Memorandum submitted by Jean-Pierre Cot,
former member of the Assemblée Nationale (France), former
member of the European Parliament
1. I submit the present evidence to the
Committee, mainly on the basis of my experience as member of the
Assemblée Nationale and of the European Parliament. I was
member of the Assemblée Nationale for Savoie from 1973
to 1981. I sat in the foreign affairs and finance committees and
in the délégation pour les affaires européennes.
I was appointed member of the European Parliament from 1978 to
1979, under the dual mandate system, I was elected to the European
Parliament from 1984 to 1999. I chaired the budgets committee,
the socialist group and sat in the committee for legal affairs
and the ACP-CE Joint Parliamentary Assembly. As chairman of the
Socialist group, I was involved in the preparation and meeting
of the Rome Assizes in 1989 and in setting up the initial relations
between the European Parliament and the Committee Regions.
2. I well understand the case for a second
chamber. It is not a question of checks and balances or of efficiency
of the legislative process. Technically speaking, the European
Parliament has done a decent job. The members are reasonably competent
in their fields of interest. The reports coming out of committees
are well drafted given the constraints. Most members have built
a network of contacts enabling them to retrieve the adequate information
so as to exercise their legislative and control functions and
to smooth out the political process at that stage. As members
are elected by proportional representation on a large constituency
basis, whatever the national technicalities, most of them do a
full-time job in Parliament.
3. True, a minority rarely shows up and
has a poor record. But that is true of all democratically elected
institutions I have observed. The only ultimate sanction in democracy
is the vote. If the voters are content with absentee members,
there is nothing much to do about it. The majority of the European
Parliament is reasonably present, turns up for votes in the chamber,
follows group meetings and committee work. I would rank the European
Parliament about average and certainly above both houses of the
French Parliament as far as discharging parliamentary functions.
4. Moreover, shortcomings of the European
Parliament are not only of its own making. The rules of the game
are not set by the Parliament, but by the member states. The minute
technical detail of the texts voted upon by the Parliament are
due to the failing of comitology to screen adequately what is
essential and what is administration. As a result, Parliament
is often dependent on exterior advicegovernments, but also
lobbiesin the positions it takes in such matters.
5. A second chamber offers no remedy in
these fields. Quite to the contrary. A second chamber would certainly
complicate an already complex decision-making process. It would
introduce more delays in an already lengthy legislative procedure.
It would make the system even more incomprehensible for the European
citizens. And it certainly would cost even more to the European
6. The heart of the matter is not one of
efficiency, but one of legitimacy. European citizens do not feel
adequately represented by the European Parliament, by their Euro-MPs.
They understand and by and large accept delegation of matters
to the European Union. Jacques Delors noted upon adoption of the
Single European Act that 80 per cent of the economic legislation
dealt with by national parliaments at the time would be transferred
to the European level through the process of completion of the
single market. This is all the more true with Maastricht and extension
of EU into fields of sovereignty as sensitive as monetary affairs,
foreign policy or justice and home affairs.
7. Our public opinions have more or less
reluctantly accepted the fact, but are calling for a more strict
and representative monitoring of decisions taken at a European
level. They do not feel the European Parliament delivers the job.
8. Here, we run into a contradiction this
Committee is well acquainted with. More control by national parliaments
and at national level amounts to some form of renationalisation
of European policies. It certainly complicates decision-making
and might ultimately paralyse the whole system. Enlargement would
become a nightmare in such a perspective. There obviously is a
case for better monitoring of national policies in European affairs
by national parliaments. But a better monitoring of European policies
by national parliaments is self-defeating.
9. Hence the second chamber. It sounds wonderful
on paper. But what does it amount to in practice?
10. The ratio legis of the second chamber
proposal is to build an institutional tie between the national
and European parliamentary decision-making processes. Thanks to
the dual mandate, national-euro MPs can ensure the two-way flow
of information and advice between the two systems. Representing
a national viewpoint in the European system, national MPs with
a national background, following and legitimacy can ensure that
their nation state's point of view is duly taken into account.
Beyond their particular national interests, they can also insure
that "ordinary people's views" are articulated and that
"common sense" prevails, as their institutional tie
with the national political system makes them less prone to eurocrat
11. On the other hand, dual mandate MPs
can bring their inside knowledge of European affairs to the debate
in national parliaments, provide for an early warning mechanism,
ring the alarm if necessary in due time. They can explain the
intricacies of the European procedures, give the necessary insight
into the political compromise behind the decision, while staying
aloof from governmental pressures.
12. Can a dual mandate system ensure these
functions? I have my doubts, because I have a direct and long
experience of dual mandates. As this Committee knows, the French
political system thrives on dual mandates. It is quite impossible
to achieve a position of power or influence in France without
practising the dual mandate in some way or another. I personally
held dual mandates through statutory obligation, as appointed
member to the European Parliament from 1978 to 1979 and as member
of the Conseil Régional Rhône-Alpes from 1974 to
1981, when the French system called for MPs to sit automatically
in the regional councils alongside appointed members. But I also
held local government positions in my "commune" and
"département" from 1971 to 1995, while I was
member of the French parliament, the government, then the European
13. The basis of the dual mandate is to
use one's position and influence in one institution to enhance
one's position and power in the other institution. As a mayor
of a small community in the French Alps, I had more easy access
to the préfet and was less impressed by the opinion of
local administrations than my colleagues. In a way the dual mandate
was an asset for my local community.
14. But the dual mandate envisaged here
is quite a different matter. A European position does not significantly
shore up ones political position in national politics and vice
versa. The rationale underlying the proposal is a different one.
It is to use the addition of competences to make the system work.
But this implies either that one of the mandates is a part-time
job or that there are 48 hours in a day.
15. European politics are a full-time job.
In-depth knowledge of the system and procedures, establishing
a network of contacts both at national and at European level,
keeping up with change are time-consuming. If one adds a minimum
of national political contacts and constituency work, the week
is quite full.
16. The difficulty is compounded by the
fact that European politics and policies are intricate, complex,
difficult to understand and to manage. This is due to the historical
intricacies and cultural diversity of the European Union. The
basic field of European law is still economics. The texts are
written out with great detail because the member states don't
trust each other or the Commission on fair implementation of the
law. Procedures have grown in complexity over the years, each
ICG adding new ways of dealing with legislation and rarely substituting
for the older procedure.
17. Familiarity with the ways and means
of the European Union calls for an important personal effort by
the members. You just can't leave the job to your assistant because,
if you do so, you carry no weight or influence in the institution.
Such an effort is not all that easy for members who are not chosen
for their linguistic skills or prior knowledge of the jurisprudence
of the European Court. Seniority in the Parliament is an important
factor just because of that. It takes time to build the necessary
networks and acquire the necessary talents to discharge reasonably
18. The point here is that parliamentary
legislation and control call for some hard work by the members,
whatever the parliament, if parliament is to mean anything. "Mickey
Mouse parliaments" are those where members fly in for a good
meal, read a speech prepared by someone else, preferably a civil
servant, then fly back to attend serious business at home.
19. Such a situation is a bureaucrat's paradise.
The system has a democratic fig leaf and decisions are taken with
rubberstamp parliamentary approval. National alignments ensure
predictability of amendments and votes, along the lines experienced
in the preliminary diplomatic negotiation. No indiscreet prying,
prodding or pestering is to be feared. No surprise the French
Quai d'Orsay is one of the most enthusiastic proponents of the
20. This is no caricature. I well remember
the days of the dual mandate system in 1978-79. As a young member
and even though my academic training did give me some notion of
the matter, I just didn't have the time to do my homework. Hard-working
as I was, domestic politics called for the essential of my time
and attention. Within a year, I still hardly knew my way about
the places in Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg. As soon as
I got to a meeting-room, I would run out to the telephone booth
to check with National Assembly or constituency affairs. It was
all very nice and the restaurants were excellent. But it was hardly
an efficient way of dealing with the issues.
21. I was not a particularly lazy member.
The same was true of the great majority of the members, in particular
the members who did carry influence in national politics. To be
more specific, I recall very enjoyable moments with Maurice Faure
or Pierre Joxe, future colleagues in government after 1981 or
with Betty Boothroyd and John Prescott. But none of these members
were more active or present than I was. A few members were hard-working
euro-MPs. They all lost their seats in the direct election in
1979 because they had neglected their home base. In particular,
George Spenale, former chairman of the budgets committee and former
President of the Parliament, was dropped from the list because
he had faded out of political existence in Paris. The only members
who did combine hard work in Strasbourg with a safe seat at home
were the British members of the House of Lords.
22. It was quite a shock for me to take
my seat in the new Parliament, in 1984. I was anticipating the
relaxed sort of situation I had known in the past. When I asked
a clerk in 1984 to draft my first report, I was actually turned
down. He patiently explained that members were expected to do
their own homework since 1979. And quite a heavy load of homework
it was. The good old days were gone. This was a real parliament
23. The inefficiency of the dual mandate
in that respect was not a particularity of the European Parliament.
I witnessed a comparable situation in Lyon, in the Conseil Regional
Rhône-Alpes. At the time, the Conseil Regional was composed
of all the members of Parliament (Assemblée Nationale and
Sénat) of the Région and an equivalent number of
members appointed by local government (departements and communes).
In Lyon as in Strasbourg, the eminent parliamentary members didn't
show up and, when they did, certainly did a poor job. The locals
were an interesting, hard-working group. But they didn't carry
the power and influence in the institution. The préfet
de région and mission régionale in reality called
all the shots. The situation drastically changed in 1985, with
the direct election of the Conseils Régionaux.
24. Competing legitimacy of two chambers
appointed by different procedures within a parliamentary system
is always a tricky situation to manage, as this House knows from
experience. The sort of schizophrenic situation, where those who
do the work aren't those who carry power and influence, is basically
unsound and unhealthy. Members must be in full possession of their
brief to take the right decisions and exert reasonable political
power and pressure. It is to be feared that a dual chamberdual
mandate system comes up with the same sort of situation. The second
chamber, carrying the legitimacy of elected members added to that
of privileged relations with the national political systems, would
certainly have a major political influence. But it would not have
the know-how and technical means to exert such an influence. The
result would be a built-in conflict between the two chambers,
but also with national parliaments naturally supporting the views
and ambitions of the second chamber. It is a recipe for confusion.
25. I do not think a second chamber is the
adequate answer to the problem of democratic legislation and control
in the European Union. The European Parliament certainly can do
a better job, streamline its procedures, and clean up the shop
so as to give less cause to criticism. National political parties
and systems should pay more attention to the European Parliament,
be more attentive to the issues of European legislation and consider
that contributing to legitimacy of the European Parliament does
not mean weakening the legitimacy of national parliaments and
the national political systems. This is not a zero-sum game. All
players share an interest in reinforcing democracy at all levels.
26. A closer working relationship between
the European Parliament and national parliaments certainly is
necessary. Association of euro-MPs to European affairs committees
in national parliaments is already standard practice in certain
member states. Closer relations at staff level and temporary exchange
of parliamentary staff can help establish personal relations and
cut through red tape. One problem is the sheer amount of documents
coming from the European Union. Vetting these documents, deciding
which decisions should be submitted to political scrutiny, is
an exercise that euro-MPs and European Parliament staff can help
27. Strengthening national scrutiny of European
legislation and control of national policies in European matters
certainly is a helpful development. Over the past 20 years, national
parliaments have become much more sophisticated in the job. Contrary
to what certain observers predicted, better knowledge of the European
system and process has not fuel anti-European feelings within
national parliaments, quite to the contrary. As long as it is
agreed that such scrutiny should not hold up the already cumbersome
European decision-making procedures, the contribution of national
parliaments is helpful.
28. National parliaments are in a position
to monitor and control national governments, but also the Council
and the European Council, The European Parliament is not. It has
no way of compelling ministers or the Council, who are responsible
before national parliaments, but not before the European Parliament.
National parliaments must take this duty seriously and ensure
accountability of their ministers and administration. It is all
the more important because national decision-making in European
affairs tends to be concentrated at an administrative level, under
the direction of organs such as the British cabinet office or
the French SGCI with no direct political control, either by parliament
or, because of the interministerial nature of the problems, by
the ministers in charge. The Prime Minister oversees the whole
process, but cannot be expected to follow day-to-day decisions
and necessarily delegates authority to his staff.
29. National Parliaments and the European
Parliament can usefully pool their resources and efforts in certain
matters. I think it is an error to expect national MPs to follow
the intricacies of European legislation or monitor the Commission
in its day-to-day operations. But national parliaments should
be involved in major decisions and orientations. I see no reason
why national MPs should not be informed of decisions of the European
Council at the same time and in the same way as euro-MPs. I think
national MPs should examine the annual report of the European
Central Bank. And I believe they should have their say in the
annual working program of the Commission.
30. A joint assembly or a Convention could
be a solution in my eyes. We tried out the system in 1989 with
the Rome assizes. It was not a success. But these may have been
growing pains. The Convention that elaborated the Charter of Human
Rights certainly was more successful. The formula, or a similar
forum, could be repeated for to address constitutional matters,
where approval of texts by national parliaments is called for.
It should be entrusted with major decisions on enlargement. But
it could also be convened to hear the European Council, Council,
Commission and Central Bank reports and debate on these reports.
National parliaments would thus be associated at par with the
European Parliament in determination of the major political issues
addressed by the European Union.
31. The advantage I see in such a joint
assembly is that it does not pit one chamber against the other.
It does not call on national MPs to examine the fine print of
euro-law and administration, which they cannot adequately manage
for lack of time and interest. A joint assembly creates useful
links and ultimately ensures that national parliaments have their
say in the major decisions and orientations concerning the European
Union. But checking the nuts and bolts of the system better be
left to the members of the European Parliament. They have the
staff, the time, the commitment. They are equipped to do the job.
Members of national parliaments are not. The dual mandate does
not change that simple fact.