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Tuesday, 20 November 2012 - Strasbourg OJ edition

17. Monitoring the application of EU law (2010) (debate)
Video of the speeches

  President. − The next item is the report by Eva Lichtenberger, on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs, on the 28th annual report on monitoring the application of EU law (2010) (COM(2011)05882011/2275(INI)), (A7-0330/2012).


  Eva Lichtenberger, rapporteur. − (DE) Mr President, the transposition of Community law is something that should clearly be of great interest to each and every MEP. Why? Following a well-honed procedure, which now usually involves only one reading in Parliament but extensive deliberations in the committees, takes a wide range of viewpoints into account, and involves contact with the Council, negotiations with the Council, and compromises and decisions in the European Parliament, we make rules that apply, or should apply, to the entire European Union. It is this ‘should’ that I will now discuss.

When we see the effort that goes into making these laws, these European regulations, and then have to observe how, in some Member States, this EU law is transposed, applied and monitored carelessly or not at all, this should give us plenty of food for thought. Unfortunately, over the last few years in particular, the European Union’s Member States have not necessarily become more inclined to emphasise the similarities in Europe more than the differences and to observe the common rules of play.

I could list a wide range of examples for you. What is important in this process is that we point out where legislation has not been transposed, where it has been transposed incorrectly or inadequately or where it is not being monitored. Individual citizens play an important role here by contacting the Commission with a complaint, to draw its attention to the fact that something is going wrong in a certain Member State. We come here to a critical point, which the Committee on Legal Affairs and my report criticise sharply.

A number of years ago, the Commission introduced ‘EU Pilot’, a pilot project that essentially aims to bring the fewest possible infringement proceedings against Member States. Instead, an attempt is made in an informal way to reach an agreement with the Member State. So far there is nothing here to object to. However, when the complainant does not hear anything from the Commission other than ‘I have received your complaint’ and then hears nothing more for ages, and when he himself does not have access to what is known about the progress of the non-transposition process he has instituted, something is rotten in the State of Denmark. This is no way to proceed.

We are therefore asking the Commission not to use soft law, but to introduce a codification, a ‘procedural law’ in the form of a regulation under Article 298 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which ultimately respects the rights of the complainant and takes them seriously. Citizens should be our central focus. We must ensure – when they get so involved and defend the rights of Parliament, of the legislator at European level, against their own Member State – that they also receive appropriate information. I therefore make my appeal once again, as I did last year, to the Commission to take systematic action in this area to improve the situation for complainants once and for all.


  Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the Commission. − Mr President, first I would like to thank Madam Lichtenberger for her report, her continued support and for the gentle pressure she continuously exercises on the Commission in this very important area of cooperation.

As we have clearly indicated in our 2010 annual report on monitoring the application of EU law, it is quite clear that our two institutions attach great importance to the correct application of EU law. I very much appreciate the opportunity to have regular exchanges of views on this subject.

With regard to the issues raised in the report by Ms Lichtenberger, I would just like to highlight the following points. Firstly, I am very pleased that Parliament endorses the Commission’s Smart Regulation approach. As an important element of this policy, the Commission will continue to assist Member States in their efforts to transpose directives in a timely fashion. If, despite these efforts the Member States miss the transposition deadline, the Commission will systematically propose financial penalties and sanctions, exactly as was highlighted and suggested by Ms Lichtenberger.

The Commission will also work with the Member States to ensure that EU law is correctly implemented on the ground. I am equally grateful for the report’s positive tone with regard to the early resolution of problems related to the application of EU law.

We will continue to work with the Member States to try to solve the problems. The objective is for the infringement procedure to become unnecessary, since problems could be solved at an earlier stage. This would benefit, first and foremost, citizens and businesses.

However, I repeat once more that, if no solution is found, the Commission will vigorously use the legal instruments at its disposal. The 20th annual report underlined once again that petitions from citizens and businesses are very valuable signals highlighting possible violations of EU law. The same is true for complaints from citizens and organisations, with 4 000 complaints having been received in 2010. I take note of Parliament’s remarks on procedural law under Article 298 of the Treaty.

We consider that the complainants already benefit from the comprehensive administrative guarantees, and we will have the occasion to continue the discussion on this issue when the report by Mr Berlinguer is tabled in Parliament’s plenary session.

Concerning transparency – the item raised by Ms Lichtenberger on infringement procedures – and especially the transparency of EU pilot projects, the Commission fully complies with the rules laid down in the revised framework agreement from the very start of investigations into cases. The legal and factual elements are often unclear, and since we strive to have correct information and respect the principle of sincere cooperation with the Member States, it is not possible to divulge full information at certain stages of the procedure, especially early on.

The Commission welcomes Parliament’s interest in ensuring the correct application of EU law for the benefit of EU citizens and businesses, and the Commission looks forward to continuing its work with Parliament on this very important aspect of the Smart Regulation agenda.


  Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Petitions. − (PL) Mr President, thank you. As rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Petitions on the 28th annual report on monitoring the application of EU law (2010), I am pleased to accept the final wording of the report. Proper implementation of EU law in Member States is also directly linked to a need to create a transparent legal framework that is comprehensible to national citizens. Particularly worthy of support is the proposal to introduce additional mechanisms for the enforcement of EU law by Member States, and also Parliament’s call for a procedural law in the form of a regulation under Article 298 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), which would ensure that the Commission observes the principles of open, effective and independent European administration, and Parliament can be involved as co-legislator and guardian of legal order.

I would also like to emphasise the key role of the EU Pilot system as a method of considering complaints during the first stage of proceedings. Thanks to this practice, in 2010 88 % of infringement proceedings originating from 18 countries taking part in the project did not reach the Court of Justice because the Member States corrected the faulty regulations themselves. The European Commission should, however, tighten up the status of the EU Pilot and extend its application to the whole of the EU, to enable it to be of assistance to an even broader group of citizens.

In the 28th annual report on monitoring the application of EU law, one cause of concern is the numerous instances of late transposition of EU law, which in turn make it impossible for citizens to cite the new legal provisions. One good solution, therefore, would be to apply Article 260 TFEU, which allows the Commission to ask the Court of Justice to impose financial sanctions on a Member State for late transposition of a directive. In congratulating the rapporteur, I would like to say that I fully support the report and its striving to ensure that EU regulations are clear and transparent, and thus more friendly to citizens. I would like to point out that it is actually petitions submitted by citizens and public organisations that are the main source of information on failure to observe EU law at various levels of power in the Member States. These are thus a key mechanism uniting citizens, Parliament and the Commission. Petitions submitted to the European Parliament have caused proceedings to be instigated for violations of obligations in many areas, such as environmental protection, or failure to respect the fundamental freedoms guaranteed in the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Much has already been achieved on this score, but there is a constant need to improve the European legal system at all levels, and especially at local level. Thank you.


  Peter Jahr, on behalf of the PPE Group. – (DE) Mr President, for the 28th time the Commission is evaluating the current application of EU law. From the perspective of the Committee on Petitions, I would like to draw attention to the important function that the petition procedure has in this task. As a kind of link between the European Union and its citizens, we experience at first hand where there are problems relating to compliance with EU law.

It is therefore important that the Commission informs the Committee on Petitions, as well as individual citizens, comprehensively about infringement proceedings that are already in progress and those that are initiated on the basis of petitions.

There is another point that I consider to be very important, however. Most petitions relate to the environment and concern non-compliance with EU law in this area. It is necessary in such instances for the Commission, as guardian of the Treaties, to intervene at an early stage, before irreparable damage is caused due to EU regulations being disregarded. In environmental matters in particular this is often the case and it is not sufficient for the Commission to assume in the course of the proceedings that the Member State will comply with the applicable laws. By the end of the proceedings we will be wiser, but then it will be a case of shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.

Member States should already be subject to supervision when EU law is being transposed and action should be taken at an early stage if problems come to light. This, however, also involves the Commission being granted the right to check directly at a local level whether EU legislation is being transposed and observed correctly. I realise these are undoubtedly very ambitious aims, but I am sure that the 29th annual report will show whether we have made any progress with them. With this in mind, I wish us all great success in the work we will carry out together!


  Kinga Göncz, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (HU) Mr President, together with the earlier debate, this report shows how we stand with regard to asserting our basic values. It mentions several important issues. It emphasises the role of Member States in administering justice, and the importance of training and cooperation. It welcomes the growing trend for petitions. It attaches importance to a democratic foundation of governance and to a constitutional state. I would like to support the rapporteur’s idea that the narrow interpretation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights – that is, that a Member State can only be called to account at EU level if the Member State transposes and applies EU legislation – is often a source of dissatisfaction and disappointment. Many believe that this is a sign of weakness and lack of credibility in the Union. This is why I would encourage both the Commission and the rapporteur to use the means at their disposal to preserve the letter and spirit of the Treaty, if this is not ensured at Member-State level.


  Cecilia Wikström, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (SV) Mr President, believe it or not, but at this late hour we are discussing the 28th consecutive report on monitoring the application of EU law. It is almost enough to make one smile a little.

I would say that this report contains many good elements, and would like to thank Ms Lichtenberger for her excellent work as always.

At the same time, I regret the fact that year in, year out we are faced with the same inadequate implementation of EU law from our Member States. This is remarkable.

Naturally, we can continue to draw up the 29th and 30th reports, in which we emphasise again and again the importance of transparency and openness, correlation tables, etc.; however, I am not sure that this would lead to any major differences for the citizens of Europe.

We have here an excellent report that will be approved tomorrow, probably by a very large majority.

I will make sure that I ask the Commissioner, who is here and participating in this late session, whether he is willing to initiate a genuine debate with Parliament in connection with these questions.

Could Parliament have a written response with comments on each of the 38 points covered by the report? I think this could be the start of a constructive and genuine dialogue in the truest sense, and it would definitely increase the credibility of our work among EU citizens in future.


  Dimitar Stoyanov (NI).(BG) Mr President, we all know that lack of knowledge of the laws is not an excuse for breaking them. Yet Mark Twain also said that if you took the time to learn every law, you would not have time to break any of them. What do European institutions do all the time? Overwhelm citizens with new laws, regulations, directives, resolutions, implementing acts, etc., etc. European citizens are crushed by the weight of this constant influx of new legislation that is being imposed on them, and they are not the only ones: the rapporteur’s speech implies that the European Commission itself is crushed by the task of monitoring the application of this massive legislation. How will the European Commission succeed, when monitoring this process is an impossible task even for Hercules? Well, you might say, Hercules was just one man, and we have administration and officials. And you now say that we need even more administration and officials to monitor the implementation of European legislation. Yes, it is true that bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy, that is, taxes are being collected from citizens so that they can be overwhelmed with more and more red tape and new legislation, and I think this is wrong.


  Salvatore Iacolino (PPE). - (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, Commissioner, there is no doubt that the ‘better law-making’ initiative we discussed back in September served as a basis for this second sympathetic report from the rapporteur. The Treaty of Lisbon has undoubtedly given Parliament additional powers at an important time for European integration. Nevertheless, law-making, in concrete terms, remains out of kilter with citizens’ expectations.

All this clearly requires careful monitoring and increased cooperation, based on the confidence demonstrated by European institutions in individual Member States to guarantee the uniform and homogeneous application of EU law in all 27 Member States. Law-making must be clearly informed by clarity, transparency and coherence, with respect for the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, but at the same time it needs to challenge the fact that some Member States are somewhat unwilling to support this integration process, which is particularly significant from a legislative perspective.

We therefore need workable tools that facilitate the transposition process and allow further judicial cooperation, on the assumption that the infringement procedure is the symptom of a pathology that must be cured by force.


  Evelyn Regner (S&D).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, rapporteur, in its role as guardian of the Treaties, the Commission’s position is not always a pleasant one. Monitoring the application of EU law and having the competence to institute infringement proceedings against Member States means the Commission is not universally popular. This is, however, one of the Commission’s most important tasks. In 2010 we had an acquis of EU legislation consisting of 8 400 Regulations and 2 000 Directives. At the end of 2010, 2 100 infringements had been reported against these. Although this figure is lower than in the previous year, it is still much too high. Parliament is therefore also asking for correlation tables and guidelines on their use. It should be possible to identify clearly from the tables which part of a Directive is being transposed with which national text. After a 10-year blockade by the Council it is pleasing that there is now agreement and the Member States are submitting correlation tables in certain cases. This will make it easier in the future to monitor whether a Directive has or has not been transposed correctly in a certain Member State.

The report by Ms Lichtenberger places citizens at the centre of European legislation. It is important for citizens that they have legal certainty and know what rights they have within the single market. If they are affected by or involved in an issue and have drawn attention to an infringement by means of a petition, for example, they must be able to understand the procedures and receive the information that is important to them. We MEPs are faced time and again with problems that are based solely on the poor transposition of EU legislation into national law. This problem must be reduced further in the future.


  Alexandra Thein (ALDE).(DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the democratic structure of the European Union is the subject of much discussion at the moment. The Commission’s report on monitoring the application of EU law makes it clear that this is a complex topic and also involves the Member States. Citizens have a right not only to European legislation being drawn up in accordance with democratic principles, but also to European laws being transposed so they – the citizens – as well as businesses can benefit from them.

Member States are also under a democratic obligation in this respect. They are obliged to transpose the legislation. If they fail to fulfil this obligation, they are infringing the European legal order and therefore the rule of law. Observing this rule of law is, however, a necessary condition for the legitimacy of any form of democratic governance. It is a guarantee for citizens that they will be able to benefit from the rights provided for in law. The Commission’s reports show year on year that many Member States frequently flout the transposition deadlines for Directives. As guardian of the Treaties, the Commission is therefore forced to institute costly infringement proceedings, which are embarrassing for the Member States. Here the Commission must keep a particularly close eye on those Member States with very poor transposition records.

As Parliament we are also required to do this. Our citizens are turning to us with increasing frequency with petitions and in this way drawing our attention to transposition infringements by Member States. We must therefore make sure that communication between Parliament and the Commission is improved, so that infringements can be identified and remedied as early as possible. We owe it to our citizens!


Catch-the-eye procedure


  Elena Băsescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, to move forwards with the integration process, it is not sufficient for us to adopt Union legislation. It is also important for it to be implemented, and the 2010 report shows that there are major failings in some Member States. This is not the case with Romania, which only appeared before the Court of Justice once in 2010. Although the number of times when proceedings were initiated against my country rose in 2010, the authorities successfully remedied the failings before going to Court. This is an example of the efficient cooperation between the Commission and the Romanian authorities.

Another important point made in the report relates to the role of petitions in monitoring the application of EU law. They are a very good way for citizens to draw attention to breaches of European rules, and the prompt resolution of problems can also lower the risk of a Member State appearing before the Court.


  Seán Kelly (PPE).(GA) Mr President, although it is very late, this is an important subject, because if we do not have regulations and laws, we will have disorder and confusion, and then we will have a dictatorship instead of a democracy. It is therefore worthwhile to discuss this matter.

This is a big mouthful – ‘monitoring the application of EU law’. EU law is complicated enough, the application of it is difficult enough, but monitoring the application of EU law is a fairly big mouthful, as I say. Nevertheless, it is important and the evidence is that it is not happening enough. I shall give you one example, that of fishing. I have become aware of factory ships registered in one country, owned in another country, taking on fish, discards and so forth, mincing them and then registering only what they actually land at port. EU law must be applied equally and fairly across the board.


  Janusz Wojciechowski (ECR).(PL) Mr President, I would like to congratulate Ms Lichtenberger: this is a very interesting report on the question of respecting the law. We are engaged in observance of the law by European and national institutions, but perhaps there are times when we should give more weight to how we ourselves lay down the law, and whether we always remember the Treaty provisions that are of greatest importance to us.

Here is an example: the proposals under discussion today concerning reform of the common agricultural policy and the system of direct subsidies to farmers. The differences we see here between Member States in the distribution of subsidies discriminate, they quite clearly discriminate against some Member States, especially new Member States, in a way that is in flagrant breach of Treaty provisions. We should not allow legislation to be laid down that so clearly and blatantly discriminates against some and violates the provisions of the Treaty.


(End of catch-the-eye procedure)


  Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the Commission. − Mr President, allow me to react to some of the comments concerning the EU Pilot system. We in the Commission see this as a very important preventive tool which enables us to redress a situation very swiftly.

How does it work? It works in such a way that a Member State has 10 weeks in which to respond or propose a solution. We find it a rather quick procedure, we have had very good results with it so far, and we try not to keep it in the dark. We issued a detailed report on how EU Pilot has been applied, noting that we had an 80% success rate in correcting flawed implementation, and we are working hard on the next annual report, which will be published very soon.

I know that the problems raised by Ms Lichtenberger also concern the rights of individual complainants. Here, too, we try to redress the situation, and we have made very clear how we would like to improve the treatment of individual citizens’ complaints. In April we updated our communication on relations with complainants and we codified their rights better. We confirmed that we would acknowledge receipt of complaints within 15 working days. If the Commission decides not to register a complaint, it will give notice of its reasons and provide information about alternative forms of redress.

The Commission affords the possibility of meeting complainants at their request and informs them of the various steps in the procedure. Prior notice is given to the complainant before a case is closed, and the complainant is invited to submit any new comments or new information before this is done. No later than one year from the registration of a complaint, the complainant will be formally notified of whether the case is to be pursued or closed. If the time limit is exceeded the Commission will inform the complainant. If we fail to observe this self-imposed codification of the rules, the complainant will have the right to approach the European Ombudsman.

So we are really trying to make clear how we intend to treat individual complainants.

Concerning the suggestion and proposal by Ms Wikström, we will look into all the points as part of our follow-up. I believe we would react to most of the points as was suggested. Concerning the Member States’ differing levels of quality in the application of EU law, I assure you that in the next report on the application of EU law we will include performances for each Member State with a breakdown by sector, so I think it will be even more transparent than has been the case.

Allow me two last comments, please. The first is on Ms Regner’s point about the correlation tables. As you know, we had long discussions with Parliament and the Council about the right approach here, and now we are implementing the political declaration governing this issue. In accordance with that, the Commission will present a report on the implementation process by 1 November 2013.

Finally, a response to Ms Băsescu: we also plan, in the forthcoming annual report on the application of EU law which is to be adopted in the weeks ahead, to indicate the number of cases that originated in a petition.


  Eva Lichtenberger, rapporteur. − (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, I was not entirely satisfied by your answer. I consider it a very long period of time if it is possible for a year to pass between notification that a complaint has been received and the issuing of a response. In my view a complainant who makes this effort – and in most cases he will already have been through the entire legal process in his own Member State – deserves more. We are reliant on citizens who are committed to the European Union. If they demonstrate their commitment in this form, we should treat them accordingly. I believe it is necessary and absolutely essential in the long term that we have a procedure here that is clearly formalised and clearly regulates rights, by which I mean an explanation of how the Commission intends to handle this.

With regard to another point: I have nothing against it, should this prove helpful, if an attempt is made together with the Member State to bring about a kind of mutual resolution. That will not always be sufficient, however. We can see that things move relatively quickly in economic matters, for example, when a company institutes proceedings against another due to an infringement of EU law. If, however, the matter relates, for example, to environmental or similar concerns, an area in which a large number of citizens are calling for action by the European Union, or social rights, the proceedings are somewhat slower. I believe that these facts must also be given careful consideration. For my next report I would like us to have clearly formalised the rights of the complainant in relation to the Commission, for these to be really clear and also to be really well communicated.

If we really want European law to be applied, after we have decided on it together, following a whole host of procedures in the European Parliament and Council, we must provide information as efficiently and precisely as possible to people who care about such things, who really get involved in European issues. This is a matter of great concern to me. Next time I will look carefully once again to see what developments have been made in this area.


  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow (Wednesday, 21 November 2012).

Last updated: 1 March 2013Legal notice