretariat or the Commission. The Secretariat could also,
in co-operation with the EP, organise the joint meetings of national
parliamentarians and MEPs discussed above. A precondition for
any such reforms is that changes in COSAC's rules must cease to
151. The role of the EP in COSAC would then need
to be reconsidered. It is important to maintain the contacts which
result from EP attendance at COSAC, but it seems to us inappropriate
to have EP members on the 'troika' which determines COSAC's agenda.
We believe a reformed COSAC which assisted national parliaments
in their scrutiny role and thereby contributed to the EP's aim
of the 'parliamentarisation' of the EU
would be of greater value to the EP than retaining its place in
152. COSAC could also help to resolve one of the
problems facing national parliaments which actively scrutinise
EU legislation, which is that many national parliaments do not.
Research carried out by Andreas Maurer and presented to a COSAC
working group in April 2001 categorised eight of the EU's national
parliaments as 'policy influencing' or 'policy making' in EU matters
(with the UK Parliament in the 'policy influencing' category)
and seven as 'weak'.
Many carry out little scrutiny of documents. Sir Stephen Wall
believed this made a difference in the Council:
'If there were a kind of equal perception of
the importance of parliamentary scrutiny across the European Union
that would help. If you are in a situation where the UK, Denmark,
one or two others, are the ones who most often have scrutiny reserves,
it is frankly easier for a presidency, whose interest is clearly
getting the business done, to put the pressure on you, than if
14 Member States were saying, sorry, they cannot agree because
they have not completed the parliamentary scrutiny'.
It is not surprising that some Presidencies organise
business in a way leaving little time for scrutiny if they are
not used to scrutiny from their own parliament; the overall climate
of accountability is lacking.
153. The activities of national parliaments are clearly
an area where the principle of subsidiarity should operate, and
it would certainly be inappropriate for any EU institution to
seek to tell them what do. However, the same objection would not
apply to national parliaments themselves, through COSAC, seeking
to raise the overall standard of parliamentary scrutiny in the
EU. This could be done through something similar to the 'open
method of co-ordination', involving exchange of best practice
and benchmarking, as practised by Member States in areas where
the EU has little or no legislative competence. COSAC should
also draw up minimum standards of parliamentary scrutiny,
setting out both rights and duties of national parliaments, such
as provision of information by the Government on each EU proposal
within a certain time, ability to call Ministers to explain their
activities in the Council, and provision of information to the
public. This would help European affairs committees when pressing
for resources or government information.
154. In May 2002 COSAC called upon the 'troika' of
parliaments which will plan the October 2002 COSAC 'to organise
the preparatory work to draw up a detailed proposal for a more
effective COSAC, focussing its activity more on the role of national
We shall press for our ideas to be included in that detailed
155. The role of national parliaments will also be
considered shortly by a working group of the Convention. The working
group will not consist entirely of national parliamentarians,
and therefore may feel some awkwardness about directing recommendations
to national parliaments. However, neither the working group nor
the Convention itself can do anything more than offer proposals
decisions will be for the subsequent IGC and therefore
we encourage the working group to set out its view of what
national parliaments should be doing as regards scrutinising government
activity in the EU and reconnecting citizens and EU decision-making.
It would also be helpful if the Convention asked COSAC to take
action to seek to raise the overall standard of scrutiny by national