ASSOCIATION DES SENATS D'EUROPE
Mr Christian Poncelet, President of the Senate of the French Republic :
I am delighted to welcome you to the Luxembourg Palace so that we can set up the Association of European Senates for the assemblies we represent.
This idea which I am submitting to you today, this project which I propose to give form to, has two sources:
- the first, is that I believe very strongly that bicameralism is of great importance ;
- the second, is that parliamentary assemblies have a fundamental role to play in European construction.
We are gathered here today because, by definition, we belong to bicameral Parliaments. Although this fact is often disregarded and indeed sometimes contested, we are aware of the benefits that bicameralism can bring in terms of better representation of our citizens, territories and activities. We are convinced that the passing of bills from one house to the other improves the quality of legislation, because it ensures that both sides of a problem can be heard. It also allows issues to be argued fully and a wider range of different opinions to be expressed. In short, it bolsters the democratic operation of the legislature. Finally, any parliamentary assembly that does not always have the same political majority as that supporting the executive can provide better, more efficient, genuine and objective supervision of executive policy.
As you know, I personally am a defender, a believer and a promoter of bicameralism. I am also favourable towards active co-operation between Senates or second houses.
That is why the French Senate took the initiative of the Meeting of last March, at which most of your assemblies were represented, and to which I had the pleasure to welcome you. The Meeting of the Senates of the World enabled us to arrive at a better understanding of bicameralism and to measure its importance and diversity. It has already led to renewed study into bicameralism. There is no doubt whatever that our Meeting contributed to the discussions of the Presiding Officers of Parliaments from all over the world, organised by the Inter-Parliamentary Union in New York at the end of the summer, in preparation for the Millennium General Meeting of the United Nations. It has, and will continue to have, practical consequences in the form of Senate meetings in certain areas of the world.
But we Europeans must do more.
The Second World War was in many respects a European civil war, in which half our continent fell under the domination of the Soviet Union. But towards the end of the conflict, hope dawned, in the shape of the " European Economic Community ", which enabled France and Germany to become reconciled, and a pacific, democratic and prosperous union to be built in western Europe.
Some ten years ago, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, the collapse of the Soviet empire opened the way for the long awaited reunion of the great European family. Peoples who had been cut off from their roots were reinstated in homes that history, geography and culture had bequeathed to them in Europe.
Today, the European Union occupies a decisive position in the lives of our States, governments and citizens. Whether we are full members, aspiring members or under its immediate influence, the European Union exercises a powerful force of attraction in many fields. It is under European control that the standards by which or according to which we legislate are laid down. The governments that we supervise devote a great deal of their time and activity to it. More generally speaking, the European Union leads us to compare, indeed sometimes adapt, some of our internal organizations which seem legitimate to us because they are based on our traditions and our citizens' real needs.
However, I do not wish to brush a portrait of the European Union that is too sketchy.
I know how much its six, nine, ten, twelve and then fifteen member States owe to it. I also know that while not being a guarantee, the European Union constitutes an insurance which will enable us to build a reconciled, free, loyal and prosperous continent together.
My dear colleagues, it is because I am strongly convinced of these two ideals - the virtues of bicameralism and our common European destiny - that I propose today that we co-operate in the framework of an Association of the European Senates.
It is true that several forums for concertation are already in existence. Some of us participate in the annual Conference of Presiding Officers of the European Union Parliaments. Our respective assemblies are represented at the Conference of the European Affairs Committees of the Parliaments of the fifteen member States. Nevertheless, there is no framework for co-operation between the upper chambers of those Parliaments. That is what I am proposing today.
Practically speaking, the Association will be a simple, permanent structure, operating at both political and administrative levels. The Association, which all the Parliaments can join, will also provide a framework for meetings of their Presidents at least once a year.
It seems to me that these meetings will be more profitable if they provide the opportunity for each of us to give the others the benefit of our own experience on specific topics chosen in advance. Our horizons will thus be broadened and we shall mutually gain from these exchanges. The topics we choose to discuss must be of interest to us all. I shall go over a few of these to illustrate what I mean, but this list will not be an exhaustive one. For example, we could look at the supervision of European policy by second chambers, second chambers and the application of the principle of subsidiarity, or second chambers as an illustration of national characteristics. Similarly, some of us could undertake to go into some subjects in more depth and make more detailed study.
The secretariat of the Association will be responsible for keeping members up to date with events between Presidents' Meetings. Each of us will be required to nominate a correspondent with the Association from our respective parliamentary departments. In addition to seconding us in our periodic meetings, the staff we nominate will be responsible for facilitating exchanges of information and experience between Association members. They could thus organise training periods together. Similarly, data bases could be set up to build up the information available to each assembly.
Creation of a special Web site, using links between each of our Web sites, would enable us to publicise our action better and to facilitate communication between Association members.
Dear colleagues, I believe that the project I am putting before you today will meet a genuine need and will provide the framework for useful, practical and adapted co-operation. I hope that you will share my belief. Your presence here today strongly suggests this. Therefore, although I have no wish to make things more formal than necessary, I do think it is necessary to draw up the main outlines of how our Association will operate. I suggest that we consider our meeting today as a founding meeting.
That is why I thought it was a good idea, if you are agreeable, to begin by examining the draft rules for the Association together, so that we can actually create it officially.
During the second part of our meeting, I suggest that we fix the place, date and topics of the first and subsequent proper meetings of the Association of European Senates.
Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Colleagues, I will now hand over to you. I suggest that those wishing to make general comments go first.
When we have finished the general discussion we will move on to examination of the draft rules.
Mr Frédéric Korthals Altes, President of the First Chamber of the States General of the Netherlands :
Mr Chairman, dear colleagues, my first words will be to give my warmest thanks to Mr Christian Poncelet for his initiative in creating the Association of European Senates.
The Senate of the Netherlands warmly welcomes this undertaking. We were already delighted with the French Senate's idea of holding a Meeting of the Presidents and two delegates from every Senate in the world on March 14th of this year. That was followed by the suggestion, by the President of the French Senate and Mr Raymond Forni, the President of the French National Assembly, to invite the Presiding Officers of the parliaments of UN members to a dinner in honour of the presidents of the European member countries' Parliaments, on the occasion of their meeting. Today, we are here in Paris once more in this historic venue, under the French presidency of the European Union, to lay the foundations of a common future for the European Senates.
The Senate of the Netherlands is anxious to contribute fully to the building of an Association of European Senates, for several reasons. First of all, it is right that, in a world and a continent where peoples are moving closer and closer to each other, and where interdependence is ever more important, we should step up the co-operation between those who represent our peoples. That is why it is a good thing for the Presiding Officers of the Parliaments of the member States of the European Union and the president of the European Parliament should meet once a year. I consider these meetings to be very important. It is also most appropriate that the Presidents of the European Senates, whose working methods and focus are different from those of the Chambers of Deputies, should meet regularly.
Secondly, and this is no doubt peculiar to the Netherlands, such co-operation will bolster our own positions in our own countries and in Europe. The Senate of the Netherlands was created in 1815, at the time when the Northern Netherlands and Belgium were united. The Netherlands have gratefully kept on the bicameralism that was imposed by Belgium for that union, which lasted for only a brief time. Perhaps that is why the status of the Netherlands Senate has been the subject of so much debate. In January this year, the Dutch Minister of the Interior submitted a report which contained observations but no concrete proposal for the first chamber. When this report was examined in our house, we were able to make use of the valuable information provided by the French Senate, in the proceedings to the Meeting of the 14th March which was on the topic of " Bicameralism, an Idea for the Future ". This documentation will enable the debate in my country to be deepened.
Thirdly, these meetings will allow us to exchange our experiences, especially as regards involving national parliaments in the European legislative process and as regards quality control for implementation of Community legislation. After long discussion, the Senate of the Netherlands took an important step towards improved supervision of European legislation, and more active intervention in the drafting stage of Directives. The second chamber of the States General, the Chamber of Deputies, examines the agenda of the Council with the Ministers and Secretaries of State involved, each week. The Senate of the Netherlands, which wishes to avoid any redundancy, prefers to limit its role to quality control of Directives. Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that the exercise of the right to approve decisions binding member States, which are taken in the framework of the third pillar, is equally divided between the two Chambers of the States General, and requires thorough preparation. In our view, the coming annual meetings to be held by the Association should be for the purpose of promoting the exchange of experience and good practice. For these reasons, we wholeheartedly approve of the creation of this Association. We think that the draft rules have all the necessary provisions, with no superfluous trimmings. The President of the Senate of the French Republic, the Secretary General and all his team, have done excellent work, thus materialising the concept that bicameralism is an idea for the future. Thank you.
Mrs Alicja Grzeskowiak, President of the Polish Senate :
Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, on behalf of the Senate of the Republic of Poland, I wish to express our firm support for this initiative to create an Association of European Senates. I thank the President of the French Senate, Mr Poncelet, for this initiative which, in my view, is very important and useful. We are placing great hope in the creation of this Association, which will develop contacts and exchange experience between the Senates of European countries. Until now, bilateral contacts were the norm. The Association will allow multilateral contacts. The Polish Senate, the tradition of which goes back to the end of the fifteenth century, is a modern, forward looking parliamentary institution. It was only re-established in 1989 ; and this event symbolised the end of Communist rule in Poland. The Polish Senate was very open to international parliamentary exchanges, and over the first two years of its existence it established relationships with the upper Chambers in nearly every European countries, as well as with several countries outside Europe. These relationships took the form not only of official visits, but also of study visits and exchanges of working experience. We are very grateful for this assistance during our pioneering period. The Polish Senate, which had been denied existence by the Communists for nearly 50 years after the end of the Second World War, was obliged to reconstitute its tradition by integrating the democratic evolution in parliamentary systems in the free world. I personally have grateful memories of the study visits we made to the Senate of the French Republic in 1990 and 1991, when I was Chairman of the Senate Constitutional Committee. I feel I should voice the hope that the Association of European Senates will promote not only contacts between the Presidents of upper Chambers and between senators, but also between the Secretaries General of these chambers. The Chancellery of the Senate of the Polish Republic owes a great deal to these contacts and has fruitful co-operation with the secretariats of the Senates in some European countries. I would add that I fully agree with the draft rules for the Association of European Senates that was submitted to us.
Mr Ivan Havlicek, First Vice-President of the Senate of the Czech Republic :
The Czech Senate is undoubtedly the most recent upper chamber of all those represented here. After a long interlude, it was re-constituted in 1996. The Constitution of the Czech Republic vests it with the role of safeguarding democracy. Therefore the duty of the Senate of the Czech Republic is to support democracy in our country and we seek as many experiences as possible from which to learn how to be worthy of our role as the most recent upper chamber. I have been asked to say that the Senate of the Czech Republic fully supports the creation of the Association of European Senates and we are ready to do everything - within our power, of course - to contribute to the success of this Association and we also consider the rules as drafted to be very well formulated and drawn up. We are prepared to approve them.
Mrs Esperanza Aguirre Gil de Biedma, President of the Spanish Senate :
My first words will be of thanks to President Poncelet and all his team of colleagues who invited us here to the meeting of March 14th 2000 to continue our work. I also congratulate them for the high quality preparation that has gone into this meeting and its organisation, and finally, for their idea in creating this Association of European Senates. Furthermore, I greet my colleagues from other countries who are to form this Association with us, and I would like to inform them that the Spanish Senate is convinced of the need to create such an Association today, for a number of reasons. I will not go into them one by one, but some seem to me to be fundamental. The first is our need to adapt the institutional relationships between the member States of the European Union to the incoming new candidates. The second, which President Poncelet himself has often iterated in international meetings, as indeed did our Belgian and Dutch colleagues a few minutes ago, is that a bicameral system is both important and useful, and this must be brought to public attention. Thirdly, it seems to me that the territorial nature of many second chambers, not least the Spanish Senate, better corresponds to the geometry or the structure of the new States that are in the middle of decentralisation phases. For all these reasons, dear colleagues, I can assert that the Spanish Senate supports, indeed, may I say enthusiastically supports, the foundation of this Association of the European Senates. Once again, may I thank Mr Poncelet, our Chairman, for having accomplished this.
Mr Mircea Ionescu Quintus, President of the Romanian Senate :
Ladies and Gentlemen, dear colleagues, first of all, allow me to congratulate our hosts, and especially Mr Christian Poncelet, the President of the Senate of the French Republic, for this remarkable initiative - the creation of the Association of European Senates - because today more than ever, a forum is sorely needed in which parliaments can discuss issues related to European integration, and is a place where information and experience can be exchanged both at parliamentary and departmental levels. I would also like to express my thanks for the invitation to participate in this most important step in the history of bicameralism, which will allow the parliamentary aspect of international co-operation to be reinforced.
It is perhaps not fortuitous that at this time the Romanian Senate has found itself taking stock : it is the end of a legislature and even more, the end of a decade of legislative work which thus closes the millennium in Romania. It is with justified pride, I must admit, that I have observed that, on the whole, the laws voted during the current parliament correspond not only to the spirit and basic principles of parliamental government - the respect of universal values, human freedoms and democracy - but also to the requirements for Romania's membership of the European structures.
These basic principles were also respected in the Senate's debates on adoption of a modern legislative framework suitable for the Romanian realities which it will be called upon to regulate, and, at the same time, in harmony with existing EU law, in order to allow Romania to integrate all the European structures in successful stages. With this in view, we have voted legal rules in the fields of transport, work and social protection, justice, health, and foreign policy, nearly all in compliance with Community standards. Once again, the fact that we have voted these laws shows as clearly as possible that we wish to build a legislative framework and promote European values in every aspect of Romanian life. Even if we have not yet reached the desired level with the Senate, we have nevertheless been able to a large extent to adopt the laws required by the economic reforms and consolidation of the rule of law.
The other function of the parliamentary institution, our supervisory role, has been based on constitutional provisions and the Senate has acted by means of questions and comments addressed to the Government. However, fairly vehement debate arose on emergency orders and it might be necessary to make a stricter definition of the relationships between the Parliament and the Government, as regards both the rules governing emergency orders and the principle of Government responsibility.
Similarly, I should like to make a brief mention of how the Parliament, not least the Senate, is involved in State foreign policy. Parliamentary diplomacy has become the place where national interests can be shared, where political animosity can be left aside and genuine, precious consensus of all parliamentary political forces can be arrived at on fundamental issues, especially the strategy for Romanian membership of the European Union.
However, as is the case when we take stock, we must also know what we intend for the future in addition to what we have achieved, so that Romanian democracy can be made more vigorous and the structures of the Rule of Law can be more efficiently run.
During this parliament, we had discussions on the need to differentiate more clearly between the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. It was decided that two Chambers with perfectly equal powers, elected in the same way, were a cumbersome solution, and that different, complementary prerogatives for each would produce effective bicameralism. I am referring, for example, to the fact that the Senate should be vested with more important prerogatives for the adoption of organic laws and legal rules related to membership of our country to European structures, or on transposition of EU laws. Similarly, any legislation on foreign policy or national defence would be in the hands of the Senate.
As you can see, we are, both now and for the future, most interested in examining subjects dealing with membership of Europe, because this process is far from being over. Much remains to be done to prepare our State and economic structures for the challenges of the 21st century. We are aware that Europe is very demanding as regards adoption of EU laws. But whether we are in the opposition or in the government, we are all, as responsible members of parliament, required to ensure that the process of integration - which also entails sacrifices - should not be discredited in the eyes of our electors and to remember that the final user of this elaborate structure is the citizen.
That is why, in conclusion, I would like to emphasise that during this phase, when our parliaments have crucial role to play, this Association will be most useful, because it will be a forum for our debates and exchanges of our experience and ideas.
Mr Gernot Mittler, President of the Chamber for European affairs, German Bundesrat :
I will also begin by expressing my warm thanks to President Poncelet for his initiative, for the second time this year, in bringing us together. In March it was the Senates of the World, and now it is the Senates of Europe. I would also like to thank you for the setting you have chosen for this work, which shows how much importance you attach to today's meeting.
When we see so many Europeans around the same table, we are forced to remember that tomorrow, on November 9th, it is the eleventh anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. European unification took on a new dimension on that day, and began to speed up. Anyone reasoning in historic terms will recognise the opportunity we have today to welcome eminent representatives from the countries once known as the Eastern Bloc. I would like to add a personal note to this. I feel it is a signal honour for someone like me to be present here today. My father fought in France during the War; he served as a soldier here, and then he was imprisoned in France. But my son lived in France, first in Montpellier, then in Paris, where he studied medicine. He also did training periods here; all this shows what an exciting, fortunate historical period we live in today. Europeans are uniting so that they will present a stronger face to the outside, and they are also avoiding unproductive internal competition which might give rise to old nationalistic reflexes. But the idea of unity giving strength when facing outside danger should also guide the European regions. The more Europe grows, the more it will be important for regions to gain weight inside this structure.
In your introduction, Mr Chairman, you highlighted the virtues of bicameralism. For Germany, I can only say that we fully agree with this view, and my colleague Klaudia Martini very clearly stated this last March when she said that the second chambers have a major role in preserving regional and territorial identity. In Germany, the bicameral system has long been an integral part not only of our constitutional law but also of our actual constitution. We must therefore take account of the singularities of our regions in the European context, and we should allow our provinces and regions to express themselves. European ambitions will be met all the more easily as citizens accept this process, and acceptance by European peoples will depend on their identification with the diversity of European construction. That of course will require structures, and I am grateful to you, Mr Chairman, for having taken this initiative.
I am delighted that you kindly submitted a set of draft rules for the Association on which we could base our future work. However, I must make one small reservation which is due to our particular German structures. On the day after tomorrow, the President of the Bundesrat will change. The Minister who presides over my Land is to be replaced by the Minister who presides over the Land of Saxony for one year. In this period of alternation, we have not been able to consult within our chamber. I would therefore be grateful if formal adoption of these draft rules did not take place before formally consulting the Bundesrat. Rest assured that we do not intend to remain by the wayside, and that the Bundesrat will wish fully to take part in this new body. We feel it is important to give concrete effect to these excellent intentions.
Mr Christian Poncelet :
Given the circumstances, the alternation for Bundesrat Presidents, we are very happy for you to defer your answer for a short time, but it would appear from your speech that there is no doubt as to the content of that answer. I think that my colleagues will agree to allow you an additional period of study so that you can consult your new President.
Mr Tone Hrovat, President of the National Council of Slovenia :
Mr Chairman, allow me to thank you in my own name and on behalf of the Slovenian Council for your initiative. That goes both for the Meeting of the Senates of the World and for today's meeting. Slovenia is a young State which is starting out in democracy, and it is important for our Council to act in a bicameral framework. The bicameral system is not an old tradition in Slovenia, and so we have been all the more attentive to the experience and advice of States which have used this system for a long time. I thus take this opportunity to thank all those who helped us to achieve a bicameral system. I would particularly like to thank President Poncelet and the French Senate. There are also others I would like to thank, but I must be brief here. I would also like to congratulate the French Senate and its President for their excellent drafting of the rules that we were given. Ours is one of the States that have moved from a totalitarian system to a democracy. We may not yet have found all the required forms, and the operating of our bicameral system perhaps still needs some adjustment. So I would like to take this opportunity to invite the French President and my other colleagues from European Senates to Slovenia, where we could discuss the problems posed by introducing a bicameral system into a young democracy. I would like to suggest that next year or the year after we hold a meeting on introduction of the bicameral system into young democracies, in Slovenia. Once again, may I thank the French President for today's initiative and for the help you have given us in establishing a bicameral system in Slovenia.
Mr Christian Poncelet :
Thank you for your interesting contribution. As far as we are concerned, it is satisfying to see the great efforts you are making to meet the criteria for entry into the European Union in the shortest possible time. You are applying to yourselves the famous maxim " God helps those who help themselves ". You have invited us to Slovenia. We will be delighted to come, but that decision must be taken by our colleagues later today, since there are several candidates, and we will make sure that the meetings take place in rotation in all the member countries of the Association.
Mr Bruno Frick, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Swiss Council of States :
First of all, I would like to express my warmest thanks for your initiative and for your cordial welcome to the Luxembourg Palace today.
The Swiss bicameral system dates back to 1848, that is to the foundation of the Swiss Confederation. The two chambers have absolutely equal powers. In all the countries where it is practised, bicameralism has two main virtues: it allows more varied representation of the population, and it ensures better examination of legislation. While the National Council represents the Swiss people and counts 200 deputies, the Council of States represents the Cantons and there are only 46 members (two per Canton). In Switzerland, the Chamber of Cantons safeguards the federal structures and the principle of subsidiarity. It thus allows the smaller cantons to be heard as well as the larger ones. The prestige of the upper Chamber dates to the early part of the twentieth century, more precisely since its election by the people and no longer by the Cantonal parliament. Because we have developed the system of working in commissions, the States deputies are all the more sought after as they are fewer in number. Bills are examined from different angles depending on the various interests. They thus get two thorough goings-over rather than one. The upper Chamber plays an essential advisory role.
Having made this brief historical overview of our civic heritage, I would like to remind those in this prestigious Chamber the importance of the words " exchange " and " communication ". Any attitude towards communication depends on an overall view of Man and Society. Any wish to communicate implies interaction, joint construction, and sharing of knowledge and facts. The interaction created by the Association of European Senates will, without doubt, provide an effective means of enhancing political communication and argument. " Understanding leads to better communication, communication leads to better government ", could be the motto of our future Association of European Senates.
Your project for the Association of European Senates, President Poncelet, immediately sparked considerable interest from our President of the Council of States, our Senate. I am asked today to inform you of his strong support and the participation of my country in your initiative. May I also, at this point, open a parenthesis, and congratulate you for another of your initiatives: the periods of business experience offered to some senators. All these initiatives produce closer collaboration between politicians and economic and social players. They all encourage local democracy, which guarantees that common concerns and experiences are shared, that democratic principles are defended, and that the balance of power and the interests of local communities will be respected. It is therefore with confidence and enthusiasm that we will attend the next annual meeting of Presidents. We also approve your proposal to come to prior agreement on the topic to be placed on the agenda.
Mr Carlo Rognoni, Vice-President of the Italian Senate :
Without more ado, I would like to say, Mr Chairman, how much the Presidency of the Italian Senate approves the initiative you have proposed. That being said, the friendly atmosphere of today's meeting encourages me to be perfectly frank and admit to you that we have greeted this initiative with a degree of ambiguity. Why is this so ?
First of all, because we are always cautious when faced with initiatives that might lead to possible breaches in Italian reality today, namely the provision of complete bicameralism. In order for the Italian legislative machine to work properly, it is essential that both chambers play a role. I remember that the President of the Canadian Senate, during a G8 meeting in New York, took the opposite view. At that time I underlined that equality between the chambers was an essential feature of the Italian Republic's legislature.
We are, on the other hand, extremely interested in Mr Poncelet's suggestion and by the idea of a forum open to countries that are not yet members of the European Union and to others which will no doubt never be members. We are also interested in the idea because of the facts of Italian politics. The election of the presidents of Italian regions, which took place for the first time last spring, was the first step in a process of institutional reform which could ultimately lead us to federalism and the vesting of greater power in the regions.
This trend towards administrative decentralisation, and redistribution of power from the centre to the periphery, which is linked to direct election of the presidents of regions in Italy, led to a debate on the role and future of the two Chambers. I am therefore very interested, as indeed are all the Italian senators, in the various models of bicameralism. How does this system work in the various countries ? How can territories best be represented ? How can bicameralism best be implemented and exercised, it being understood that our purpose is to improve the quality of our democratic operation as best we can ?
Thank you, Mr Chairman, and may I repeat once again how much we support this idea of an Association.
Mr Armand de Decker, President of the Belgian Senate :
Mr Chairman, I wish first of all to congratulate you. There is absolutely no doubt that, under your guidance, the French Senate has become the best, most dynamic, efficient, warm and hospitable of defenders of the bicameralism to which we are all so attached, but which is regularly subjected to questioning, or indeed attacks. You had the excellent idea of organising the Meeting of the Senates of the World in this Palais du Luxembourg a few months ago, and I expect that all the colleagues here who went to that meeting considered, like myself, that it was of quite exceptional interest. It was the occasion for us to judge just how well bicameralism can defend democratic values, be it for larger or smaller States, for federations or for centralised States, for monarchies or for republics, or for presidential or for parliamentary systems.
You were right, Mr. Chairman, to remind us in your introduction that not only does the bicameral system give better representation of territorial entities in our various States, but it is also an absolutely basic component of democracy of itself, because it allows the rest of society to judge legislation before it is passed. Because bills are passed from one house to the other and this takes time, each section of civil society has the time to react when the government or the parliament proposes legislation. Once again, I congratulate you for having taken the initiative of creating an Association of European Senates, because it will give us the opportunity to exchange our expertise and experience, and to grow stronger from what we learn from each other.
I have already noted the interest of our colleagues' speeches this morning, because they are very different and express the concerns of their Senates and their States. President Korthals Altes reminded us that it was the Belgians who, during our fifteen years of shared existence in the Netherlands, fought to obtain a second Chamber in the Netherlands, so as to safeguard Belgian interests. Even so, as Mr Korthals Altes pointed out, sometimes the upper chamber is questioned. Similarly, we also had to fight to create our Senate in the Netherlands in 1830, and the question of how useful bicameralism is arises regularly. I therefore think that the Association we are creating today is extremely important for the actual defence of bicameralism itself, and it will help us to demonstrate its intrinsic value.
I should like now to consider the European aspect. We are living in a time of European reconciliation, of European history unfolding at its proper, natural pace, and we must make use of this opportunity. I think we could use the Association of European Senates to help our friends in Eastern Europe in their preparations for European membership, a very difficult process in which they must deal with the transposition of European law into their own national legislation. Yesterday the Belgian Parliament, the Chamber of Representatives and the Senate, signed a protocol for co-operation with the Slovakian Parliament. This is the first large co-operation agreement of this kind. Over the next two years, three successive delegations of seven members from the Slovakian Parliament will spend time in the Belgian Parliament : and three delegations of civil servants from the Slovakian Parliament will do likewise. Obviously, we do not have the means to do this sort of thing indefinitely, and we shall have to choose some States with which we could do it. But I think that all of us here could most probably share this out and help aspiring members of the European Union with their work in introducing European law into their own legislation.
Then, Mr Chairman, you said in your introduction that one of the topics we could discuss is the issue of our second chambers reviewing European policy. I am sure that we are all fully aware that the construction of Europe is at a crossroads, and that its form, the European institutions, are no longer adapted to a Europe that will have to operate with 25, 28, or even 30 members. Given that for us Belgians, European construction is above all a political project and not merely a wish to create a large economic market, we want the European Union to serve to multiply the political centres in the world : we are rather tired of the uni-polar world we live in, where the United States is the only really great power and has overweening power to decide the fate of the other inhabitants of the planet. The European Union is a project the aim of which is to be a counterweight : if we work towards that, we must strengthen Europe and the question of a European Constitution will arise. The German Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Fischer, has raised it at an opportune moment. President Chirac has shown an interest; other ministers and Prime Ministers have also reacted, and it seems clear to me that when the European Union has moved towards a stronger entity, the question of a bicameral Europe will arise. There is no unicameral federation, as we all know. As I pointed out in a speech to the Assembly of the Western European Union (WEU) on accountability of EU foreign policy and common security, parliamentary supervision of inter-governmental policy in the European Union cannot be carried out solely by the European Parliament. It is clear that the parliaments of the member States of the EU who decide to send armed forces on peace missions, and who vote defence and foreign policy budgets, will remain involved in European Union foreign policy and common security issues for a long time to come. Therefore, we must find a European parliamentary entity. This common entity must be different from the COSAC, where members of parliament represent their nations around a table, unlike at the European Parliament, the Council of Europe or the WEU Assembly. We shall need this if we are to supervise the inter-governmental policy of the European Union, and I think that then, the question of European bicameralism will arise. I believe, but this is only my opinion, that our Association could think about this at some stage.
Having said all that, Mr Chairman, I am delighted with your initiative, which the Belgian Senate supports unreservedly. We are in total agreement with your draft rules which seem perfectly well-balanced. The experience of the Conference of Presiding Officers of the European Union can be detected in it, and that is a good thing. As our meeting today is to constitute our Association, I propose that the first real meeting be held in Paris, Mr Chairman, since you were the author of this initiative. Once that has been done, I should be delighted to welcome you all to Brussels when the Association decides it is our turn.
Mr Johann Payer, President of the Austrian Bundesrat :
To start my speech I would like to thank you for having invited us to this meeting, and for this initiative taken by the French Senate to gather the second houses of the member countries of the European Union and those applying for membership.
Although the first houses of our parliaments mostly have the same functions, the purpose of the second houses varies considerably. The Austrian Bundesrat is a federal chamber. It is the chamber that represents the lnder, the Austrian provinces. Our nine Austrian lnder had a major role in creating the Austrian State, and so it is very much in the tradition of our Constitution to offer the lnder an important role in legislation. The members of our second house are elected indirectly by the provincial parliaments. The role of the Bundesrat is to preserve and enforce federalism.
There are many second houses in Europe which differ greatly from that I have the honour to represent today. Although the objectives, purpose and composition of all these houses may vary greatly, there are nevertheless similarities which warrant investigation. These convergences or common points are perfectly expressed in the preamble to the draft rules we were sent. The challenge many of us face is that second houses are constantly required to justify their existence, their work, and their political necessity. In a context such as this, we have a lot to learn from each other. We could also undertake, later on, to observe various developments, or changes in society, that we could discuss and work on in our national parliaments, not because we decide these social changes, but because they seem important for each of us and for us all together. That is why I am fundamentally in agreement with the idea of co-operation between second houses in Europe.
The draft rules, which I received a few days ago, nevertheless require further debate in the Austrian Chamber I represent. We have not had the opportunity to have a thorough discussion on it. This is particularly necessary for the Austrian Bundesrat because the presidents switch every half year. I would thus be making an undertaking for the president after myself. My term of office comes to an end on December 31st 2000, and another land will have the presidency in the half year following.
That being said, I am personally able to say that Austria will not be left at the wayside. There is one point I should like to bring up. Perhaps we should investigate the possibility of organising the Association meetings at the margin of one of the inter-parliamentary meetings which already take place between European countries or those in the European Union, so that we could save time and money. I do not mean that we should prepare for these other meetings; we would have our own topics, but we could hold our meetings at the same time as those which will be held anyway in the various European countries. I am very grateful to the French Senate and its President Mr Poncelet for having had this idea of co-operation, and for organising this conference;
Mr Pjer Simunovic, chargé d'affaires at the Croatian Embassy in France :
Mr Chairman, the Croatian Senate, the Chamber of Districts, offers its sincerest apologies for not being able to send its members to the founding meeting of the Association of European Senates. This is due to the illness of our President. I shall inform the Croatian Senate, which is most desirous of taking its place in the Association of European Senates, of the observations made at this meeting. Finally, allow me to say that today, as a professional diplomat, I am very happy to see such a successful instance of parliamentary diplomacy, which is an essential component of co-operation between the democratic nations of our continent and of the European integration which is our common goal. I do not say this simply because parliamentary diplomacy facilitates the task for us professional diplomats, but because it has intrinsic value. We can but salute this founding meeting wholeheartedly, and thank the French presidency and Mr Poncelet personally for his initiative and enthusiasm.
Mr Marc Besch, Secretary General of the Council of State of the Duchy of Luxembourg :
I wish to thank you, Mr Chairman, and congratulate you on behalf of the Council of State of Luxembourg, for your excellent initiative in creating an Association so that closer relationships between European Senates can be built up. The Council of State is most honoured to be asked to participate in this Association in the capacity of observer. Last May I had the pleasure of being present at the creation of an Association of Councils of State and other administrative courts. We may therefore observe that Community law and construction are gradually leading institutions to create closer exchanges so that EC law can be transposed more effectively into national law, as you said earlier in your speech, and legislation can be of greater quality.
As can be seen from our name, we are not a Senate, we are well and truly a Council of State. Small countries sometimes offer these oddities which may cause surprise, because they fall in neither category. In fact, we are not a true Council of State either, or rather, no longer a true Council of State. This is because we lost the Litigation Committee, and therefore our judicial capacity, three years ago, following a decision handed down by the Strasbourg Court of Human Rights. Now our role is merely advisory, but we do have tasks more like those of a Senate or a second house. In fact, there has never been a Senate in Luxembourg. If we go back a little in history, we find that in 1848 Luxembourg copied the 1830 Belgian Constitution, which at the time was a model of liberalism, but we did not adopt one important feature, the Senate. The constituent assembly judged that Luxembourg was too small to create a real Senate. Of course, they must have realised very quickly, and this falls in with your aims, that the system was deficient. The chamber of deputies of the time had a tendency to make hasty laws without taking the time to ensure that they were enforceable, whether they were constitutional, or whether they complied with superior rules.
That is why the Council of State was created in 1856, with an advisory remit. At that time it advised the Crown : it had to give an opinion on all bills and proposed legislation, as well as on all amendments. The Luxembourg Council of State differs from those in our neighbouring States insofar as it intervenes at every stage of legislation, and of course every stage of regulation. We are often envied by our colleagues in neighbouring Councils of State because of our duties, which are still the same.
There was a fairly far-reaching constitutional reform in 1868, and the question of a Senate arose once again. It was the Council of State that proposed to create a Senate. However, the constituent assembly failed to agree with the Council of State on this issue, again for the same reasons as in 1848. However, a solution was found, typically Luxembourger, if I may say so, insofar as any bill or proposed law must be voted a second time at least three months after the first vote, still by the chamber of deputies. The parliament can, however, do without this second vote if the Council of State acts. It is only with the Council of State's agreement that the parliament can dispense with the second vote. The rule has in fact become the exception, because the Council of State dispenses it from the second vote in 99 % of cases, because its own opinions are followed. The Council of State is also consulted, and the procedure of dispensing the parliament of the second vote also works, for draft revisions of the Constitution.
However, the Council of State is not directly elected by the people, like most Senates or like the Luxembourg regions. A number of people in Luxembourg criticise the fact that the Council of State is not elected directly.
In fact, we are not really a Council of State, and we are not really a Senate. We are between the two. I therefore wish to thank you for having invited the Council of State to take part in your work. We find it most interesting, because there are a number of problems we also face: for example, the question of what constitutes an amendment: this is a question for all Senates in principle; and also the integration of Community law into national law. We are anxious to make good laws that can be enforced in practice, and that comply with the higher rules of law such as the Constitution and international law. I congratulate President Poncelet once again and thank you all for allowing us to observe this meeting.
Following this debate, the draft rules submitted to participants were adopted with no amendment, subject to the confirmations of the German and Austrian Bundesrats, which are currently changing their presidents.
The Association then discussed the dates and topics of its next meetings.
Next meetings of the association
Mr Christian Poncelet, President of the Senate of the French Republic :
I suggest that the first effective meeting of the Association take place here in the Luxembourg Palace on June 6th, 2001.
The topic could be " European Senates and representation of local authorities ". This is because the observation that there are populations to be represented but also territories, has been made several times. We must ensure that no territory must be abandoned while our populations flock to the cities which are difficult to administer and where it is difficult to provide security.
These territories must be amply supplied with means of communication, they must be equipped, and they must be able to draw on rich cultural, sports and other facilities, if territorial fractures are to be avoided. A territory that feels apart from European concerns, wherever it is located, will be one that will lose interest in Europe. That is how they start to break off. We have an overriding obligation to represent these territories. It is why the topic I propose is this: European Senates and territorial authorities, in other words, representation of these territories.
Our second meeting could be held either in Belgium or in Slovenia, since both of these countries have offered. It could be held in October 2001.
We could in fact fix the place for the third meeting as of today. If the second takes place in Belgium, the third could go to Slovenia, or vice versa.
Who wishes to comment on these suggestions ?
Mr Armand de Decker, President of the Belgian Senate :
Mr Chairman, I agree entirely with your analysis and proposal. As regards the Belgian request, I made the suggestion because Belgium is to preside over the European Union in the second half of 2001. We could perhaps take that opportunity to examine certain subjects, and it would perhaps be easier for us to organise it during the presidency. However, Iunderstand Slovenia's point of view perfectly. Perhaps we could arrange to hold the second meeting in the second half of the year, probably in the last quarter, in Belgium, and the third meeting in Slovenia.
Mr Christian Poncelet :
Does Slovenia agree with this suggestion ?
Mr Tone Hrovat, President of the National Council of Slovenia :
Yes, Slovenia agrees. These are important events and we would be happy to contribute in the third meeting.
Mr Christian Poncelet :
The two candidates therefore agree. The first meeting will be held at the Luxembourg Palace in Paris on June 6th 2001. The second will take place in Belgium in October 2001, and the third will be held in June 2002 in Slovenia. We will decide the topics for the subsequent meetings next June.
Mrs Esperanza Aguirre Gil de Biedma, President of the Spanish Senate :
Since some of our colleagues have suggested that it would be useful if the meetings were organised at the same time as those of the Presiding Officers of the EU Parliaments, and since Spain is to organise the meeting of the Presiding Officers of EU Parliaments in 2002, to coincide with the Spanish presidency of the European Union, perhaps we could organise this meeting of the European Senates at that time ?
Mr Christian Poncelet :
That is indeed a very good reason. We will therefore act on the assumption that the fourth meeting will be held in Spain.
We already have a fairly full programme. I invite everyone as of now to think of more topics for our programme. I would like a programme to be drawn up that includes subjects of concern to all the countries in the Association, since we have decided to hold the meeting in a different country each year. We must now think about topics.
Are there any comments ?
Mr Bruno Frick, President of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Swiss Council of States :
Mr. Chairman, may I ask a question concerning those countries that unfortunately are not present here today : England and Ireland. We wonder whether we should endeavour to persuade them to join our Association.
Mr Christian Poncelet :
Thank you for that excellent initiative. Naturally, our English and Irish friends were invited. We shall send them the minutes of our meetings. Perhaps we might, if you all agree, add that there is a unanimous wish that they should join the membership of this Association.
I have no wish to be discourteous towards our friends, of whom I am most fond. But it is somewhat traditional for them to take their time. They took their time joining the Community. They are doing the same today for the euro. They will therefore no doubt join our Association after a small delay, but I am sure that they will come, and we shall be most happy to welcome them.
If you agree, we could add a sort of strong invitation to the minutes of the meeting, expressing the wish that they join us at the next meeting.