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Debates
Tuesday, 15 November 2005 - Strasbourg OJ edition

26. European regulatory agencies
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  President.   The next item is the oral question to the Council (O-0093/2005 – B6-0337/2005) by Mr Leinen and Mr Lewandowski, on behalf of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs, on the draft interinstitutional agreement on the operating framework for the European regulatory agencies.

 
  
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  Georgios Papastamkos (PPE-DE), deputising for the author. (EL) Mr President, within the European framework, there is a large number of decentralised or quasi-independent operational bodies which are identified under the title 'regulatory agencies'. This situation refers to a conception of multilevel intergovernmentalism.

The conceptual approach and operational investigation of the regulatory authorities of the European Union is characterised by pluralism. Consequently, the challenge consists in establishing clarified and, where possible, uniform terms for the foundation, operation and supervision of this sui generis form of European intergovernmentalism, so that the regulatory agencies can become more transparent and cohesive than they are at present.

The excessive increase in the number of regulatory agencies will result, without doubt, in an increase in European regulatory intervention, in the separation and lack of transparency of European policies and, by extension, in difficulties with operational coordination.

The European Parliament considers that the provisions of the draft interinstitutional agreement submitted could constitute a minimum set of common principles and rules for the structure, operation and control of regulatory agencies, so that they can be harmoniously integrated into the framework of fundamental principles which derive from the Treaty system. It is therefore useful not only to adopt a framework for harmonising the operation of the European regulatory authorities, but also to harmonise their operation with democratic institutions. That is why we call on the Council to cooperate creatively in promoting the interinstitutional agreement.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Janusz Lewandowski (PPE-DE), Author. The question jointly submitted by the Committee on Constitutional Affairs and the Committee on Budgets involves an invitation to the Council to enter into serious negotiations on the operating framework for the agencies. I am sure that there is a well-recognised need here in the European Union to rationalise and standardise procedures for setting up and operating the regulatory agencies in the interest of transparency and in order to avoid the duplication of tasks and unnecessary expenditure. I am referring in particular to the agencies involved in executive functions, partly with respect to their functions disintegrating the operational responsibility of the European Commission. Setting up agencies is now a fashionable response to various challenges in the European Union. No wonder that there were five of them ten years ago and, by next year, there will be twenty-three. They are mushrooming and have ever greater budgetary implications because this is not only about operational expenditure; this is about expenditure of a more bureaucratic nature.

Now we have a very good basis for discussion in the Commission communication, namely the draft interinstitutional agreement of February 2005. Following the White Paper on European Governance, the European Parliament adopted its position in the form of a resolution of January 2004. We, and in particular the Budgets Committee, understand the significance of applying the principle of budgetary rigour to the setting-up and operation of the agencies, and we fully support the proposal by the Temporary Committee to ring-fence expenditure on the agencies and to regulate both existing and new agencies. However, that is not in the Commission communication.

Our oral question is in fact an expression of regret that the Council is not entering into these negotiations. The major question is whether the Council is ready and sees it as necessary and feasible to conclude the negotiations next year, that is, at the end of the current financial perspective.

 
  
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  Lord Bach, President-in-Office of the Council. Mr President, in its conclusions of 28 June 2004 on the Commission communication on the operating framework for European regulatory agencies, the Council noted the existence of various decentralised Community bodies which fell within the broad heading of European agencies. It noted that, while these bodies had certain formal characteristics in common, they were in fact very diverse. The Council therefore called on the Commission to provide a clear definition of regulatory agencies according to their competences and tasks. It also considered that a future framework should identify which criteria should be applied when creating regulatory agencies. In particular, it was essential that any decision to create or maintain an agency be justified on the basis of real need and cost-benefit analysis, taking account of the availability of relevant expertise, and including impact assessment.

In February 2005 the Commission presented a draft Interinstitutional Agreement, an IIA, on the operating framework for the European regulatory agencies. This contains rules concerning agencies’ tasks, executive responsibilities, legal base, objectives and mandate, seat, structure and operation, evaluation and control. The Commission proposal suggests that an IIA would be appropriate ‘to ensure that the three institutions are involved from the outset in establishing the basic conditions to be met when acts are subsequently adopted to set up sectoral agencies’ and that ‘this type of legal instrument ... does not rule out the possibility of more detailed arrangements subsequently being concluded as part of a framework regulation’.

However, the draft IIA presented by the Commission goes beyond the establishment of arrangements for cooperation between the institutions as established in the Treaty, as it concerns the adoption of supra-legislative substantive legal rules which would have the effect of binding the legislature in the future by a procedure not laid down in the Treaty. The Council would like to refer the honourable Members to the declaration on interinstitutional agreements annexed to the Treaty of Nice, which states that interinstitutional agreements ‘may not amend or supplement the provisions of the Treaty’.

In its conclusions of 28 June 2004, the Council acknowledged that ‘the evolving and varying nature of the responsibilities’ of regulatory agencies justified the examination of all questions related to their structure, including the composition of management boards and the respective functions of their bodies. It added that ‘this examination should take into account, inter alia, the competences exercised by, and the nature of the tasks allocated to, each agency’.

Although an IIA may have certain binding legal effects in so far as its contents express the desire of the three institutions to enter into a binding commitment towards each other, this instrument cannot be used to adopt legislative or even supra-legislative rules. The proposals on this legal issue are therefore on the table for consideration by the Council.

The Council is ready to examine a horizontal proposal for agencies which addresses the legal issues that I have raised in my reply.

 
  
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  Maria da Assunção Esteves, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (PT) In the White Paper on European governance, the Commission is proposing that the European regulatory agencies should have a legislative framework. The objective is now to reach a much-needed interinstitutional agreement. After all, if there is one example of a political decision-making system crying out for rationalised and coordinated organisation, it is unquestionably the European regulatory agencies.

This is firstly due to the number and diversity of the vital spaces that it is intrinsically geared towards. It is also because the European institutional structure is fragmentary and in need of the integrating influence of a Constitution, which is why interim institutional agreements are required, along with a prudent and lasting organisational effort. Europe cannot turn a blind eye to the problem of governance arising from the enlargement and from its ambitions. Consequently, the regulatory agencies need Europe’s political institutions to take their share of responsibility.

An interinstitutional agreement will enable these agencies to be successful. It will plug procedural gaps and in so doing rationalise and improve the effectiveness of European policy implementation. After all, we must all admit that the entire body of European discourse is built on rational foundations.

 
  
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  Richard Corbett, on behalf of the PSE Group. Mr President, my group views with concern the proliferation of agencies in recent years. The number has grown enormously. They seem to be spread like confetti around the Member States, more to ensure that each Member State has an agency on its territory than with a view to the need and benefits of having a separate EU agency to deal with the matter in question.

Our concerns therefore relate to a number of things: to the cost, of course; but more importantly, does not this proliferation of agencies undermine the executive role of the European Commission? There are politicians in some of our Member States who would like to see the Commission broken up into a series of specialised agencies to undermine the supranational executive that we have.

What of accountability? The Commission is at least accountable to this Parliament. Commissioners and their civil servants can very easily be brought in to be questioned and cross-examined. We vote their budget. If necessary – heaven forbid that it should be necessary – we can vote them out of office. However, when a matter is delegated to an agency with its own structure – usually intergovernmental – and its own board, which is accountable in a totally different way, then the accountability is inevitably lessened.

We therefore support the idea of an interinstitutional framework agreement to address some of these issues. It could at least correct some of the excesses. It could provide for proper accountability. It could have a standard structure. At the moment every single agency seems to have a different structure. Parliament could be involved in the appointment and scrutiny of the board.

I hear the Council’s answer that it does not like the idea of an interinstitutional agreement but instead would be willing to look at a horizontal proposal. I would like the Council to enlighten us as to what kind of proposal that might be. Would it be a framework regulation or legislative decision of some kind? We will not give up pursuing this matter. We liked the approach that the Commission put forward in its proposal and we will not let go in terms of ensuring that, if agencies are to exist, they must be properly accountable to the elected institutions of the European Union and not go off on a tangent by themselves.

 
  
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  Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg (PSE).   (PL) Mr President, the first European regulatory agencies were set up in the 1990s, in response to developments in EU policy, consecutive enlargements and the European Union’s resulting new technical and scientific needs.

The White Paper on European Governance states that the European regulatory agencies help to implement and apply Community principles effectively, and that the role they play and the checks they carry out are of considerable significance in political and institutional terms. Nevertheless, there are currently 23 decentralised agencies, compared to 5 in 1995, and this steady rise in numbers is alarming in view of the fact that there is no common procedural framework. Citizens find the proliferation of agency names, remits, structures and control mechanisms hard to grasp, and the situation is not conducive to legal certainty.

The 2004 annual report of the European Court of Auditors highlights the agencies’ shortcomings with regard to their adherence to budgetary principles, their recruitment of staff and their public procurement procedures. In view of the fact that these agencies place an ever greater burden on the EU budget, a thorough analysis of the financial impact of each new agency’s activities should be mandatory.

In order to ensure that the EU of 25 Member States functions properly, more transparency and cohesion are needed in order to avoid the establishment of ever more diverse agencies, many of which would duplicate the responsibilities and activities of the relevant Commission services. In this context, the draft agreement between the Commission, Parliament and the Council, setting out common guidelines and a framework for the establishment of new regulatory agencies, deserves our full support. I find it impossible to understand why the Council has previously shown no sign of any political will to start negotiations on this agreement, although it is becoming apparent today that things may be changing.

 
  
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  Lord Bach, President-in-Office of the Council. Mr President, I thank all those who have spoken in what has been an interesting and informative exchange of views. It must be said that some of the points made today have not yet been discussed by the Council, but I assure Parliament that they will be.

Let me respond to as many of the points raised as I can. Of course the Council agrees that we need transparent and effective agencies. It is important to ensure coherence, good governance, credibility and cost efficiency. We can see the advantage in any framework of retaining flexibility and not putting in place excessively rigid guidelines. I can also assure Parliament – in case there is any doubt about it – that the Council will return to this issue when it has fully reflected on the positions of both Parliament and the Commission.

The Council has noted the Commission’s proposal for a legally binding instrument for a horizontal framework for regulatory agencies. The Council believes that the current Commission proposal presents certain legal problems and is studying it carefully.

What should such a framework cover? The Council believes that any framework should address key issues in the creation, operation and supervision of regulatory agencies. In particular, it is important, as I have said, to ensure coherence, transparency, good governance, credibility and cost efficiency.

How should decisions be taken to set up such an agency? We believe agencies have a crucial role to play, but the Council agrees with Parliament that when a decision is taken to create an agency it has to be justified on the basis of an external, cost-benefit assessment, and we hope to work with Parliament in getting a satisfactory solution to this issue.

 
  
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  Louis Michel, Member of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, first of all I should like to say that the Commission shares the European Parliament’s sense of urgency and that we fully share the concerns expressed by the various speakers.

The Commission feels that an interinstitutional agreement is indisputably the most appropriate form for the legislation. Indeed, only an interinstitutional agreement will make it possible to involve Parliament in defining a common framework on an equal footing with the Commission and the Council. The generally recognised need for legislation obviously means that we cannot let this draft, which the Commission proposed eight months ago, come to nothing. The Commission would now ask its institutional partners to get down to the task right now, so that the tripartite discussions can be started as soon as possible. The essential thing is to examine the content of a possible agreement between the three institutions. Once the content of the instrument has been defined, it will be easier to decide on its form.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MRS KAUFMANN
Vice-President

President. – The debate is closed.

 
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