Procedure : 2018/2113(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A8-0033/2019

Texts tabled :

A8-0033/2019

Debates :

PV 11/02/2019 - 16
CRE 11/02/2019 - 16

Votes :

PV 12/02/2019 - 9.17

Texts adopted :

P8_TA(2019)0078

REPORT     
PDF 227kWORD 84k
28.1.2019
PE 629.657v02-00 A8-0033/2019

on the implementation of the Treaty provisions on Parliament’s power of political control over the Commission

(2018/2113(INI))

Committee on Constitutional Affairs

Rapporteur: Mercedes Bresso

EXPLANATORY STATEMENT - SUMMARY OF FACTS AND FINDINGS
 MOTION FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION
 OPINION of the Committee on Budgetary Control
 INFORMATION ON ADOPTION IN COMMITTEE RESPONSIBLE
 FINAL VOTE BY ROLL CALL IN COMMITTEE RESPONSIBLE

EXPLANATORY STATEMENT - SUMMARY OF FACTS AND FINDINGS

Procedure and sources

On 31 May 2018, the rapporteur was entrusted with the task of preparing a report on the implementation of the Treaty provisions on parliamentary scrutiny over the Commission.

Since her appointment, the rapporteur has collected information and has relied on the following sources, among others:

  a hearing held in the Committee on Constitutional Affairs on 10 October 2018;

  an Ex-Post Impact Assessment by Parliament’s EPRS, entitled ‘Parliamentary scrutiny over the European Commission: implementation of the Treaty provisions’;

Findings of the research

Parliamentary oversight is a precondition for democratic legitimacy. Recent changes in the law-making process and the increased legislative role of the executive have created the need for a reinforcement of parliamentary scrutiny procedures. This phenomenon is not foreign to the institutional structure of the Union, with the Commission gaining law-making powers through delegated acts, its increasing ‘politicisation’ and the stronger need for law reinforcement to complement the efficiency of legislation. Therefore, this report will aim to reassess Parliament’s scrutiny role over the Commission and bring it up to date with these new institutional developments.

Existing instruments for parliamentary scrutiny over the Commission

The Commission, as a body, is responsible to the European Parliament (Article 17 TEU). The Parliament derives its powers of oversight over the Commission from the Treaties but also from sources of secondary legislation or from Interinstitutional Agreements such as the Framework Agreement on relations between the European Parliament and the European Commission and the Interinstitutional Agreement on better law-making.

The instruments for parliamentary scrutiny can be grouped into one of the following categories:

-  Election of president and investiture of the Commission

Election of Commission President (Articles 14 and 17 TEU)

According to the Treaty, EU heads of state propose a candidate for Commission President, taking into account the results of European elections (Article 17 TEU). The candidate is elected by the Parliament (Article 14 TEU).

The Spitzenkandidaten process, which was launched by Parliament for the first time in 2014, established a stronger link between Parliament and Commission, which together with the well established practice of commissioner-designate hearings created a form of parliamentary steering oversight. The Spitzenkandidaten process is not a formal requirement of the Treaty but a political process established by Parliament in 2014, which led to the appointment of President Juncker, who was the EPP lead candidate, as president of the Commission.

It remains to be seen how the lead candidate process will be shaped in the context of the 2019 elections, taking into account the recommendations made in the European Parliament decision of 7 February 2018 on the revision of the Framework Agreement on relations between the European Parliament and the European Commission. This process is a major step in strengthening the link between Parliament and the Commission and should even be reinforced by laying out more detailed terms for its application.

Investiture of the Commission (Articles 14 and 17 TEU)

Since 1995, commissioner-designates have been required to appear before Parliament for a public hearing with the relevant committees, a practice developed by Parliament and formalised in its Rules of Procedure, although this is not a procedure stipulated in the Treaties. The Commission as a body is then subject to the Parliament’s vote of consent. There have been three cases of commissioner-designates withdrawing their candidatures after a negative result of the Parliamentary hearing (Rocco Buttoglione in 2004, Rumiana Jeleva in 2010 and Alenka Bratušek in 2014).

In case a Commissioner changes significantly his or her portfolio in the course of the term of office of the Commission or there is a significant change in the composition of the Commission, the Commissioners concerned are invited once again to a public hearing in Parliament. Between 2010 and 2018 there were five additional hearings of commissioner-designates.

-  Instruments for calling the Commission to account

Motion for censure (Article 17 TEU and Article 234 TFEU)

Parliament’s power of censure of the Commission could be seen as a vote of no-confidence in the executive. The Parliament has the right to censure the Commission by a two thirds majority of the votes cast, representing a majority of the component Members of Parliament. According to Parliament’s Rules of procedure (Rule 119), such motion can be submitted by one-tenth of the MEPs.

So far, none of the eight motions of censure brought before Parliament has been adopted, mostly due to the very high threshold required (2/3 majority). In 1999, the Santer Commission stepped down before Parliament forced its resignation. This happened after Parliament refused to give discharge to the Commission for the year 1996.

Withdrawal of confidence in an individual Member of the Commission

The Treaties do not provide for individual responsibility of Commissioners but consider the Commission as a body responsible to Parliament. However, according to the Framework Agreement on relations between the European Parliament and the European Commission, the Parliament can ask the Commission President to withdraw confidence in an individual Member of the Commission. The Commission President has to explain his refusal to do so before Parliament. This provision has never been applied to this date.

Right of inquiry (Article 226 TFEU)

According to Article 226 TFEU, Parliament has the right to set up a temporary Committee of Inquiry to investigate alleged contraventions and maladministration in the implementation of Union Law. The same article confers on Parliament the right of initiative to propose a Regulation detailing the provisions governing its right of inquiry, which should be adopted after obtaining the consent of the Council and the Commission.

All investigations conducted to date by Parliament through committees of inquiry, have shown that the existing legal framework(1)is far too restrictive in terms of the ability to summon individual witnesses, to request access to documents and to impose sanctions in order to assert Parliament’s investigative powers. Parliament’s proposal for a Regulation on the Right of Inquiry(2), which is still under negotiations with the Council and the Commission, aims at increasing Parliament’s powers in these fields.

Since 2009, the Parliament has set up two committees of inquiry - on emission measurements in the automotive sector (EMIS) and on money laundering, tax avoidance and tax evasion (PANA).

Although the current legal provisions do not allow for binding recommendations, it appears that the Commission is taking them seriously as was the case with the work of the EMIS Committee. This is for sure due to the stronger political link between Parliament and Commission, in particular since the 2014 elections.

Parliamentary scrutiny of delegated and implementing acts

While delegated acts allow the Commission to adopt norms of general application, implementing acts are non-legislative in nature and aim to ensure the uniform application of the law across the EU Member States. Due to this different nature, Parliament has different scrutiny possibilities for the delegated and implementing acts.

For delegated acts, Parliament has the right to veto and revocation, while for implementing acts it has no power to block them. For implementing acts, the scrutiny power is shifted towards the national level, where the Member States through ‘advisory and examination procedures’ have the possibility to shape the content of the implementing act. However, the Member States are represented by their governments in these bodies, and depending on institutional structure set in place in the Member States, these measures might lack parliamentary oversight in some Member States. It is therefore essential that parliamentary oversight is also in place at national level to control the action of the executive in this field.

Until June 2018, Parliament has never revoked a delegation and has only objected eight times to a delegated act, adopted by the Commission. In addition to empowering the Commission to adopt delegated acts, the basic legislative act determines the time period for which this power is delegated to the Commission. The duration of empowerment can be given for (1) an indefinite period, (2) determinate period with tacit extension and (3) a determinate period with no extension possible. Based on the statistics, indeterminate period was given only in 13 cases, while determinate period with tacit extension in 158 cases and determinate duration in 41 cases.

As the number of implementing acts has been growing over the last years and because it is the member states’ executives controlling the Commission in the exercise of implementing acts, the involvement of the Parliament should be strengthened in terms of parliamentary scrutiny and clear criteria for the delineation of implementing and delegated acts should be put in force.

Oral and written questions (Article 230 (2) TFEU)

According to Article 230 (2) TFEU questions for oral and written answer are available to Parliament but can only be directed towards the Commission and not the Council, even though both the Council and the president of the European Council have agreed to answer questions from Parliament on voluntary basis. This can therefore be considered a rather soft instrument, to highlight problems or request more information. Nevertheless, statistics show that the Commission answers all of Parliament’s written questions, even though it might not always respect the given deadlines. The same does not apply for questions for oral answer, as the Conference of Presidents decides whether to put these questions on the draft agenda.

Parliament’s Rules of Procedure (Rule 129) allow for the organisation of question time with the Commission, which is a common scrutiny tool in parliamentary democracies. However, this is not anymore put in practice, potentially because it might be considered overlapping with the plenary sessions for Commission answers to oral questions.

Legal proceedings

The Treaty gives Parliament the right to institute legal proceedings against the Commission and ask the Court to review the legality of an act of the Commission (Article 263 TFEU). Article 265 TFEU gives Parliament the right to institute legal proceedings against the Commission for failure to act. Even though the legal proceedings instituted by Parliament against the Commission are rather limited (10 applications since 2009, 5 actions granted), it seems that Parliament uses its powers as a last resort measure when all other possible actions fail.

-  Instruments for steering oversight

In addition to the instruments for calling the Commission to account, the instruments of steering oversight allow Parliament to proactively and effectively shape the EU political and legislative agenda.

Reporting obligations of the Commission

Article 249 TFEU obliges the Commission to publish a general report on the activities of the Union, which according to Article 233 TFEU the Parliament shall discuss in an open session the annual general report submitted to it by the Commission.

The Commission has to report, in three year intervals, to Parliament with regard to non-discrimination and citizenship of the Union while taking into account the development of the EU (Article 25 TFEU).

Additionally, Parliament should be presented a report on the results of multilateral surveillance in economic policy (Article 121 (5) TFEU).

Another report that has to be forwarded to Parliament is an annual report on progress in achieving the objectives of Article 151 i.e. article on social policy (Article 159 TFEU), as well as an annual report on social developments within the Union (Article 161 TFEU).

Article 175 TFEU requires the Commission to submit a report on the progress made towards achieving economic, social and territorial cohesion and on the manner in which the various means provided for in this article have contributed to it. This report has to be submitted every three years.

The report that should be sent by the Commission in accordance with Article 190 TFEU should include information on research and technological development activities and the dissemination of results during the previous year.

When conducting negotiations with third countries or international organisations the Commission is obliged by Article 207 TFEU to regularly report to Parliament on the progress of these negotiations.

Another annual report that the Commission needs to submit to Parliament is pursuant to Article 325 (2) TFEU with regard to protection of the EU’s financial interests and fight against fraud.

Proactive agenda-shaping

At the beginning of each year, the Commission has to send to Parliament a report that includes its work programme (CWP) for the current year (Article 190 TFEU). The Framework Agreement provides detailed calendar for this procedure.

In the first semester of each year regular dialogue between Commissioners and the corresponding parliamentary committees, followed by a report to the Conference of Committee Chairs (CCC) on the outcome of this dialogue and regular exchange of views between the CCC and the Commission’s Vice-Presidents takes place. In this platform, Parliament expresses its priorities for the Commission Work Programme, which the Commission is then obliged to take into consideration, according to the Framework Agreement on relations between the European Parliament and the European Commission.

In June   each year a summary report is submitted by the CCC to the Conference of Presidents (CoP), containing the results of the screening of implementation of the CWP, Parliament’s priorities for the upcoming CWP and taking stock of results of ongoing bilateral dialogue with the Commission. At the July part-session a resolution is adopted outlining Parliament’s position on legislative priorities.

The State of the Union debate takes place at the September Plenary Session in Strasbourg. This makes Union’s political priorities more transparent and subject to ex-ante parliamentary scrutiny.

During the month of September, parliamentary committees hold exchange of views on future priorities in each policy area with the respective Commissioners, which is followed by a subsequent meeting between the CCC and the College of Commissioners and if appropriate between the CoP and the President of the Commission.

The CWP for the following year is adopted in October and is presented to Parliament by the Commission’s President. Parliament holds a debate and votes a resolution at the December part-session.

Legislative initiative

In addition to the legislative agenda setting, the Treaty gives Parliament a right to quasi-legislative initiative. According to Article 225 TFEU the Parliament may request the Commission to submit a proposal on matters which it considers that a Union action is required or for the purpose of implementation of the Treaties. The Commission is not obliged to pursue such proposal, but in case it does not follow-up on Parliament’s initiative, it has to inform Parliament of its reasons. Since 2009, Parliament has resorted to Article 225 on 24 occasions, of which 7 were at least partially successful and resulted in a legislative proposal by the Commission or another appropriate action.

Monitoring and implementation of political priorities and legislative programming:

Article 6, Annex VI of Parliament’s Rules of Procedure details the procedure according to which Parliament reviews the commitments and priorities expressed by the commissioner-designates during their hearings of appointment.

Budgetary procedure and discharge for the budget

The fact that Parliament is a co-legislator in the budgetary field gives it leverage to control the Commission to some extent, as the non-adoption of the budget at the beginning of the financial year limits the monthly budgetary spending to provisional twelfths, which could impact the ability of the Commission to implement the multiannual programmes. Since the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, Parliament has not made use of this possibility, while this had happened back in 1979 and in 1984.

With regard to the spending of the budget, Parliament has control over its implementation as according to Article 319 TFEU it can grant discharge to the Commission, thereby expressing its assessment on the way the Commission implements the Union budget. Since 2009, Parliament has never postponed or refused to grant discharge, possibly due to the fact the Commission often takes into account Parliament’s recommendations expressed during the discharge procedure.

Foreign policy

The Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) have mostly consulting and reporting obligations towards Parliament (Article 36 TEU, and Articles 218 and 328 TFEU). However, with the introduction of the Parliamentary consent requirement for the conclusion of international agreements (Article 218 TFEU), Parliament has gained a more prominent role in external relations and the Commission is obliged to keep it fully and timely informed of developments in the negotiation of such agreements.

Implementation reports and evaluation

Implementation reports are another new tool of parliamentary scrutiny over the executive, as they provide recommendations and shape future policy based on analysis of the implementation so far.

Main conclusions and recommendations

All in all, it seems that Parliament has powerful instruments of political control over the Commission at its disposal. However, it appears necessary to improve their implementability and to better adjust them to the challenges specific to the EU institutional structure.

Main challenges to parliamentary oversight over the executive in the EU:

1.  There is a lack of clear definition of the ‘executive’ in the Treaties. In the EU context the ‘executive’ is organised differently for the different policy areas, as there is no exhaustive list of policy areas for which the Commission has executive power. This therefore raises some important challenges for parliamentary oversight.

2.  The executive is multi-layered, spread across the European, national and sometimes regional levels, which requires that true democratic control be exercised by elected bodies at each of these different levels.

3.  It could involve different institutions for the different policies - the Commission (for exclusive competences), the Commission with the Member States (shared management policies), the Council and European Council (in the case of CFSP).

4.  When the European Council is stepping over the functions prescribed to it by the Treaties and is acting as a legislator, it is de facto leaving Parliament and national Parliaments with no control over the executive, as for instance in the case of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and the Fiscal Compact.

5.  The very high threshold that needs to be reached for some control mechanisms to be triggered, such as for example the motion of censure, is another challenge to effective parliamentary oversight.

6.  There is a lack of continuous evaluation of the work of individual Commissioners.

7.  There is only collective responsibility of the Commission and no mechanism to hold individual Commissioners to account.

8.  There is an absence of any mechanism of parliamentary scrutiny over Commission’s administrative procedures for the appointment, of Commission Secretary General and Director Generals.

9.  The European Council is dominating the shaping of the EU political agenda, which restrains Parliament’s steering oversight.

10.  Even though legislative trilogues are an important tool of parliamentary democracy, they pose a challenge to the effective exercise of Parliament’s scrutiny functions. The consensual nature of EU decision-making makes it more difficult for Parliament to exercise political control effectively.

11.  The tendency of the Commission to depoliticise issues, through the creation of agencies and by providing seemingly technical solutions to political problems, makes it more unlikely for Parliament to efficiently exercise its powers of control over such issues.

Possible responses to the existing challenges:

1.  Due to the multi-layered EU executive, there is a need for national parliaments to scrutinise national governments in EU affairs in the same way as Parliament is scrutinising the Commission at the Union level.

2.  The EU executive should be streamlined and defined with the Commission transformed into the principal executive.

3.   Since the executive is multi-layered inside the EU, ‘political dialogue between national parliaments and the European Parliament should be intensified and made more meaningful and substantial, without overstepping the limits of their respective constitutional competences in order to cover as well the European Council and the Council of the European Union when acting as executives.

4.  Parliament’s legislative powers and oversight rights must be guaranteed, consolidated and strengthened. In the same vein, Parliament could consider to reform its working methods in order to strengthening the exercise of its functions of political control over the Commission.

5.  This would also imply strengthened executive capacity of the Commission in economic and monetary policies.

6.  Implementation of the oversight instruments, but mostly the ones used for calling the Commission to account, should be accompanied by thorough analysis as to what went wrong and why.

7.  A combination of various oversight instruments: both in terms of accountability and steering, could yield better results in parliamentary oversight in the EU context.

8.  There are instruments that are not applied in practice (such as the motion of censure). Because of the stronger link between Parliament and Commission created by the Spitzenkandidaten process and because Commissioners identify themselves with the political groups in Parliament it might become even more difficult to use them in the future.

9.  The Commission should give more serious consideration to the legislative initiatives launched by Parliament under Article 225 TFEU.

10.  The exchange of best practices in parliamentary scrutiny among national parliaments, such as the holding of regular debates between the respective ministers and the specialised committees in national parliaments before and after Council meetings, and with Commissioners in an appropriate setting and timeframe, as well as meetings with national parliaments for exchanges with MEPs should be strengthened.

11.  In a future Treaty change, it would be necessary to amend the provisions regarding the motion of censure in order to lower the required threshold and to introduce procedures for holding individual Commissioners accountable to Parliament throughout their term of office.

12.  Parliament’s proposal for a Regulation on the Right of Inquiry should be swiftly adopted in order to entrust Parliament with effective powers allowing it to exercise this basic parliamentary instrument to hold the executive to account.

13.  Clear rules for the delineation between implementing and delegated acts are necessary in order to ensure proper parliamentary scrutiny.

14.  The Commission should review its administrative procedures for the appointment of its Secretary General, Director Generals and Directors; in the context of a further parliamentarisation of the institutional structure of the Union parliamentary hearings of senior officials of the Union’s executive could also be envisaged.

(1)

Decision of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission of 19 April 1995 on the detailed provisions governing the exercise of the European Parliament’s right of inquiry (OJ L 113, 19.5.1995, p.1).

(2)

P7_TA(2014)0429 and P7_TA(2012)0219


MOTION FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION

on the implementation of the Treaty provisions on Parliament’s power of political control over the Commission

(2018/2113(INI))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the Treaty provisions concerning the political oversight of the European Parliament over the European Commission and in particular Articles 14, 17 and 25 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and Articles 121, 159, 161, 175, 190, 225, 226, 230, 233, 234, 249, 290, 291, 319 and 325 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU),

–  having regard to Article 17 TEU, which entrusts the Commission with promoting the general interest of the Union and a monopoly on taking initiatives ‘to that end’,

–  having regard to the Framework Agreement on relations between the European Parliament and the European Commission,

–  having regard to the interinstitutional agreement (IIA) on better law-making of 2016 and the interinstitutional agreement on budgetary discipline, on cooperation in budgetary matters and on sound financial management of 2013,

–  having regard to its resolution of 16 February 2017 on improving the functioning of the European Union building on the potential of the Lisbon Treaty(1),

–  having regard to its resolution of 16 February 2017 on possible evolutions of and adjustments to the current institutional set-up of the European Union(2),

–  having regard to its decision of 7 February 2018 on the revision of the Framework Agreement on relations between the European Parliament and the European Commission, and especially paragraphs 2 and 8 thereof, which further reaffirm that the Spitzenkandidaten process consists of a successful constitutional and political practice reflecting the interinstitutional balance provided for in the Treaties(3),

–  having regard to its legislative resolution of 16 April 2014 on a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament on the detailed provisions governing the exercise of the European Parliament’s right of inquiry and repealing Decision 95/167/EC, Euratom, ECSC of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission(4), and to the ongoing interinstitutional negotiations,

–  having regard to the report of the European Ombudsman on Meetings and Inspection of Documents – Joint Complaints 488/2018/KR and 514/2018/KR on the Commission’s Appointment of a new Secretary-General, and to its recommendation on those cases,

–  having regard to its Rules of Procedure, including Rule 52, as well as Article 1(1)(e) of, and Annex 3 to, the decision of the Conference of Presidents of 12 December 2002 on the procedure for granting authorisation to draw up own-initiative reports,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs and the opinion of the Committee on Budgetary Control (A8-0033/2019),

A.  whereas the institutional framework of the Union as enshrined in the Treaties confers on Parliament, as a legislative body of the Union, the responsibility of political oversight over the Commission;

B.  whereas Parliament has at its disposal a set of instruments to call the Commission to account, such as the motion of censure (Articles 17 TEU and 234 TFEU), the ability to ask the President of the Commission to withdraw his or her confidence in an individual member of the Commission (Rule 118(10) of Parliament’s Rules of Procedure), the right of inquiry (Article 226 TFEU), the competence of scrutiny over delegated and implementing acts (Articles 290 and 291 TFEU), the right to ask oral and written questions (Article 230(2) TFEU), and the right to institute legal proceedings against the Commission on an issue of legality (Article 263 TFEU) or in case of failure to act by the Commission;

C.  whereas, in addition to these instruments, Parliament has an array of tools for steering oversight, thanks to which it can proactively shape the European political agenda;

D.  whereas the budget is the most important tool of the European Union for fulfilling its objectives and strategies, and therefore budgetary control is of utmost importance;

E.  whereas the Spitzenkandidaten process reflects the interinstitutional balance between Parliament and the Commission, and has thus substantially consolidated and strengthened the link between the two institutions, leading to a greater politicisation of the Commission, which should result in increased parliamentary scrutiny of its executive functions;

F.  whereas Article 17 TEU provides for the President of the Commission to be elected by Parliament on a proposal by the EU heads of state and government, taking into account the results of the European elections and consultations with Parliament; whereas Article 17 TEU also provides that the same procedure should be followed in the event that Parliament were to reject the proposed candidate, including the consultation of Parliament;

G.  whereas all commissioners-designate are subject to a hearing before the investiture of the College of Commissioners, and whereas over its mandate Parliament can review the commitments and priorities expressed by the commissioners-designate during their appointment hearings, including an evaluation of whether their personal backgrounds qualify them for fulfilling the requirements the office demands;

H.  whereas the Treaties give Parliament the right to vote on a motion of censure against the Commission as a whole but not to withdraw its confidence in an individual Commissioner;

I.  whereas despite the collective responsibility of the College of Commissioners, Parliament should ensure effective political oversight of the individual work of each Commissioner;

J.  whereas the recent appointment of the new Secretary-General of the Commission has raised serious concerns over the role and political influence exercised by senior Commission officials;

K.   whereas a new, rule-abiding procedure for filling the post of Secretary-General of the Commission should be conducted when the new President of the Commission and the new Commissioners are appointed in 2019;

L.  whereas the Commission has Treaty-based obligations to report regularly to Parliament: yearly on the general activities of the Union (Article 249 TFEU); every three years on the application of the provisions on non-discrimination and citizenship of the Union (Article 25 TFEU); on the results of multilateral surveillance in economic policy (Article 121(5) TFEU); every three years on the progress made on social policy (Articles 159 and 161 TFEU); every three years on the progress made towards achieving economic, social and territorial cohesion (Article 175 TFEU); yearly on research activities in the Union (Article 190 TFEU); yearly on the fight against fraud (Article 325 TFEU); and when conducting negotiations with third countries or international organisations (Article 207 TFEU);

M.  whereas, moreover, as far as secondary legislation is concerned, the Commission is instructed to review and evaluate various directives and regulations and report on its findings;

N.  whereas with the adoption of the Framework agreement on relations between the European Parliament and the European Commission, Parliament has gained additional leverage in the shaping of the legislative agenda as proposed by the Commission every year in the Commission Work Programme (CWP);

O.  whereas since the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty Parliament has become a true co-legislator in the budgetary field and has the responsibility to give discharge to the Commission for the implementation of the Union budget;

P.  whereas following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty Parliament has expanded its influence over the scrutiny of EU external policies, by obtaining the power of consent over the conclusion of international agreements and, therefore, the right to be immediately and fully informed by the Commission at all stages of the negotiation of such agreements (Article 218 TFEU, Article 50 TEU);

Q.  whereas the conditions under which negotiations took place with the United Kingdom on its withdrawal from the European Union were exemplary in terms of their transparency and the involvement of Parliament;

R.   whereas the extent of Parliament’s scrutiny rights varies greatly between delegated acts and implementing acts; whereas Parliament has the right to veto a delegated act and/or to revoke the delegation, but in the case of implementing acts its involvement is much less far-reaching;

S.  whereas the current institutional structure of the Union and the lack of precise definition of the executive in the Treaties make the concept of EU executive complex and scattered across the European, national and regional levels;

T.  whereas stronger cooperation between the European Parliament and national and regional parliaments, in line with their respective constitutional competences and in accordance with Article 10(2) TEU, is key to addressing the issue of parliamentary control of executive functions when it comes to the implementation of European legislation;

U.  whereas the transparency and strong involvement of Parliament in the negotiations with the United Kingdom has had a positive impact on their outcome, creating a climate of trust and unity, and should therefore serve as inspiration for future international negotiations practices;

Main conclusions

1.  Recalls that scrutiny over the EU bodies is one of the main roles of the European Parliament and that the accountability of the Commission to Parliament is an underpinning principle of the functioning of the EU and of internal democratic control;

2.  Believes that Parliament is not making full use of all its instruments of political control over the executive, owing to a variety of reasons, some being inherent to the institutional structure of the Union and others being, for example, the results of the changing interinstitutional dynamics, which have made some of the instruments difficult to apply or not sufficiently effective;

3.  Acknowledges the potential and successful implementation of the Spitzenkandidaten process, whereby all European citizens have a direct say in the choice of the president of the Commission by means of a vote for a list headed by their preferred candidate; therefore strongly supports continuing this practice for future European elections and encourages all political forces to participate in this process;

4.  Is convinced that the Spitzenkandidaten should head the lists of the European political parties in the elections to the European Parliament;

5.  Recalls that the stronger political link created between Parliament and the Commission as a result of the Spitzenkandidaten process should not make the Commission subject to less stringent parliamentary oversight;

6.  Recalls that the intention of the threshold enshrined in the Treaties for a motion of censure is to preserve the effective use of this instrument for serious cases; acknowledges that, as in most parliamentary democracies, the possibility of a motion of censure works mostly as a deterrent; proposes, nonetheless, in the context of future Treaty change, to study or examine possibilities to lower the threshold in a measured way, while maintaining the institutional balance envisaged by the Treaties;

7.  Points out that the politicisation of the Commission is a direct consequence of the changes introduced by the Lisbon Treaty; notes that these changes did not include the adoption of provisions that would allow holding individual commissioners to account;

8.  Deeply deplores the fact that in the words of the Ombudsman, the Commission ‘failed to comply with either the letter or the spirit of the relevant rules’ when appointing its Secretary-General;

9.  Points out that the Treaties do not provide a clear definition of the EU executive and that the institutions responsible differ across the various policy areas, depending on whether they are considered to belong to the shared or to the exclusive competences of the Union;

10.  Considers it necessary to establish a genuinely bicameral legislative system involving the Council and Parliament, with the Commission acting as the executive;

11.  Points out that Parliament’s role of oversight towards the executive is complemented by similar competences of the national parliaments over their own executives when dealing with European affairs; takes the view that such accountability is the keystone of the role of national parliamentary chambers in the European Union;

12.  Considers that the exercise of control by Parliament over the executive pursuant to Article 14 TEU has been made difficult, if not sometimes impossible, by the lack of a clear catalogue of Union competences and policies and by the multilayered attribution of competences between European, national and regional executives;

13.  Recalls that the Treaties do not confer any legislative functions or right of legislative initiative on the European Council; is concerned that in recent years the European Council has, against the spirit and the letter of the Treaties, taken a number of important political decisions outside of the Treaty framework, thereby de facto excluding those decisions from the oversight of Parliament and undermining the democratic accountability which is essential with regard to such European policies;

14.  Recalls that the Treaty provides Parliament with significant powers of political control through the annual budgetary and discharge procedures;

15.  Recalls that the discharge is an annual political procedure ensuring ex-post democratic control over the implementation of the European Union budget by the Commission under its own responsibility and in cooperation with the Member States;

16.  Points out that the discharge procedure has proved to be a powerful tool that has had an impact on the positive evolution of the EU’s budgetary system, financial management, the shaping of the agenda and the way EU policies are defined and implemented, while contributing to increasing Parliament’s political leverage;

17.  Stresses that Article 318 TFEU adds a new instrument to the toolbox of budgetary discharge: the evaluation of the finances of the Union based on the results achieved;

18.  Notes with concern that no real legal sanction is available if Parliament decides not to grant discharge to the Commission; considers, nevertheless, that not granting discharge sends out a strong political signal, as it implies that Parliament does not have sufficient confidence in the Commission’s accountability, and should thus not be left unanswered by the Commission but lead to definitive follow-up action designed to improve the situation;

19.  Regrets the fact that in the absence of sincere cooperation by the Council, it is not possible to scrutinise the Council’s budget through the institutional practice of budgetary discharge by Parliament, and that this situation constitutes a serious failure to comply with the Treaty obligations stipulating that Parliament shall scrutinise the whole of the Union’s budget;

20.  Suggests, with a view to extending Parliament’s power of budgetary control to the whole of the Union budget, that negotiations be launched between the Council, the Commission and Parliament so as to ensure Parliament has the right to access information on how the Council is implementing its budget, either directly or via the Commission, and that the Council answers written questions from Parliament and attends hearings and debates on the implementation of its budget; takes the view that, should these negotiations fail, Parliament should grant discharge to the Commission only and include in the overall discharge separate resolutions concerning the Union’s various institutions, bodies and agencies, thereby ensuring that no section of the EU budget is implemented without proper scrutiny;

21.  Recalls that the institutions have not yet delivered on their commitment to establish criteria for the delineation of the use of delegated and implementing acts, even though the IIA on better law-making has improved the transparency of the delegated acts procedure;

22.  Recalls that in accordance with Article 247 of the Financial Regulation, the Commission must communicate to Parliament by 31 July of the following financial year, an integrated set of financial and accountability reports including, in particular, the final consolidated accounts, the annual management and performance report and the evaluation on the Union’s finances based on the results achieved as referred to in Article 318 TFEU;

Recommendations

23.  Suggests that the instruments for calling the Commission to account and those for steering scrutiny should be combined in order to maximise the effectiveness of both;

24.  Insists that Parliament’s legislative powers and rights of oversight must be guaranteed, consolidated and strengthened, including through interinstitutional agreements and through the use of the corresponding legal basis by the Commission;

25.  Considers it necessary for Parliament to reform its working methods in order to strengthen the exercise of its functions of political control over the Commission;

26.  Calls on the Commission to take more serious account of the legislative initiatives launched by Parliament under Article 225 TFEU; calls on the next Commission President to commit to this objective and welcomes the respective statements of Spitzenkandidaten in this regard; wishes to see more initiatives result in legislative proposals; recalls that in accordance with Article 10 of the IIA on better law-making, the Commission is bound to give prompt and detailed consideration to requests for proposals for Union acts;

27.  Commends the Commission for its positive follow-up to Parliament’s recommendations expressed in its resolution of 16 February 2017 on improving the functioning of the European Union building on the potential of the Lisbon Treaty;

28.   Considers that even though Parliament does not have a formal right of legislative initiative under the current Treaties, the possibility to be given the right of legislative initiative in the context of a future Treaty change should be given serious consideration;

29.  Encourages the exchange of best practices in parliamentary scrutiny among national parliaments, such as the holding of regular debates between the respective ministers and the specialised committees in national parliaments before and after Council meetings, and with Commissioners in an appropriate setting and timeframe, as well as meetings between the European Parliament and national parliaments; encourages the establishment of regular exchanges of officials of institutions and political group staff between the administrations of the European Parliament and national parliaments, the European Committee of the Regions and the Member State regions having legislative competences;

30.  Believes that the establishment of an annual European week would allow MEPs and Commissioners, notably Vice-Presidents in charge of clusters, to stand before all national parliamentary assemblies to discuss and explain the European agenda alongside MPs and representatives from civil society; suggests that this initiative could reinforce the democratic accountability of the Commission required by the Treaty of Lisbon;

31.  Calls on Parliament to reinforce its capacity for scrutinising the preparation and implementation of delegated and implementing acts;

32.  Welcomes the efforts presently undertaken by the three institutions to establish clear criteria to delineate how delegated and implementing acts should be used; calls for these criteria to be applied as soon as possible;

33.  Encourages national parliaments, as well as regional parliaments where appropriate, to increase their capacity to scrutinise their executives when taking decisions or proposing regulations in order to implement or delegate European legislation;

34.  Considers it necessary in a future Treaty change to improve the instruments for holding individual commissioners accountable to Parliament throughout their term of office, building on the somewhat limited existing provisions in the Framework Agreement on relations between the European Parliament and the European Commission;

35.  Calls on the Commission and the Council, in accordance with the principle of fair cooperation, to establish a political dialogue on Parliament’s proposal for a regulation on the right of inquiry, in order to entrust Parliament with effective powers allowing it to exercise this basic parliamentary instrument for controlling the executive, which is absolutely indispensable in parliamentary systems all over the world;

36.  Is convinced of the usefulness of parliamentary questions as an oversight tool; considers it necessary, therefore, to undertake an in-depth assessment of the quality of the answers provided by the Commission to Members’ questions, as well as on the quantity and quality of the questions asked by Members;

37.  Considers question time to be an important element of parliamentary scrutiny over the executive; requests the Conference of Presidents to put question time back on the plenary agenda, in line with Rule 129 of the Rules of Procedure;

38.  Calls once again on the Commission to review its administrative procedures for the appointment of its Secretary-General, Directors-General and Directors, with the objective of fully ensuring that the best candidates are selected within a framework of maximum transparency and equal opportunities;

°

°  °

39.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the national parliaments of the Member States and the European Committee of the Regions.

(1)

OJ C 252, 18.7.2018, p. 215.

(2)

OJ C 252, 18.7.2018, p. 201.

(3)

Texts adopted, P8_TA(2018)0030.

(4)

OJ C 443, 22.12.2017, p. 39.


OPINION of the Committee on Budgetary Control (8.1.2019)

for the Committee on Constitutional Affairs

on the implementation of the Treaty provisions on Parliament’s power of political control over the Commission

(2018/2113(INI))

Rapporteur: Tomáš Zdechovský

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on Budgetary Control calls on the Committee on Constitutional Affairs, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions into its motion for a resolution:

A.  whereas Parliament is mandated to ensure democratic control over the Commission, which is political in nature but includes different aspects and procedures;

B.  whereas the budget is the most important tool of the European Union for fulfilling its objectives and strategies, and therefore budgetary control is of utmost importance;

C.  whereas, despite the Commission’s commitment to performance, activity-based budgeting remains – regrettably – the fundamental principle in drafting the Union’s budget;

D.  whereas evaluation of results and performance auditing rely on the objectives laid down at the earliest stage at programming level;

E.  whereas evaluation is a tool aimed at identifying and understanding the results and impact of a process and identifying alternatives to help in decision-making which would lead to further improvement of that process;

1.  Recalls that scrutiny over the EU bodies is the raison d’être of the European Parliament and that the accountability of the Commission to Parliament is an underpinning principle of the functioning of the EU and of internal democratic control;

2.  Recalls that the discharge is an annual political procedure ensuring ex-post democratic control over the implementation of the European Union budget by the Commission under its own responsibility and in cooperation with the Member States;

3.  Points out that the discharge procedure has proved to be a powerful tool that has had an impact on the positive evolution of the EU’s budgetary system, financial management, the shaping of the agenda and the way EU policies are defined and implemented, while contributing to increasing Parliament’s political leverage;

4.  Stresses that the main purpose of the discharge procedure is to check whether Union funds have been managed correctly and to ascertain, each year, that all the Union’s revenue and expenditure, the resulting balance and the assets and liabilities of the Union, are shown in the balance sheet;

5.  Notes that Parliament’s decision to grant, postpone or refuse the discharge is primarily, although not exclusively, based on the audit of the European Court of Auditors that examines the reliability of the accounts and the legality and regularity of the underlying transactions;

6.  Points out that pursuant to Article 287 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the Court of Auditors must examine whether all revenue has been received and all expenditure incurred in a lawful and regular manner and whether financial management has been sound; that in doing so, it must report, in particular, on any cases of irregularity; that the audit of revenue must be carried out on the basis of both the amounts established as due and the amounts actually paid to the Union; and that the audit of expenditure must be carried out on the basis of both commitments undertaken and payments made;

7.  Recalls that when granting the discharge, Parliament has not only to evaluate the regularity but also the performance of financial management in the European Union;

8.  Notes that Parliament also bases its decision on the evidence requested of the Commission regarding the execution of expenditure or the operation of financial control systems;

9.  Notes that the Commission is obliged to take into account the observations in decisions in the discharge framework and the observations of Parliament related to the execution of expenditure, and is obliged to report on the measures taken in light of its recommendations and comments;

10.  Recalls that Parliament also examines the special reports adopted by the Court of Auditors, which focus on the sound management of different sectors or policies;

11.  Points out that as those reports concern the implementation of the principles of economy, efficiency and effectiveness, they systematically trigger a debate on whether the actors in European policies have the means and instruments at their disposal to meet the objectives defined by the political bodies of the Union;

12.  Stresses that Article 318 TFEU adds a new instrument to the toolbox of budgetary discharge: the evaluation of the finances of the Union based on the results achieved;

13.  Welcomes, in particular, the fact that owing to its focus on financial performance, the evaluation report provided for in Article 318 TFEU complements the compliance approach developed by the European Court of Auditors in its annual report and offers the European Parliament the opportunity to assess policy achievements;

14.  Notes with concern that no real legal sanction is available if Parliament decides not to grant discharge to the Commission; considers, nevertheless, that not granting discharge sends out a strong political signal, as it implies that Parliament does not have sufficient confidence in the Commission’s accountability, and should thus not be left unanswered by the Commission but lead to definitive follow-up action designed to improve the situation;

15.  Recalls that the Prodi/Kinnock reforms introduced the principles of activity-based budgeting and activity-based management(1), required that authorising officers by delegation sign activity reports each year, and achieved a reform of internal audit activities as well as accrual accounting;

16.  Stresses that the political objective pursued by these reforms was to develop a clear hierarchy, from political objectives to dedicated resources for the activities aimed at achieving them, down to performance indicators to verify these achievements;

17.  Notes with concern that the reality on the ground is very different:

a)  even though the Commission defined the budget along activity lines, this definition mainly followed the organisational structure of the administration and maintained a great number of budget lines;

b)  objectives for the activities are still not really part of the budgetary debate but are presented in separate activity statements annexed to the budget;

c)  the current structure of the budget is not fully aligned to the multiannual financial framework (MFF); each heading of the MFF contains various activities and many single activities are spread across several MFF headings;

18.  Regrets the fact that budgetary negotiations in Parliament and the Council revolve around margins under the MFF headings and do not very often concern activity-based budgeting (ABB) objectives, performance indicators or measured results;

19.  Welcomes the fact that the Commission renewed its commitment to performance and to results-based budgeting in its proposals for a new MFF and insists that the EU budget should strengthen its focus on stability, simplicity, more effective spending, low operating costs, efficient allocation of resources, the delivery of key policy priorities, European added value, results, impact, and increased accountability and transparency;

20.  Stresses that the EU budget is to be based on long-term political objectives and an overall vision for the EU; reiterates its call on the Commission to introduce such long-term vision and objectives in order to ensure maximum effectiveness of spending;

21.  Welcomes the Commission’s proposal that the new MFF programmes be grouped in ‘policy clusters’, which will be reflected in the titles of the annual budget; expresses the hope that this will provide greater clarity on how they will contribute to policy goals;

22.  Welcomes the fact that the Commission intends, as of 2021, to align the concept of policy areas with the programme clusters, and that this alignment will allow for an easier reconciliation between the annual budget and the headings of the MFF;

23.  Recalls that Parliament has asked the Commission on many occasions to present the Union budget in accordance with the political objectives of the MFF as adopted by Parliament; is of the opinion that this would allow the budgetary authority to scrutinise and follow up on the preparation and implementation of the budget more easily;

24.  Wonders why the Commission uses two sets of objectives and indicators to measure the performance of financial management: on the one hand, the Commission’s Directors-General evaluate the achievement of the objectives defined in their management plans in their annual activity reports (AAR), and, on the other, the Commission measures the performance of spending programmes via the programme statements of operational expenditure annexed to the draft budget;

25.  Recalls that the current performance framework of the programmes reported in the programme statements of operational expenditure includes 716 indicators of different types measuring the performance against 61 general and 228 specific objectives;

26.  Welcomes the Commission’s proposal to reduce the number of spending programmes by a third and to make the rules more coherent; stresses that in order to actually achieve simplification for beneficiaries, all unnecessary rules, requirements and procedures should be eliminated, without putting at risk, however, the legality and regularity of the underlying transactions;

27.  Reiterates its call on the Commission to:

a)  streamline performance reporting by:

–  further reducing the number of objectives and indicators it uses for its various performance reports and focusing on those which best measure the performance of the Union budget in the interests of simplification, transparency and better control;

–  extending a qualitative approach and including environmental and social indicators in order to be able to measure the impact of EU policy on environmental and social policies;

–  presenting financial information in a manner that makes it comparable with performance information so that the link between spending and performance is clear;

b)  better balance performance reporting by clearly presenting information on the main EU challenges still to be achieved;

c)  provide a declaration on the quality of reported performance data;

28.  Recalls that in accordance with Article 247 of the Financial Regulation, the Commission must communicate to Parliament by 31 July of the following financial year, an integrated set of financial and accountability reports including, in particular, the final consolidated accounts, the annual management and performance report and the evaluation on the Union’s finances based on the results achieved as referred to in Article 318 TFEU;

29.  Points out that when adopting the annual management and performance report which accompany the final consolidated accounts, the Commission assumes political responsibility for the financial management of its services;

30.  Insists that the annual management and performance report should not only include an estimate of the level of error in Union expenditure, information on the preventive and corrective action covering the budget and information on the implementation of the Commission’s anti-fraud strategy, but also an annual statement on governance and on internal control covering in particular:

a)  a description of the internal governance tools of the Commission;

b)  an assessment of the operational and strategic risk activities during the year and a mid- and long-term fiscal sustainability statement;

c)  an assessment of all preventive and corrective measures taken against funding falling prey to corruption or conflicts of interest;

31.  Reiterates its call on the Commission to speed up the preparation of the Union accounts, to ensure that reliable information from Member States on shared management spending is obtained in a more timely manner and to present the management’s view on Union spending earlier and together with the accounts, with a view to adopting a discharge decision in year n+1, while ensuring high data quality and sound financial management;

32.  Urges the Commission, once again, to propose measures to make Union funding arrangements for implementation of the Union budget – which currently include different tools and combinations of tools, for example programmes, structural and investment funds, trust funds, strategic investment funds, guarantee funds, facilities, financial instruments, macro-financial assistance instruments, etc. – clearer, simpler, more coherent and better equipped to ensure sufficient transparency, accountability, performance and public understanding of how Union policies are funded and what benefits they bring;

33.  Recalls that 80 % of EU funding is managed jointly with the Member States and that Parliament must therefore also scrutinise national authorities; regrets that national authorities are, however, often reluctant to comply with the discharge authority’s recommendations or investigations;

34.  Recalls that the close political links between Parliament and the Commission were recently strengthened by the so-called Spitzenkandidaten system; welcomes this attempt to address the democratic deficit of the EU, to strengthen its legitimacy and build trust among EU citizens; recalls, however, the inherent risk related to party financing and calls on the Commission to address the shortcomings of the current political party financing model, in order to prevent fraud and ensure that the financing of electoral campaigns is fully transparent.

INFORMATION ON ADOPTION IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

Date adopted

7.1.2019

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

8

0

0

Members present for the final vote

Dennis de Jong, Ingeborg Gräßle, Georgi Pirinski, José Ignacio Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra, Bart Staes

Substitutes present for the final vote

Karin Kadenbach

Substitutes under Rule 200(2) present for the final vote

John Howarth, Jude Kirton-Darling

FINAL VOTE BY ROLL CALL IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

8

+

GUE/NGL

Dennis de Jong

PPE

Ingeborg Gräßle, José Ignacio Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra

S&D

John Howarth, Karin Kadenbach, Jude Kirton-Darling, Georgi Pirinski

VERTS/ALE

Bart Staes

0

-

 

 

0

0

 

 

Key to symbols:

+  :  in favour

-  :  against

0  :  abstention

(1)

By definition, ‘activity-based budgeting’ is a method of budgeting based on activities and using cost driver data in the budget setting and variance feedback processes. In this context, activities are essential as they drive costs. If we can control the causes (drivers) of costs, then costs should be better managed and understood.


INFORMATION ON ADOPTION IN COMMITTEE RESPONSIBLE

Date adopted

22.1.2019

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

18

0

4

Members present for the final vote

Gerolf Annemans, Mercedes Bresso, Pascal Durand, Esteban González Pons, Danuta Maria Hübner, Ramón Jáuregui Atondo, Alain Lamassoure, Jo Leinen, Maite Pagazaurtundúa Ruiz, Markus Pieper, Paulo Rangel, Helmut Scholz, György Schöpflin, Pedro Silva Pereira, Barbara Spinelli, Josep-Maria Terricabras, Kazimierz Michał Ujazdowski

Substitutes present for the final vote

Pervenche Berès, Ashley Fox, Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann

Substitutes under Rule 200(2) present for the final vote

Michael Gahler, Jarosław Wałęsa


FINAL VOTE BY ROLL CALL IN COMMITTEE RESPONSIBLE

18

+

ALDE

Maite Pagazaurtundúa Ruiz

NI

Kazimierz Michał Ujazdowski

PPE

Michael Gahler, Esteban González Pons, Danuta Maria Hübner, Alain Lamassoure, Markus Pieper, Paulo Rangel, György Schöpflin, Jarosław Wałęsa

S&D

Pervenche Berès, Mercedes Bresso, Ramón Jáuregui Atondo, Sylvia Yvonne Kaufmann, Jo Leinen, Pedro Silva Pereira

VERTS/ALE

Pascal Durand, Josep Maria Terricabras

0

-

4

0

ECR

Ashley Fox

ENF

Gerolf Annemans

GUE/NGL

Helmut Scholz, Barbara Spinelli

Key to symbols:

+  :  in favour

-  :  against

0  :  abstention

Last updated: 30 January 2019Legal notice