Select Committee on European Union Written Evidence

Translation of a memorandum by Michel Rocard[47]

  The creation of a European "Second Chamber" is an old idea. It appears already in European proposals of almost half a century ago. We also find it in the more recent discussions aimed at making the European Community (later the Union) more democratic. Ten years ago Laurent Fabius, then the President of the French National Assembly, and Fred Catherwood, MEP, championed this idea. Last year, Joschka Fischer, in a speech which was seen as being federalist, also proposed it.

  This proposal often goes hand in hand with the desire for closer involvement of National Parliaments in the development of Europe. Because democratic control seems to be lacking in the Union. Because national opinions are distant from the European sphere. Because parliaments remain the forum for democratic control, and national parliaments the forum for establishing the link which is at present lacking between the European level, of ever increasing importance in decision-making, and the national level, which always dominates everyday democratic life.

  We have to keep this double aspect in mind. Is it, in itself, necessary to have a "second chamber" in order to respect the interests of the Member States? Is a "second chamber" necessary in order better to involve the National Parliaments in holding Europe to account, and in framing rules which will later apply, directly or indirectly, in the member states? Is the goal to improve the European Institutions, or to reinforce the European involvement of national democracies? The invention of a "second chamber" is supposed to respond to all of these considerations, and this is not necessarily going to be easy.

  Relations between National Parliaments and the European Parliament posed hardly any problems while the EP was composed solely of members of National Parliaments. But this duality was brought to an end in 1979, and the European Parliament is now made up of its own members, directly elected, members. Since this fundamental change, adequate arrangements for co-operation between National and European Parliaments have not been set up. We must not forget the creation of COSAC (the Conference of European Affairs Committees) in 1989; the "Assises" involving the European Parliament and the National Parliaments (but which has unfortunately only been held once, in Rome, in 1989); the Conference of Speakers of Parliaments of the European Union (which, however, does not meet very often). More interestingly, certain Member States have established mixed Committees of National MPs and Members of the European Parliament: it would be useful to take stock, and reflect on how this model might be more generally applied.

  The need for both a strong role for National Parliaments in the European process and efficient collaboration between the National Parliaments and the European Parliament is becoming ever stronger, for at least for two reasons. First of all because Community legislation is developing and weighs more and more heavily on national legislation. Secondly because the creation of the second and third pillars extends—and will extend even more in the future—inter-governmental action at European level, but without any real involvement of the European Parliament, and without the obligatory involvement of National Parliament.

  Proposals for a "second chamber" have, therefore, started to flourish once again with different names and in diverse forms: a "European Senate"; a "High Council of Subsidiarity"; the division of the European Parliament into two chambers; bi-cameralism between MEPs elected by universal suffrage and members (or Senators—the name doesn't really matter) nominated by the National Parliaments. This last proposal was put forward as early as 1989 by Michael Heseltine, then by Fred Catherwood, a former Vice-President of the European Parliament. The French Senate has consistently thought along the same lines. Ten years later, senior figures as different as Vaclav Havel and Joschka Fischer have come out in favour of a second chamber made up of National Parliaments either on the American model of equality between Member States (Havel: three senators for each country) or on the German model, with geographical weighting. Tony Blair put forward the same principle in his Warsaw speech on the 9 October 2000:

    "I also believe that the time has now come to involve representatives of national parliaments more on such matters, by creating a second chamber of the European Parliament. A second chamber's most important function would be to renew the EU's work in the light of [an] agreed Statement of Principles . . . Such a second chamber could also, I believe, help provide democratic oversight at a European level of the common foreign and security level.

  Chris Patten sees in a second chamber made up of delegates from National Parliaments a means of "allowing the more effective application of the principle of subsidiarity". The Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, hardly someone you could suspect of euro-scepticism does not take exception to this prospect: the idea of a bi-cameral system launched by Foreign Minister Fischer "could serve as a basis for further work". Jacques Delors thinks that a second chamber is necessary but for the European Federation which would according to him be formed by the countries of the "avant-garde".

  These various examples point to the ambiguities in the idea. For some, it protects national prerogative. For others, it permits the leap towards a federal system. These different aims take us back to the contradictions I mentioned at the beginning of this note.

  If one wishes to examine the question from the European point of view, it cannot be seriously considered without a look at the whole triangle of Parliament-Council-Commission. The originality of the European system lies in the fact that it does not reproduce a national democratic model articulated between executive and legislative, or still more, between government and parliament. The Commission shares the governmental function with the Council. The council shares the legislative function with the Parliament (when it does not exercise it alone). The establishment of a second chamber of the states would mark a profound break with this model. The National Parliaments would obviously gain by being represented and having the power of intervention in the European legislative process. The Governments would also obviously lose if they accepted, as a by-product of this reform, to remain in future confined to a strictly executive function. Unless they were given the right to initiate legislation instead of the Commission, which would in turn be a big loser. Finally the European institutional system as a whole would become more complex, passing from a three-way game (Commission-Council-Parliament) to a four-way game (the same, plus the Chamber of Member states). Without counting the Court of Justice—to which the new chamber would become a competitor in its role as guardian of subsidiarity.

  To this general objection, one could add another more practical one. Either the "Senators" of the "Chamber of Member States" take a full part in parliamentary work, as MEPs do, although it is difficult to see how they could be present in both their constituency and in their National Parliament. Or they would come occasionally to Brussels or Strasbourg, but risk resembling the Supreme Soviet of former days, or the present Russian second chamber, which meets very sporadically and plays only a completely marginal role.

  Rather than rendering the European Institutions still more complicated, and the process of adoption of European laws slower, it would be much better to simplify the existing institutions and make them more democratic. The "second chamber" already exists: it is the Council. No directive, no regulation can be adopted if it is not accepted by the Council, representing the Member States—a sort of Bundesrat at European level (but a Bundesrat with a primary role in the adoption of all laws and not, as in Germany, an equal role to that of the Bundestag for half of the laws, those with implications for the Länder).

  It would be better therefore, at the risk of seeming less revolutionary, to reform the existing institutions rather than undermining them. It would be better to enhance and improve the second chamber rather than creating a third chamber. It would be better to distinguish the executive function of the Council from its legislative function, and organise the work of the Council in its legislative capacity like that of a proper legislature: with public meetings with explanations of vote—at least in written form, publication of preparatory studies, recourse to new technology to bring texts to the notice of citizens, not to say to permit them to have a much more open say in the process . . .

  Such a reform of the Council would go together with another, just as indispensable. The Ministers of European Affairs should replace those of Foreign Affairs (who have other things to worry about) at the General Affairs Council. Ministers of European Affairs should be political personalities of some stature (which they hardly are except in France) directly reporting to the Prime Minister, holding weekly meetings in Brussels and in charge, on a permanent basis, of relations with the European Parliament and the National Parliaments.

  The relations between the National Parliaments and the European Parliament should be rethought, for example by setting up on an institutional basis a Joint Committee, and possibly by a power which could be given to them to obtain a reopened debate before the entry into force of piece of legislation which was contested by a majority of parliaments of Member States or by a number of parliaments representing a majority of the population. One could, under the same conditions, give them a right of initiative, on which the Commission would be obliged to act.

  To conclude, the principle of European bi-cameralism is extremely legitimate. The Union has a double aspect: a Community, pursuing a common European interest, and the constituent Member States with their own interests. This double principle of European legitimacy has to be found in all the European Institutions. We must not under-estimate, as is so often done, the importance of national delegations in the European Parliament. They are the first place where parliamentary positions are worked out, before the synthesis carried out in the multi-national groups, the Committees and the plenary.

  European bi-cameralism already exists, with the Parliament and the Council. But it is camouflaged by the dual nature of the Council's functions and the democratic weaknesses of its method of working.

  To go further and to integrate the National Parliaments in the constitution of a fourth European institution alongside the Council—whose legislative functions one can't really see 15 governments giving up easily—the Commission (remaining the institution with the power of initiative and the duty of implementation, and the present Parliament reduced to the role of a lower chamber) would mount to the creation of a legislative system of three chambers—which it is difficult to see working properly—and to introduce in the European decision-making process confusion, opacity and delay which would paralyse it completely. It seems doubtful that such an idea could be accepted by the various Governments who are attached to a more efficient European model and still less by the present European Parliament.

  As to the European democratic deficit it does indeed need urgent and profound attention. But this should consist, not so much in the reinforcement of existing controls, as in improving the division of responsibilities, and the speed and efficiency of the decisions already subject to these controls, at the same time by reinforcing the political legitimacy of those who carry them out. MEPs are indeed elected on a strictly national basis, and according to systems of votes which differ from country to country and which do not always create a sufficiently direct and visible link between the Members and the electors.

  Increased involvement of National Parliaments in European activity is indeed necessary, in different degrees in each country. It should be done by reforming relations between Governments and National Parliaments and by developing new relations between National Parliaments and the European Parliament.

  If I had to summarise these four pages in two sentences, I would say YES, we need a second chamber, and since it exists already, let us organise it. NO, we do not need a third chamber, but we need to change the relations between National Parliaments and both of the two existing chambers.

47   The Original French version is available from the House of Lords Committee Office. Back

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