Select Committee on European Union Seventh Report



The Background

7.  The last decade has seen three Inter-Governmental Conferences, leading to the Treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice. A significant theme throughout has been the role of national parliaments in the EU. The results have been inconclusive. Treaty texts have been adopted (a declaration at Maastricht, a protocol at Amsterdam) giving formal recognition to the role of national parliaments and making provisions intended to allow them to scrutinise EU legislation more effectively. But there is consensus that more needs to be done. While Nice did not adopt any new text on the role of national parliaments, this was identified as a key issue for the next IGC.

8.  During and after negotiations leading to the Treaty of Nice, a number of major speeches by leading European politicians made reference to the need to involve national parliaments more formally in the European Union's legislative process. The Union already in effect has two legislative bodies: the European Parliament itself and the Council when acting in a legislative capacity, although the Council does not do so in the formally open manner usually associated with a parliament. It has nevertheless been suggested that national parliaments need an influential collective voice, in a formally established second chamber, perhaps a chamber of the European Parliament. Although these recent contributions have given an impetus to the debate, the idea for a second chamber is not new and we accordingly set out some of the history.

The Early Proposals

9.  The first proposal for a two chamber European Parliament drawn from the national parliaments was made in 1953, in a "draft Treaty for a European Political Community" drawn up by the Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community. This draft treaty included provisions for the following institutions:

10.  This proposal formed part of the planning for a European Defence Community, and fell when that project foundered. It was not followed when the Treaty of Rome established the institutions of the European Economic Community in 1957.

11.  Most of the other protagonists of a second chamber have been French, including Laurent Fabius (then President of the French National Assembly) in 1989; Jacques Chirac (then President of the RPR party) in May 1990; and President Mitterand in June 1990. Other contributors have included Michael Heseltine (now Lord Heseltine) who, in 1989, proposed a Senate with members drawn from national parliaments[3], and Sir Leon Brittan, now Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, Vice-President of the European Commission, who in 1994 proposed the creation of a chamber to monitor subsidiarity[4].

More Recent Proposals

12.  Although proposals for a second chamber are therefore not new, the current debate was in effect opened by Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic, who said, in March 1999[5], that:

    "alongside the European Parliament, whose structure reflects the rise of the Member States, a smaller second chamber should be created…… which each national parliament would mandate, for example, two members. In this second chamber, the votes of small member states would have equal weight to those of large states."


13.  The debate on this question in Germany was launched in May 2000, by Joschka Fischer, Minister for Foreign Affairs, in a speech at the Humboldt University Berlin[7]. Fischer argued that a bicameral European Parliament was necessary in order to represent two different elements: "A Europe of nation-states and a Europe of citizens". He identified two possible models for such a chamber: either a "Senate" with a small membership, with each Member State having the same number of members; or a chamber like the German Bundesrat, where the number of members would vary according to the size of the Member State.

14.  The debate in Germany has since moved on. In April 2001, the German President Johannes Rau, in a speech to the European Parliament, argued for the creation of a second chamber. But in this version, the new chamber would be formed by the ministers of the Member States: in other words, it would be a modified version of the existing Council of Ministers, transformed into a "Chamber of States". Alongside this would sit the European Parliament, to be known as a "citizen's chamber"[8].

15.  A more fully worked out, but still "broad brush", version of the same scheme was put forward by the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder who proposed,[9]

  • The European Commission should become a "strong executive"
  • The European Parliament should become the sole authority for the Budget (instead of sharing this responsibility with the Council)
  • The Council of Ministers should become a "Chamber of the States" (as in the Rau formula).


16.  Senior French politicians have also joined the debate. The French Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, has argued[10] for the establishment of a "congress" of national parliaments, which would meet regularly to monitor the application of the principle of subsidiarity and would hold an annual debate on the state of the Union. This line of thought is consistent with that of the French Senate, who have produced several reports advocating a "subsidiarity chamber", most recently in June 2001[11]. A summary of this Report appears in Appendix 4 below.


17.  Commissioner Patten has made a more wide-ranging proposal for a second chamber, which would include representatives of the regions of Europe as well as members of national parliaments[12]. He summarised the problem as follows:

    "I want to focus my final remarks on the role of national parliaments - representing, as they do, Europe's democratic bedrock. At present, the EU fails to draw on this source of legitimacy because its initiatives are too often seen as an assault on national prerogatives rather than a common endeavour. If national parliaments assumed a more prominent role in the European process, they would impart greater legitimacy to the supranational effort".

One possible solution would be:

    "to create a second chamber of the European Parliament which could help to apply the principle of subsidiarity: determining which decisions really need to be taken at the European level, and which should be left to the nations. It would be important to keep the process as light as possible. Members could be drawn from national Parliaments - perhaps also with some regional and other representatives replacing the Economic and Social Committee of the Regions…… They would not scrutinise all legislation, but look only at proposals that were opposed on subsidiarity grounds by a given number of Member States. Was the legislation needed at all? Might the same purpose be achieved in a less intrusive way?"

18.  A similar approach, containing representatives of both national and regional legislatures, was proposed by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, MEP, in an article in Le Monde:

    "legislative power in Europe could be invested in two chambers - the first would be the European Parliament, elected directly by the people of Europe. The legislative authority of this body would be such that it could debate and decide all the issues affecting European interests - but no more than that. In other words, the principle of subsidiarity would be upheld and anything that did not fall within the scope of its authority would be the responsibility of national or regional assemblies. There can be no exceptions to this rule.

    We know from experience that politicians have an unfortunate tendency to over-step their prerogatives. There must therefore be some way of holding them in check. A second chamber should, I believe, be able to provide this control. The members of the second chamber would not be elected by direct suffrage, but selected from representatives of national and regional assemblies. Like the US Senate, this chamber should be based on a system of equal rather than proportional representation, not directly related to the size of the population of each country. Its main job would be to represent the interests of the various Member States".[13]

The Prime Minister's Proposal

19.  Perhaps, the most influential contribution to the debate in this country was made by the Prime Minister in a speech to the Polish Stock Exchange in Warsaw on 6 October 2000[14]. He argued that a second chamber of the European Parliament, consisting of representatives of national parliaments, should be created to perform two tasks:

  • to review the EU's work in the light of, and thereby help the implementation of, an agreed "statement of principles" setting out what should be done at European level and what should be done by the Member States (in effect, to monitor the operation of the principles of subsidiarity), providing "political review by a body of democratically elected politicians" rather than the judicial oversight a formal constitution would require; and
  • to help provide "democratic oversight at a European level of the common foreign and security policy."

So what would be a second chamber?

20.  Some common features emerge from the proposals described above:

21.  There is disagreement among the proponents of a second chamber on several points:

  • The extent to which a second chamber should be involved in areas outside subsidiarity/competence e.g. 2nd/3rd Pillars, or detailed legislation in the 1st Pillar
  • The basis on which such a body should be constituted
  • Whether it should be composed of experts or senior political figures
  • The extent to which a second chamber should have a regional, as well as a national, dimension
  • Practical arrangements, such as the frequency of meetings (see paragraph 33 below)
  • Whether what is proposed is a second chamber with specific powers, or what might perhaps be better described as a community or committee of parliaments, coming together to perform specific tasks, but mainly advising rather than deciding.

"The Challenge of Europe: Can Britain Win?" (London, Weidenfield and Nicolson, 1989). Back

4   The Europe we Need (London 1994). Back

5   Speaking at a Solemn Session of the French Senate, 3 March 1999. Back

6   Evidence from Sir William Nicoll pp122-3 below gives more detail on the German debate. Back

7   A press release dated 16 May was issued, entitled "From Confederacy to Federation Thoughts on the finality of European integration". Quoted in evidence from Lord Norton of Louth (p15 of the evidence below). Back

8   The speech was published by the Federal Trust as European Essay No:16. Back

9   Draft policy statement ("Leitantrag") at the SPD Party Conference in November 2000. The document is wide-ranging, and is not concerned exclusively with institutional reform. Back

10   In a speech given in Paris, 28 May 2001. Back

11   Rapport d'information au nom de la délégation du Sénat pour l'Union européenne sur une deuxieme chambre européenne, rapporteur M. Daniel Hoeffel, No. 381, session ordinaire de 2000-2001. Back

12   Commissioner Chris Patten speaking in a Chatham Lecture at Trinity College Oxford, on 26 October 2000. Back

13   Extract from an article which originally appeared in Le Monde, 4 November 2000, translated in The Guardian, 10 November 2000. Back

14   Quoted in detail in evidence from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office p1 of evidence. Back

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