Translation of a memorandum by Michel
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
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 extendsand will
extend even more in the futureinter-governmental action
at European level, but without any real involvement of the European
Parliament, and without the obligatory involvement of National
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 Senatorsthe 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
"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 Justiceto 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 Statesa 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 voteat
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 Councilwhose legislative functions one can't
really see 15 governments giving up easilythe 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 chamberswhich it is difficult
to see working properlyand 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
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