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Procedure : 2009/2139(INI)
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Document selected : A7-0186/2010

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PV 05/07/2010 - 19
CRE 05/07/2010 - 19

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PV 06/07/2010 - 6.14
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Tuesday, 6 July 2010 - Strasbourg
Annual report of the Petitions Committee 2009

European Parliament resolution of 6 July 2010 on the deliberations of the Committee on Petitions during the year 2009 (2009/2139(INI))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to its previous resolutions on the deliberations of the Committee on Petitions,

–  having regard to Articles 24 and 227 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to Articles 10 and 11 of the Treaty on the European Union,

–  having regard to Rules 48 and 202(8) of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Petitions (A7-0186/2010),

A.  whereas the activity of the Committee on Petitions in 2009 was marked by the transition from the sixth to the seventh parliamentary term, and membership of the Committee changed considerably, with two thirds of members sitting for the first time,

B.  whereas 2009 marked the end of the European Ombudsman's term of office and the Committee on Petitions was directly involved in the hearings of candidates for the position,

C.  whereas the Treaty of Lisbon came into force on 1 December 2009, creating the necessary premises for increased participation by citizens in the EU decision-making process, in an effort to reinforce its legitimacy and accountability,

D.  whereas citizens of the EU are directly represented by Parliament, and the right of petition as enshrined in the Treaty offers them the means to address their representatives whenever they consider that their rights have been infringed,

E.  whereas enforcement of European legislation has a direct impact on citizens, who are the best placed to assess its effectiveness and its shortcomings and to signal remaining gaps that need to be filled in order to ensure adherence to the Union's objectives,

F.  bearing in mind that European citizens, individually and collectively, turn to Parliament for redress when European law is broken,

G.  whereas Parliament, through its Committee on Petitions, has an obligation to investigate such concerns and to do its best to bring such breaches of the law to an end; whereas, in order to offer citizens the most appropriate and rapid remedies, the Committee on Petitions has continued to reinforce its cooperation with the Commission, other parliamentary committees, European bodies, agencies and networks, and Member States,

H.  whereas the number of petitions received by Parliament in 2009 was slightly higher than that recorded in 2008 (i.e. 1924 compared with 1849), and the growing trend for petitions to be submitted electronically was confirmed (about 65 % were received in this form in 2009 as against 60 % in 2008),

I.  whereas the number of inadmissible petitions received in 2009 indicates that additional emphasis should be placed on informing citizens better about the competences of the Union and the role of its various institutions,

J.  whereas, in many instances, citizens petition Parliament about decisions taken by the competent administrative or judicial authorities within Member States, and whereas citizens need mechanisms through which they can call national authorities to account for their part in both the European legislative process and in the legislative enforcement process,

K.  whereas citizens should, in particular, be made aware that – as recognised by the European Ombudsman in the decision of December 2009 closing the inquiry into complaint 822/2009/BU against the Commission – national court proceedings are part of the process of implementing European legislation in the Member States, and that the Committee on Petitions cannot deal with issues subject to national court proceedings or review the outcome of such proceedings,

L.  whereas the high costs of court procedures, particularly in some Member States, can constitute an obstacle for citizens and might actually prevent them from bringing actions before the competent national courts when they consider that national authorities have not respected their rights under EU law,

M.  whereas Parliament faces a particular problem when petitioned on alleged failures by the national judiciary to request a preliminary ruling from the Court of Justice in disregard of Article 267 TFEU, especially if the Commission does not use its powers under Article 258 to taken action against the Member State in question,

N.  whereas the petitions process – through its working mechanisms and because the right to petition is granted to all EU citizens and residents under the terms of the Treaty – differs from other remedies available to citizens at EU level, such as the submission of complaints to the European Ombudsman or to the Commission,

O.  whereas citizens are entitled to speedy and solution-oriented redress and to a high level of transparency and clarity from all European institutions and whereas Parliament has repeatedly requested the Commission to use its prerogatives as guardian of the Treaty to act against breaches of European legislation revealed by petitioners, especially where transposition of EU legislation at national level results in its infringement,

P.  whereas many petitions continue to raise concerns about the transposition and implementation of European legislation on the internal market and the environment, and bearing in mind the previous calls made by the Committee on Petitions to the Commission to ensure that enforcement checks in these areas are strengthened and made more efficient,

Q.  whereas, although the Commission can fully check compliance with EU law only when a final decision has been taken by national authorities, it is important, particularly in relation to environmental matters and all cases in which the time aspect is especially significant, to verify at an early stage that local, regional and national authorities correctly apply all relevant procedural requirements under EU law and, when necessary, to carry out detailed studies on the application and impact of the legislation in force, in order to obtain all the requisite information,

R.  bearing in mind the importance of preventing further irreparable losses in biodiversity, especially inside Natura 2000 designated sites, and the commitment by Member States to ensure the protection of special conservation areas under the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) and the Birds Directive (79/409/EEC),

S.  whereas petitions highlight the impact of European legislation on the everyday lives of EU citizens, and recognising the need to take all necessary steps to consolidate the progress achieved in reinforcing citizens' EU rights,

T.  whereas, in its previous activity report and its opinion on the Commission's annual report on monitoring the application of Community law, the Committee on Petitions requested to be kept informed regularly about the stages reached in infringement procedures the subject of which is also covered by petitions,

U.  bearing in mind that Member States have the primary responsibility for correctly transposing and enforcing European legislation, and recognising that many of them have been increasingly involved in the work of the Committee on Petitions in 2009,

1.  Welcomes the smooth transition to the new parliamentary term and notes that much of work of the Committee on Petitions, unlike that of other parliamentary committees, was carried over into the new term because examination of a considerable number of petitions had not been completed;

2.  Welcomes the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and is confident that Parliament will be closely involved in the development of the new citizens' initiative so that this instrument can fully achieve its purpose and ensure enhanced transparency and accountability in the EU decision-making process, allowing citizens to suggest improvements or additions to EU law;

3.  Welcomes the Green Paper on a European Citizens' Initiative(1), published by the Commission at the end of 2009, as a first step towards translating the concept into practice;

4.  Points out that Parliament has received campaign-type petitions bearing more than one million signatures and insists on the need to ensure that citizens are made fully aware of the distinction between this type of petition and the citizens' initiative;

5.  Recalls its resolution on the citizens' initiative(2), to which the Committee on Petitions contributed an opinion; urges the Commission establish comprehensible implementing rules which identify clearly the roles and obligations of the institutions involved in the examination and decision-making processes;

6.  Welcomes the legally binding force acquired by the Charter of Fundamental Rights with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and underlines the importance of the Charter in making fundamental rights clearer and more visible to all citizens;

7.  Considers that both the Union and its Member States have an obligation to ensure that the fundamental rights included in the Charter are fully observed, and trusts that the Charter will help to develop the concept of citizenship of the Union;

8.  Trusts that all necessary procedural steps will be taken to ensure that the institutional aspects of EU accession to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms are rapidly clarified, and notes the intention of the Committee on Petitions to contribute to Parliament's work on this matter;

9.  Recalls its previous request that a full review of the redress procedures available to EU citizens should be carried out by the relevant services of Parliament and the Commission and underscores the importance of pursuing the negotiations on the revised Framework Agreement between the European Parliament and the Commission in order to take full account of the increased rights of EU citizens particularly with regard to the European citizens' initiative;

10.  Welcomes the steps taken by the Commission to streamline the existing public assistance services, in order to inform citizens about their EU rights and the means of redress available in case of infringement, by regrouping the various relevant webpages (such as those of SOLVIT and ECC-Net) under the Your EU Rights chapter on the main EU website;

11.  Points out that Parliament has repeatedly called on the Commission to develop a system for clearly signposting the various complaints mechanisms available to citizens and believes that further steps are needed, with the ultimate aim of converting the Your EU Rights webpage into a user-friendly, online one-stop shop; looks forward to initial assessments of the implementation of its 2008 Action Plan(3), which are expected in 2010;

12.  Recalls its resolution on the activities of the European Ombudsman in 2008 and encourages the newly re-elected Ombudsman to keep working to enhance the openness and accountability of European administration and to ensure that decisions are taken as openly as possible and at the closest possible level to citizens;

13.  Reaffirms its determination to support the Ombudsman's office in its efforts to raise public awareness of its work and to identify and act against instances of maladministration by European institutions; believes that the Ombudsman represents a valuable source of information in the overall endeavour to improve European administration;

14.  Notes that petitions received in 2009, almost 40 % of which were deemed inadmissible, continued to focus on environment, fundamental rights, justice and the internal market; in terms of geographical focus, most of the petitions concerned the Union as a whole – followed by Germany, Spain, Italy and Romania – demonstrating that citizens do keep a watchful eye on the Union's work and turn to it for action;

15.  Acknowledges the importance of the work of petitioners and of its Committee on Petitions for the protection of the Union's environment; welcomes the initiative of the committee in ordering a study on the application of the Habitats Directive, in anticipation of the International Year of Biodiversity, and considers it a useful tool for evaluating the EU biodiversity strategy to date and drafting a new strategy;

16.  Observes that more and more petitions are highlighting the problems encountered by citizens who exercise their right to free movement; such petitions refer to the excessive length of time taken by host Member States in delivering residence permits to third-country family members, and to difficulties in exercising voting rights and having qualifications recognised;

17.  Reiterates its previous calls on the Commission to put forward practical proposals to extend consumer protection against unfair commercial practices to small businesses, as requested in its resolution on misleading directory companies(4), as the Committee continues to receive petitions from victims of business-directory scams;

18.  Acknowledges the central role that the Commission plays in the work of the Committee on Petitions, which continues to rely on its expertise when assessing petitions, identifying breaches of European legislation and seeking redress, and recognises the efforts made by the Commission to improve its overall response time to the Committee's requests for investigations so that cases reported by citizens can be resolved as quickly as possible;

19.  Encourages the Commission to intervene at an early stage whenever petitions signal potential damage to specially protected areas, by reminding the national authorities concerned of their commitments to ensure the integrity of sites classified as Natura 2000 under Directive 92/43/EEC (Habitats) and, where necessary, by taking preventive measures to ensure compliance with European legislation;

20.  Welcomes the newly elected Commissioners – especially the Commissioner responsible for inter-institutional relations and administration – and trusts that they will cooperate with the Committee on Petitions as closely and effectively as possible and will respect it as one of the most important channels of communication between citizens and European institutions;

21.  Regrets that the Commission has yet to address the Committee's repeated calls for official and regular updates on the progress of infringement proceedings relating to open petitions; notes that the monthly publication of Commission decisions on infringement proceedings – in accordance with Articles 258 and 260 of the Treaty – although praiseworthy in terms of transparency does not represent an adequate answer to such requests;

22.  Believes that tracking down infringement proceedings by following the Commission's press releases and matching them to certain petitions would unnecessarily waste the Committee's time and resources, especially in the case of horizontal infringements, and asks that the Commission inform the Petitions Committee of any relevant infringement proceedings;

23.  Reiterates its belief that EU citizens should benefit from the same level of transparency from the Commission whether they make a formal complaint or submit a petition to Parliament and calls on the Commission, once again, to ensure that greater recognition is given to the petitions process and to its role in bringing to light breaches of European legislation, in respect of which infringement proceedings are subsequently launched;

24.  Recalls that, in many instances, petitions uncover problems related to the transposition and enforcement of European legislation and recognises that launching infringement proceedings does not necessarily provide citizens with immediate solutions to their problems, given the average length of such proceedings;

25.  Welcomes the Commission's efforts to develop alternative means of promoting better implementation of European legislation, and the positive attitude of certain Member States which take the necessary steps to correct breaches at the early stages of the implementation process;

26.  Welcomes the increased involvement of Member States in the activity of the Committee on Petitions and the presence of their representatives at meetings; believes that such cooperation should be strengthened as the national authorities are primarily responsible for enforcing European legislation once it has been transposed into their legal order;

27.  Stresses that closer cooperation with the Member States is extremely important for the work of the Petitions Committee; believes that one way of achieving this could be through more intensive cooperation with the national parliaments especially in the context of the Lisbon Treaty;

28.  Encourages Member States to be prepared to play a more transparent and proactive part in responding to petitions related to the implementation and enforcement of European law;

29.  Considers that, in light of the Lisbon Treaty, the EP Petitions Committee should forge closer working links with similar committees in Member States' national and regional parliaments in order to promote mutual understanding of petitions on European issues and to ensure the swiftest response to citizens at the most appropriate level;

30.  Draws attention to the conclusions in its resolution on the impact of extensive urbanisation in Spain and asks the Spanish authorities to continue to provide assessments of the measures taken, as they have been doing up to now;

31.  Notes the increasing number of petitioners who turn to Parliament for redress on issues that fall outside the EU's area of competence, such as, for example, the calculation of retirement benefits, the enforcement of national courts' decisions and passivity on the part of national administrations; the Committee on Petitions has done its best to re-direct such complaints to the competent national authorities;

32.  Believes that, while extensive use of the Internet should be encouraged as it facilitates communication with citizens, a solution should be found to prevent the Committee being burdened with ‘non-petitions’; considers that a possible solution could lie in revision of the registration process in Parliament and encourages the staff responsible to re-direct the files in question to the Correspondence with Citizens Unit, rather than submitting them to the Committee on Petitions;

33.  Stresses the need to keep working on increasing the transparency of petitions management: internally by constantly upgrading the E-petition application – which provides Members with direct access to petition files – and externally by establishing a user-friendly, interactive petitions portal which would enable Parliament to reach out more effectively to citizens, and would also make the Committee's voting procedures and responsibilities clearer to the public;

34.  Encourages the creation of a portal offering a multi-stage interactive template for petitions, which could inform citizens about what can be achieved by submitting petitions to Parliament and about Parliament's remit, and could include links to alternative means of redress at European and national level; calls for the Union's responsibilities in various areas to be described in as much detail as possible, to eliminate confusion between EU competences and national competences;

35.  Acknowledges that implementing such an initiative would not be cost-free but urges the relevant administrative services to work with the Committee on Petitions to find the most suitable solutions, as such a portal will be of paramount importance not only in improving contact between Parliament and EU citizens but also in reducing the number of inadmissible petitions;

36.  Stresses that, until the issue of resources is resolved satisfactorily, an immediate improvement of the existing website is necessary;

37.  Welcomes the approval of Parliament's new Rules of Procedure and the revision of the provisions related to the management of petitions; encourages the work of the Secretariat and political group representatives on a revised guide for Members to the rules and internal procedures of the Committee on Petitions, as such a document will not only assist Members in their work, but will also further increase the transparency of the petitions process;

38.  Reiterates its call to the relevant administrative departments to take the measures needed to set up an electronic register through which citizens may lend support to, or withdraw their support from, a petition in accordance with Rule 202;

39.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution and the report of the Committee on Petitions to the Council, the Commission, the European Ombudsman, the governments of the Member States, their committees on petitions and their national ombudsmen or similar competent bodies.

(1) COM(2009)0622 of 11.11.2009.
(2) European Parliament Resolution of 7 May 2009 requesting the Commission to submit a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the implementation of the citizens' initiative (Texts adopted, 7.5.2009, P6_TA(2009)0389).
(3) Action Plan on an integrated approach for providing Single Market Assistance Services to citizens and business – Commission Staff Working Paper SEC(2008)1882.
(4) European Parliament resolution of 16 December 2008 on misleading directory companies, (OJ C 45 E, 23.2.2010, p. 17).

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