Select Committee on European Union Seventh Report


French Senate Report on A European Second Chamber:

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 debate

  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 Parliament".

  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 European Union[25], 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 parliaments.

  2.  Equal representation of the States

  Two propositions 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 states.

  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 second chamber.

  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", COSAC.

  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 subsidiarity;

-  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 of Justice;

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.

2.  Control

  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 operation.

  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

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