French Senate Report on A European Second
Translation of Summary
During the last two years, statements in favour
of a European Second Chamber have multiplied. But the debate
on bi-cameralism at a European level is an old one. It first
appeared even before the establishment of the European Economic
Community and it has hardly left the European scene since then.
I - A recurrent theme in the institutional
It is thus that already, in 1953, a project
which had as its goal the setting up of "a European Community
with a supra-national character", which had been developed
by an ad-hoc assembly, envisaged the setting up of a European
Executive Council, a Council of National Ministers and a parliament
composed of two chambers: a chamber of peoples, "made
up of MPs representing the people united in the community"
and elected by direct universal suffrage; and a Senate, "composed
of senators representing the people of each state" and elected
by the national parliaments according to a procedure to be adopted
by each member state.
This proposal contained, both at the executive
and the legislative levels, parallel representation of European
interests (Chamber of People and European Executive Council) and
national interests (Senate and Council of National Ministers).
The failure of the European Defence Community
led to the abandonment of this project and the Institutions of
the European Economic Community, established some years later,
kept only a single Assembly, made up of national members and largely
lacking effective power, which later was to take the name of "European
In the 1970s, the European Parliament was gradually
given greater powers and it was decided that it would be elected
by direct universal suffrage, without taking into account that
national parliaments would thus be distanced from European construction,
and that MEPs would be out of touch with the political life of
their own nation states, and that a gulf was likely to be created
between the former and the latter.
It was ten years after the election of the European
parliament by direct universal suffrage that the first reflections
on a second chamber were made by Charles-Ferdinand Nothomb, the
President of the Belgian House of Representatives, and Alain Poher,
the President of the Senate, that is to say by two Presidents
of national Chambers who had both been members of the European
Parliament and even, in the case of M. Poher, its President.
A similar debate was launched in the United Kingdom at the same
time, where there was disquiet at the gulf between national parliamentarians
and Europe, and frustration among national parliamentarians which
was leading them towards a certain hostility with regard to the
construction of Europe.
During the preparation of the Maastricht Treaty,
several senior French political figures, Jacques Chirac and François
Mitterrand included, showed interest in the idea of a Second Chamber
made up of national parliamentarians but the Maastricht Treaty
contained only a rather anodyne Declaration which was destined
to remain ineffectual. In parallel, the Conference of European
Affairs Committees (COSAC) was established in a pragmatic way.
Following the Maastricht Treaty, the Senate
carried out more detailed studies on a European Second Chamber.
Michel Poniatwoski presented to the Senate Delegation for the
in November 1992, a report on the principle of subsidiarity.
This report proposed "the setting up of a conference of
national parliaments one of whose essential functions would be
to guarantee the application of the principle of subsidiarity"
and he expressed the wish that this conference of national parliaments
should be called a "subsidiarity chamber" with
the role of striking down, before the entry into force, community
decisions which were contrary to the principle of subsidiarity.
This line of thought was followed notably by Senator Yves Guéna.
And during the COSAC which was held in the Palais du Luxembourg
in 1995, President [of the Senate] René Monory, Yves Guéna
and President [of the Delegation] Jacques Genton developed in
more detail the idea of a second chamber representing the national
parliaments at greater length. But this meeting of COSAC only
demonstrated the isolation of France on this subject.
Indeed, during this period only Sir Leon Brittan
from the United Kingdom expressed himself in favour of a second
chamber. Sir Leon Brittan was then a European Commissioner and
his views hardly reflected the ideas of the Government or the
British parliament, but they were evidently based on his knowledge
of the situation beyond the channel. Finally during the last
two years, the debate has taken on another dimension and declarations
in favour of European bi-cameralism have come from all sides.
These have included Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic
in a speech to the Senate in March 1999, Joschka Fischer, the
German Minister of Foreign Affairs, in a speech given in Berlin
in May 2000, Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister in a speech
in Warsaw in October 2000, Gerhard Schröder, German Chancellor
in April last. Finally Lionel Jospin in a speech which he gave
some fifteen days ago.
The debate is therefore widespread today. And
the persistence of the Senate on this subject - because, for ten
years now, three successive presidents, Alain Poher, René
Monory and Christian Poncelet, have all three worked in favour
of a European second chamber - finds its reward.
II - Why set up a European Second Chamber?
First of all in order to anchor Europe better
in each country. Already, today, the European institutions
seem distant, not to say inaccessible, to the citizens of fifteen
member states. That can only get worse in a Europe of twenty-five
or thirty member states. The establishment of a second chamber
would allow the restoration of the link between the national parliaments
and the European institutions which was weakened in 1979 with
the election of the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage.
Secondly in order to involve in a more harmonious
way both small and large states in European construction.
The fear of no longer being represented at the heart of the Commission,
the lessening of the relative importance in the European Parliament,
the effects of the re-weighting of votes in the Council have given
rise to a hardening of opinion in most of the least populous member
states of the Union, who have evoked the spectre of a "directoire
des grands". There again, the setting up of a second
chamber, where all the member states would be represented on an
equal footing, by its very nature makes the achieving of consensus
between the member states easier.
Finally, a better balance. A better balance
between the institutions of the Union in the first place.
The European Parliament, a unique Assembly elected by direct
universal suffrage, has considerably increased its weight in the
institutional triangle, notably with regard to the Commission.
The presence of a second chamber would by its nature rebalance
the institutional arrangements as a whole by placing, beside the
European Parliament which is rather cut off from daily life, a
counterbalance directly linked to national realities. A better
balance also between the Union and the member states thanks
to more careful attention to a constant application of the principle
of subsidiarity. The present institutions of the Union, which
naturally tend towards centralisation, would be counter-balanced
by a second chamber which, by its composition, would on the whole
tend to favour decentralisation.
Europe should not be left to specialists
alone. The European Parliament, when
it was made up of national parliamentarians, included many eminent
figures from the different political parties in the different
member states. That is less so since the introduction of election
by direct universal suffrage, and the European Parliament tends
to be made up of parliamentarians who are involved in Europe and
in Europe alone throughout the year, and who get detached from
the national political context. A European second chamber would
without doubt have the effect of favouring the participation of
eminent national parliamentarians in European debates.
III - Proposals for a European Second Chamber
Whether one calls it European Senate, Chamber
of States, Chamber of Nations, Committee of Parliaments or Congress,
we must outline the principal characteristics of this body, that
is to say its composition and its competence.
A - What members?
1. National Parliamentarians
Three proposals have
been put forward for the method of designating members: representatives
of national parliaments, representatives of the regions, and the
representatives of governments.
This last proposal would mean a complete change
in the institutions of the Union. In effect, the Council of Ministers
would become the second chamber; the Commission alone would assume
the role of the executive of the Union, whether that was for community
affairs, for foreign policy, for defence or for questions of justice
and home affairs; finally the European Council would simply disappear.
One might doubt whether it would be wise to exclude in this way
the national governments from the executive of the Union. One
could also question whether making the Commission the government
of the Union would correspond with the wishes of those who wish
to bring the European institutions closer to the citizens. But,
above all, one must argue that such a second chamber would not
in any way solve the problem of the democratic deficit in the
Union. One could even think that such a solution would have the
effect of encouraging misunderstanding of, and alienation from,
the European institutions.
To choose the members of the second chamber
from among the representatives of regions seems a seductive idea.
But, as the operation of the Committee of the Regions has shown,
this idea falls in the face of the lack of a real, homogenous,
regional tier in the makeup of the Union. The regions are very
different, according to the member states to which they belong,
either in size, or powers, or influence; certain member states
do not even have a regional tier of government.
It therefore seems clear that the second
chamber must be composed of representatives of national parliaments.
It is no coincidence that this is the solution suggested by the
very large majority of those who have taken part in the debate
on European bi-cameralism. The Union can only continue to develop
with the acceptance of its peoples if the institutions manage
to maintain a constant link between the European level and the
national level. This link exists in the heart of the European
executive with the Commission and the Council; it has been broken
at the legislative level with the election of the European Parliament
by universal direct suffrage and it cannot be re-established except
by the co-existence of an Assembly elected by direct universal
suffrage and an Assembly composed of representatives of national
2. Equal representation of the
have been put forward: either an equal division between the States,
along the lines of the American Senate, or a representation of
one to two according to the population of the member states, along
the lines of the German Bundesrat. One could find convincing
arguments in favour of either of these two options. But, finally,
it seems preferable to go for equal representation of the member
First of all because one of the principal competencies
of this second chamber must be to keep an eye on the application
of the subsidiarity principle and that, for this task which touches
the division of tasks between the states and the Union, it is
logical that all the member states, no matter what their size,
should be placed on the same footing of equality.
Secondly because the arguments which have divided
the fifteen from the Inter-Governmental Conference which prepared
the Amsterdam Treaty until the European Council of Nice have shown
to what extent the small member states were traumatised by the
fear of being relegated to the background and hardly counting
in the future in the institutions of the Union. Just as it seems
necessary to re-weight the votes in the Council, it seems counter-productive
to downgrade the place of the smallest member states in a second
chamber. It seemed therefore that the physiological disadvantages
of unequal representation heavily outweigh the benefits in terms
of "proportional" representation.
3. A Certain Simplification
Should the Institutions be simplified and should
several Assemblies be combined?
It goes without saying
that such a reorganisation would make an effective response to
those who suggest that the creation of a second chamber would
make for too heavy an institutional structure.
But as soon as the second chamber is made up
of representatives of national parliaments, any fusion with the
Economic and Social Committee or the Committee of the Regions
seems no longer possible. It is necessary to make a clear distinction
between parliamentary assemblies and assemblies whose role in
life is purely consultative.
It also hardly seems possible to envisage a
link to the national delegations to the parliamentary assembly
to the Council of Europe. First of all because of the principle
of equal representation of member states in the second chamber,
while the number of representatives in the parliamentary assembly
of the Council of Europe varies according to the size of the member
states. Secondly because the questions dealt with by these two
bodies are of a different nature. Finally because, if at present
a very efficient organisation of personal time allows senators
to fulfil at one and the same time their functions as members
of the national parliament and those as members of the parliamentary
assembly of the Council of Europe, it would seem very difficult
to add a third mission, to the European Senate.
On the other hand, it seems today that the Assembly
of the Western European Union must be looking forward very shortly
to a major change, because of the transfer to the European Union
of the operational functions of the WEU. As it seems hardly possible
to transfer the powers of the WEU Assembly to the European Parliament,
because the financing of the common defence policy remains essentially
a national issue, it seems logical to give to the European
second chamber the tasks currently carried out by the WEU Assembly.
Finally, since 1989, representatives of national
parliaments have met every six months in the format of COSAC,
where the delegations are all the same size. One could therefore
without difficulty think that COSAC could be transformed into
a European second chamber. In some sense, one could say that
COSAC would have been in a small way the prefiguration of this
Done in this way, the creation of a second European
chamber would not lead to complication of the institutional system
because the second chamber would be a substitute for an existing
Assembly, the WEU Assembly, and for an embryonic "quasi Assembly",
B - What powers?
1 - The application of the principle of subsidiarity
Should the second
chamber take part in the examination and voting on community laws?
The reply should be positive if it was made
up of representatives of governments because it would be then
the Council of Ministers which became the European Senate. But,
as soon as one goes down the road of a second chamber composed
of representatives of national parliaments, to give it the task
of examining and voting on community texts would lead to the setting
up of a structure in which European texts were successfully voted
on by three different bodies, which seems a rather excessively
heavy-handed procedure. It is because they have this set-up in
mind that many members of the European Parliament regard the creation
of a European Senate as the setting-up of a "third chamber".
According to us, the second chamber should not have the same
task as the European Parliament in respect of community laws and
should not be asked to vote on these laws.
On the other hand, it should have an essential
role in the application of the principle of subsidiarity,
because, in this area, it appears clearly that it will not duplicate
the work of any other institution of the Union. On the contrary,
it would introduce an element of counter-balance and equilibrium
in the face of the institutional triangle of which each element
has, for its own good and proper reasons, a tendency to favour
intervention at a community level as opposed to national intervention.
How could it intervene on subsidiarity?
First of all by debates which would throw light
on the principles of application of subsidiarity and which would
also throw light on its applications in particular areas. But
above all the second chamber should be able to examine, in
the light of subsidiarity, any community text during its passage
and to decide that its coming into effect should be subject to
control by the Court of Justice in respect of its conformity with
the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. One could
imagine the following mechanism:
Following a request by a national delegation in the
second chamber, the second chamber would examine a community text
in the course of its progress with regard to the principle of
- the second chamber could then decide that the
text seemed to be in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity
and proportionality or decide that it seemed defective, in whole
or in part, in regard to these principles;
it would then vote a resolution expressing its criticisms
or its doubts and could decide to refer the matter to the Court
the Court of Justice would be then required to examine
the text following its final adoption by the institutions of the
Union and to rule within six weeks on whether the document conformed
to the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.
We would have thus a combination of a political
approach and a judicial approach to subsidiarity. This principle
is indeed not a purely judicial principle but neither can it be
considered as a purely political principle.
Beyond this principal task as far as subsidiarity
is concerned which would lead to the taking of decisions (to refer
to the Court of Justice), it would be desirable to give the second
chamber also a consultative role.
It should take over the control functions
exercised by the WEU Assembly with regard to defence; in general
terms, it would be good that it should set-up a dialogue with
the Council and organise debates on defence activities and those
arising from the Common Foreign and Security Policy.
It would be desirable if it had the same exchanges
on questions relating to the third pillar of the Union, that is
to say in the areas of Justice and Home Affairs. Who,
indeed, on these sensitive questions which are so close to the
daily preoccupations of our citizens, is better placed than national
parliamentarians to stimulate governments when that seems necessary,
to refocus their actions when that seems useful?
In all of these areas where the inter-governmental
aspect is dominant and where, in consequence, the European Parliament
cannot play a full scrutiny role, the European second chamber
could usefully make the voice of national parliaments heard.
It could also hold general debates on
the future of the Union and have a debate each year on the state
of the Union; perhaps it could even - as President Giscard d'Estaing
suggested - hear presentations from the directors of the European
Central Bank on the objectives of their monetary policies.
C - Methods of Working?
Finally, it is necessary to touch on some methods
of working of the second chamber. It is indeed essential that
this Assembly should aim for a light touch and it should avoid
the temptation which all parliamentary assemblies are aware of,
of extending ceaselessly their activities and their periods of
The point is above all to re-establish the link
between national parliaments and the institutions of the Union.
For that, the members of the European second chamber must
remain above all national parliamentarians and they must continue
to take a full part in the activities of their national parliaments.
It is only thus that one will be able to maximise the effects
of the double mandate and minimise its disadvantages which arise
from the difficulty of carrying out properly two different activities.
As a consequence, the second chamber should
have about six sessions per year, each session lasting a day and
a half. The experience of COSAC is in this respect full of
useful lessons. Each COSAC meeting lasts a day and a half and
generally the meeting takes place on Monday and Tuesday morning.
The result is clear: the level of attendance of parliamentarians
at COSAC is high because it is possible for members to take a
full part in the meeting while still getting back to their home
parliament on Tuesday evening. With good technical preparation
and the use of modern means of communication, six sessions of
a day and a half should be adequate for the European Senate to
fulfil its tasks efficiently and successfully.
Out of these six annual sessions, it would
be desirable that one session should take place each six months
at the invitation of the parliament of the country which holds
the presidency of the Union. Without doubt simplicity and
ease of operation would lead one to favour a single fixed meeting
place. But democracy in the Union also spreads by holding parliamentary
meetings throughout the Union's territories. Already today, the
COSAC meeting takes place each six months at the invitation of
the parliament of the country which holds the presidency. No
greater burden would be imposed than that which flows from COSAC
which would itself be subsumed into the European Senate.
But the activities of the second chamber would
therefore be better understood and would contribute all the more
to the solution to this problem of legitimacy from which the Union
suffers. And it is exactly that that we wish to achieve in suggesting
the creation of a second European chamber.
25 The Senate's EU Affairs Committee is called the
délégation pour l'Union européenne Back