Dialogue with the European Commission on subsidiarity
English version of the Report n° 88 (2007-2008) done by M. Hubert HAENEL (European Affairs Committee - November 2007)
Available on acrobat format (3,5 Moctets)
- I. IMPLEMENTING DIALOGUE
- A. IMPLEMENTATION IN THE FRENCH SENATE
- B. IMPLEMENTATION BY OTHER PARTICIPANTS
- A. IMPLEMENTATION IN THE FRENCH SENATE
- II. LESSONS LEARNED
- III. PROSPECTS
- A. MAINTAINING DIRECT DIALOGUE
- B. MAKING IT MORE EFFECTIVE
- A. MAINTAINING DIRECT DIALOGUE
- I. IMPLEMENTING DIALOGUE
- EUROPEAN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE CONSIDERATION
- LE DÉLAI DE RÉPONSE DE LA
- LE PROGRAMME LÉGISLATIF ET DE
DE LA COMMISSION
- LA MOTIVATION DES LIVRES VERTS
AU REGARD DE LA SUBSIDIARITÉ
ET DE LA PROPORTIONNALITÉ
- L'EXAMEN DES LIVRES VERTS
OU DES DOCUMENTS STRATÉGIQUES
- LA POURSUITE DU DIALOGUE
After the negative results of the referenda in France then in the Netherlands, a «period of reflection on the future of the Union» began both within Member States and at the level of the European Union. The conclusions of the European Council of 15 & 16 June 2006 summed up the result of it very well in a few words : «Citizens expect the Union to prove its added value.» This form of words must however be well understood :
- for the European Council, citizens «remain committed to the European project» and hope that the Union will act «to ensure peace, prosperity and solidarity, enhance security, further sustainable development and promote European values in a rapidly globalising world.» The European Council's diagnosis must therefore be understood as a call to action, at least in certain fields, and not as an observation of the rise in scepticism.
- at the same time, the Union must be able to justify its interventions. It should not act just because it would be good for European construction to relentlessly extend the Union's field of intervention, but rather because its action will allow it to achieve convincing results, in line with its citizens' most important expectations, which could not have been achieved in any other way. That is why the requirement for «added value» is highlighted. And this concept must be understood in a comparative manner : in order for European intervention to be justified, it is not enough that it should be beneficial (which is the least that might be expected), but that the relationship between this benefit and all the costs of the intervention be compelling.
- the requirement for a real European «added value» thus supposes that more attention be paid to the principle of subsidiarity, by which the Union «shall act only if and in so far as» an objective can be «better achieved» at EU level. It also recommends more account be taken of the principle of proportionality, according to which Union action «does not exceed what is necessary» to achieve the desired objective.
It is in this spirit that the said conclusions of the European Council adopted the proposal from the President of the European Commission - made several weeks beforehand (1(*)) - to open direct dialogue with national parliaments about applying the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.
« The European Council notes the
inter-dependence of the European and national legislative processes. It
therefore welcomes the Commission's commitment to make all new proposals and
consultation papers directly available to national parliaments, inviting them
to react so as to improve the process of policy formulation. The Commission is
asked to duly consider comments by national parliaments - in particular with
regard to the subsidiarity and proportionality principles. National parliaments
are encouraged to strengthen cooperation within the framework of the Conference
of European Affairs Committees (COSAC) when monitoring
On this basis, direct dialogue between the European Commission and national parliaments on subsidiarity and proportionality was launched from 1 September 2006. It is an informal dialogue, not an early application of the provisions of the constitutional treaty - reprised and completed by the Lisbon Treaty - setting up a system for monitoring compliance with the principle of subsidiarity by national parliaments. It would have been quite inconceivable to apply early the provisions of a treaty rejected by two Member States, even if they were not controversial points of the said treaty. Moreover, these provisions put in place formal procedures that could have legal effects, and which could not therefore be applied early. Finally, their field was restricted to subsidiarity, while informal dialogue was broader, taking in proportionality too.
Direct dialogue with the Commission must therefore be approached independently of the treaty revision process. It is a new practice, launched in a context of crisis, with a view to helping bridge the gap that has opened up between citizens and the European. Immediately after having approved the launch of direct dialogue, the aforementioned conclusions of the European Council underline in this regard that «European legislation that better reflects the added value of measures taken by the EU can have a beneficial effect on citizens' confidence in the European project».
This new practice has been under way for more than a year. It's not long for those who wish to evaluate it by the yardstick of tangible results : it's difficult to see how an informal dialogue could quickly change thought habits and deeply entrenched methods of functioning, far less provoke a complete turnaround. But it is enough to make an initial assessment of the way in which this dialogue has been undertaken and to draw some lessons from it.
In the case of the Senate, it is the European affairs committee, called «Délégation pour l'Union européenne» that has been dealing with the European Commission. This situation arose from existing practice : the European affairs committee was in fact the only Senate body to take part in the informal dialogue, under its own responsibility.
It might be considered that this practice is the best suited to the particular requirements of the exercise. Issues of subsidiarity and proportionality are the best example of transversal issues : it is not a matter of coming to a conclusion on the subject-matter of a text, but of ensuring that general principles are taken into account. These principles must come into play whatever judgement is reached on the project under scrutiny. It so happens that the European affairs committee has precisely this transversal nature : members of all the standing committees sit on it, and it has a general remit to monitor projects run by EU institutions, including reviewing draft legislative acts before they are passed by the institutions.
Furthermore, this practice has the advantage of realism. Between 1 September 2006 and 31 August 2007, 787 documents were sent directly to the Senate by the European Commission as part of the dialogue on subsidiarity and proportionality. Such an influx of documents can only be absorbed by adopting criteria that allow the European affairs committee to concentrate on really controversial cases. Some «jurisprudence» is necessary. Moreover, the timescales are relatively tight : from the start of the dialogue, it was understood that comments would have to be submitted to the European Commission within the six-week time limit guaranteed by the protocol annexed to the Treaty of Amsterdam for scrutiny of European documents by national parliaments. That notwithstanding, it is clear that it is only by intervening at an early stage of the European decision-making process that it is possible to exert some influence, given that Council working groups start work as soon as the text is presented and that informal «trialogues» between the Parliament, Council and Commission foreshadow the final outcome of negotiations quite quickly.
For these reasons, the very high number of documents and the relatively tight timescale do not facilitate a complicated procedure involving various parliamentary bodies.
It should be added that, as specified by the aforementioned European Council conclusions, the effectiveness of dialogue on subsidiarity and proportionality is partly due to COSAC's efforts to foster interparliamentary cooperation. As it happens, the European affairs committee is the Senate body represented on COSAC in application of the treaties.
Finally, it may be observed that this practice has proved its effectiveness because the European affairs committee has been one of the most active participants in the dialogue, no doubt due in part to the simple procedure followed.
It is apparently because of these considerations that the report of the committee on modernisation and reform of the 5th Republic's institutions, chaired by Mr. Edouard Balladur, proposed that the body tasked with European Affairs in each assembly be officially competent to deal with subsidiarity issues.
For a transparent dialogue, it is essential that all documents issued by the European Commission be sent. But the number of documents sent in this way - 787 from 1 September 2006 to 31 August 2007 - makes a drastic form of selection necessary, so that discussions can concentrate on the documents that are likely to pose a problem.
The European affairs committee has therefore tried to reach objective general criteria for eliminating documents that do not lend themselves to scrutiny of subsidiarity or proportionality.
It has thus empirically distinguished four categories of documents that could be extracted from all those sent by the European Commission :
- documents with no regulatory implications that are not the precursor to legislative proposals :
These are reports anticipated by Directives or Regulations, Communications for informative purposes, working documents and guidelines of very general scope. (However, green papers and white papers do not come into this category, even if they do not include regulatory provisions, since they constitute the first part of a process that will result in regulatory proposals.)
In twelve months, 348 documents sent from the European Commission fell into this category, that is 44% of the total.
- documents which are not likely to raise comments about subsidiarity or proportionality because of their subject-matter :
These are mainly management documents in the context of common policies, international economic agreements, documents about implementing the enlargement process, or those that are essentially technical proposals regarding the working of the internal market.
In twelve months, 302 documents sent from the European Commission fell into this category, that is 39 % of the total.
- documents occurring at an advanced stage of the decision-making process :
These are amended proposals made by the Commission to translate or enable an agreement. It is obviously too late to engage in dialogue at this stage. In any case, in the future, these documents will all have been examined in their initial version.
In twelve months, 50 documents sent from the European Commission fell into this category, that is 6% of the total.
- codifying documents :
These are documents that, by definition, do not make any substantial change nor express any new action by the EU.
In twelve months, 27 documents sent from the European Commission fell into this category, that is 3% of the total.
After applying these four criteria, the documents requiring closer examination turned out to be relatively few in number : over a year, they represented 8% of the total. It must also be noted that some of these documents are connected to others. Thus a draft Directive is often accompanied by a working document giving further information. The number of subjects to be dealt with is therefore lower than the number of documents.
In sum, over a year, the European affairs committee received 787 documents, eliminated 727 of them as falling into one of the four categories for which scrutiny of subsidiarity or proportionality appeared unnecessary, and noted that the 60 remaining documents corresponded to 35 different subjects.
The European affairs committee held a debate proposed by one of its members on every one of these 35 subjects. And, whenever it saw fit, it adopted comments to be sent to the Commission. On each occasion, the European affairs committee favoured the adoption of brief summary comments so as to facilitate communication, not only with the Commission, but also with other national parliaments.
In total, over a year, the European affairs committee made 31 observations to the Commission in this way.
The European affairs committee has taken note of the responses it has received from the Commission. In most cases, it noted the Commission's responses, either because it found them satisfactory, or because it did not appear that pursuing dialogue would bring out anything new. However, on four occasions between September 2006 and April 2007 (and a fifth time in November 2007), the European affairs committee deemed the Commission's response unsatisfactory, for various reasons :
- because it did not really respond to the observations made by the European affairs committee,
- because it contained new statements that appeared arguable or ambiguous,
- or because it raised a new question of principle.
In effect, the European affairs committee considered that the initiative taken by President Barroso did not restrict communications between national parliaments and the Commission to a single exchange, but rather aimed to allow a thorough dialogue that could illuminate all questions that might be raised by a proposal as well as possible. It consequently decided to pursue dialogue with the Commission and to make new observations based on the first response received.
A year of dialogue
(1 September 2006 - 31 August 2007)
Number of documents sent
Documents not requiring
- documents with no regulatory implications;
- documents which, by their very nature, raise no subsidiarity issue;
- documents occuring at a late stage of the adoption process;
- codifying documents;
Number of documents scrutinised
Number of subjects concerned
Observations made to Commission
Responses from Commission to said observations
Ongoing dialogue with Commission and new observations made to Commission
Comments adopted by the European affairs committee have been made available on the IPEX network (which is the Internet site for facilitating the exchange of information between EU Parliaments). The IPEX site allows users to search by the COM number of a document (the number allocated to the document by the Commission). If a national parliament has made observations about subsidiarity or proportionality, a symbol is displayed thus :. It should be noted that this tool does not give an overall picture of all dialogue on subsidiarity, but only gives information document by document.
The European affairs committee has taken part in «trials» monitoring subsidiarity organised by COSAC.
The first trial (organised in 2005, before direct dialogue was launched) dealt with the «third railway package». The report drawn up by the COSAC secretariat on this trial highlighted the following points in particular :
- many assemblies took part (31 out of 37, at the time),
- there was much criticism of the lack of explanatory notes on Commission documents regarding the subsidiarity principle,
- many commented on the shortness of the six-week scrutiny period,
- there was great difficulty in distinguishing the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality,
- there was not enough reciprocal information from national parliaments.
The second trial, organised in 2006, dealt with a draft Regulation regarding matrimonial law. COSAC's report shows a slightly lower level of participation, and stresses the difference in approaches between assemblies, leading to differing opinions as regards compliance with the subsidiarity principle. Moreover, it records similar difficulties to those encountered during the first trial.
As for the third trial, also in 2006, it dealt with a draft Directive on postal services. COSAC's report makes the same observations and concludes there is a need to seek an «entente» on interpreting the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality (2(*)).
Upon proposal by our colleague Jacques Blanc, who is a member of both the European affairs committee and the Committee of the Regions, the European affairs committee also took part in the 2006 trial organised by the Committee of the Regions, given that the Senate is responsible for representing the Republic's local authorities. This dealt with a draft recommendation establishing a European framework of certification for continuing education, as well as a Communication on the effectiveness and equity of education systems. There is a new trial under way dealing with documents about the internal market in gas and electricity; immigrant workers; particularly highly qualified workers; and the efficiency of health services.
Finally, the theme of subsidiarity was one of the main topics of cooperation between the European affairs committee to the European Union and its counterpart in the German Bundesrat, the European Affairs Committee. This topic came up at the two meetings (January 2006 and October 2007) that have taken place to date. In the meantime, exchange of information on this subject has continued at an administrative level. In discussions at both meetings, views converged on many points, both in identifying the documents posing problems from the point of view of subsidiarity and proportionality, and in an initial evaluation of the dialogue (3(*)).
Extract from the minutes of the meeting held on 5 October 2007
Mr. Gerold Wucherpfennig, Minister for Federal and European Affairs and Head of the Chancellery of Thuringia Free State :
The Bundesrat has examined more than 150 proposals from the Commission in a year and has submitted numerous opinions to it on the documents that seemed most important to the Bundesrat, using three criteria for scrutiny : the existence of a legal basis for the legislative proposal, compliance with the principles of subsidiarity and that of proportionality. Furthermore, all our opinions are based on Article 23 of the law founding the Federal Republic of Germany, which defines the methods by which the Bundestag and the Bundesrat shall take part in European issues.
Since September 2006, the Bundesrat has submitted 14
opinions. Notable examples concerned the Soil Protection Directive, the Green
Paper for A Europe Free From Tobacco Smoke, the «Better Lawmaking»
initiative of 2005, and the European Commission's strategic programme for 2008.
A subsidiarity issue was raised with regard to the first two documents. For the
others, it was the principle of proportionality that was apparently violated.
However, we were disappointed at the responses from the European Commission,
which did no more than repeat the initial reasons given for its proposals. We
consider that the European Commission did not really take our opinions into
account; it should check its documents consciensciously and amend them if
necessary. Furthermore, a lot of time was wasted, sometimes three months,
before the European Commission reacted.»
According to the data provided by the European Commission, the total number of observations made by national parliaments is growing steadily. At the end of 2006, the Commission had received 46 observations; at the beginning of June 2007, this was up to 97; by the beginning of November, it had reached 142. So there are no signs yet of the procedure running out of steam.
Moreover, the Commission specifies that the documents that have been most criticised from the point of view of subsidiarity were those dealing with :
- conflicts of matrimonial laws ;
- the internal market in postal services ;
- soil protection ;
- safety of road infrastructure ;
- critical infrastructure ;
- the European Institute of Technology ;
- diplomatic and consular protection ;
- the Green Paper «A Europe Free From Tobacco Smoke» ;
- the Green Paper on modernising labour law ;
- the Communication «A European Vision for the Oceans and Seas» ;
- the Communication setting out the Commission's strategy for 2008.
Participation in the dialogue about subsidiarity has not been total because only 27 chambers have taken part, although the EU includes 13 countries with bicameral parliaments out of 27, thus 40 parliamentary assemblies in all. Furthermore, many assemblies seem to have taken part only occasionally, most often on the occasion of the trials organised in 2006 by COSAC.
The most active assemblies appeared to be the German Bundesrat, the Czech Senate, both chambers of the Dutch Parliament, the House of Lords, the Danish Parliament, the Portuguese Parliament and the Swedish Parliament.
The German Bundesrat has made 16 observations to the European Commission. The European affairs committeeleads the procedure and can in turn consult the relevant subject committees. Comments adopted by the European affairs committeeare subject to a vote in plenary assembly.
As for the Czech Senate, it has made 7 observations. The procedure is similar to that followed by the Bundesrat.
As an experiment, both chambers of the Dutch Parliament have set up a joint committee tasked with the dialogue on subsidiarity and proportionality. Taking account of the debate organised in each Chamber on the European Commission's legislative programme, the committee selects the documents to be examined and prepares draft comments in two weeks. These comments are sent to the relevant subject committees, who have two weeks to give an opinion. Thereafter, the joint committee makes a decision, taking these opinions into account. The definitive decision is taken in plenary session in each Chamber by a vote on the joint committee's document. In this way, the Dutch Parliament has taken a position on 12 documents during the first year of dialogue, and has made 3 observations.
Similarly, both chambers of the Irish Parliament have just set up a specialist committee tasked with scrutinising European Commission documents with regard to subsidiarity. This is a new format, because previously it was the sectoral committees which undertook this scrutiny.
As for the House of Lords, it has made 15 observations to the Commission, the Portuguese Parliament 13, the Danish Parliament 12 and the Swedish Parliament 11. The German Bundestag and the Lithuanian Parliament have each made 3 observations.
All the other assemblies that have taken part in the dialogue have only made one or two observations.
Over and above the technical difficulties of examining a large number of documents in a relatively short timescale, there are some difficulties about setting the boundaries of the monitoring field, as well as the obstacles that an approach focused on subsidiarity can encounter.
Meetings of the European affairs committee have found that it is not always easy to set the boundaries of the field for monitoring subsidiarity and proportionality.
To start with, the concepts of subsidiarity and proportionality cannot really be disassociated. They are different, but there is no clear barrier between them. Under the principle of subsidiarity, the Union shall act only if and «in so far as» it is necessary to better achieve an objective; under the principle of proportionality, action should not «exceed what is necessary» to achieve this objective. It can be seen that these requirements arise from the same impetus : EU action must restrict itself to that which is necessary to make up for deficiencies. So should a directive that is too detailed be criticised on the grounds of subsidiarity or of proportionality ? It can clearly be seen that it is not possible to make a complete distinction between these two principles, even though they are not exactly the same.
But neither is it always easy to find a clear boundary between monitoring of subsidiarity and proportionality and that of the legal basis. Does the treaty authorise the EU to act ? The answer cannot always be separated from the intensity or extent of the action envisaged, because in many fields the treaties specify that EU action is there to «support», «complete» or «encourage» action taken by Member States. Therefore, the EU's competence does depend on the very content of the action envisaged : it must be ensured that the EU is not acting in place of the Member State more than it ought to.
In reality, it is not by chance that the treaties have grouped the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality into a single article along with the principle of strict interpretation of EU competences. These principles cannot always be disassociated, and ultimately point to a single question : is EU intervention really justified ?
Text in force
Article 5 of the treaty
New text (Lisbon treaty)
Article 5 of the treaty on european union
The Community shall act within the limits of the powers conferred upon it by this Treaty and of the objectives assigned to it therein.
1. The limits of Union competences are governed by the principle of conferral. The use of Union competences is governed by the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.
2. Under the principle of conferral, the Union shall act only within the limits of the competences conferred upon it by the Member States in the Treaties to attain the objectives set out therein. Competences not conferred upon the Union in the Treaties remain with the Member States.
In areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Community shall take action, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can therefore, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved by the Community.
3. Under the principle of subsidiarity, in areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Union shall act only if and insofar as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States, either at central level or at regional and local level, but can rather, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved at Union level.
The institutions of the Union shall apply the principle of subsidiarity as laid down in the Protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. National Parliaments ensure compliance with the principle of subsidiarity in accordance with the procedure set out in that Protocol.
Any action by the Community shall not go beyond what is necessary to achieve the objectives of this Treaty.
4. Under the principle of proportionality, the content and form of Union action shall not exceed what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the Treaties.
The institutions of the Union shall apply the principle of proportionality as laid down in the Protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.
The concepts of subsidiarity and proportionality are new arrivals on the French political scene. Our country is a tributary of a centralising tradition, which tends to be associated with equality and uniformity, and which we have a tendancy to project onto the EU. Although the French Constitution now contains a form of words inspired by the subsidiarity principle, in its Article 72, it is not customary to contest any State action on the grounds that it could be better dealt with at any particular local level. Similarly, to contest a European proposal that is considered satisfactory on matters of substance, or is in line with French interests, merely because the EU is not seen as the best level at which to act, does not come naturally at all. Consequently, it was not easy for the European affairs committee to tackle the reform of the common market organisation (CMO) for fruits and vegetables from the point of view of subsidiarity, since the French position was to call for a more structured and developed CMO.
In addition, parliamentarians used to concentrating on questions of substance can feel a certain frustration at the idea of having to reach a position purely on the justification of the action envisaged, and not on its content. That was the case, for example, when the European affairs committee scrutinised the draft Directive on Postal Services. It is true that the french Parliament now has two complementary instruments at its disposal : Article 88-4 of the Constitution permits a position to be taken on the substance and dialogue to be undertaken with the Government, while questions of subsidiarity and proportionality are dealt with by the European affairs committee in direct dialogue with the European Commission. It is important to combine these two instruments effectively to be able to accomplish a procedure devoted specifically to subsidiarity and proportionality.
Moreover, it is understandable that a political assembly would want to concentrate on the most important documents that have the most far-reaching economic and social consequences. Meanwhile, documents that call for closer scrutiny from the point of view of subsidiarity can sometimes seem to have less impact (even though they can subsequently take on an unexpected importance in political debate, as happened with the migratory birds directive).
Finally, it is not uncommon that the most controversial documents from the point of view of subsidiarity are those that are part of the spirit of the time, and which it would seem politically incorrect to criticise in this regard. Thus, if one refers to the definition of subsidiarity in the treaties, one must admit that the struggle against passive smoking is not part of the objectives which «because of the extent or effects of the action envisaged, can be better achieved at community level.» Nevertheless, to contest the Commission's measures in its Green Paper «A Europe Free From Tobacco Smoke» on the basis of subsidiarity seems to run the risk of appearing hostile to promoting a public health requirement.
There is no question that the European Commission has lent itself to dialogue; the European affairs committee's observations have not gone unanswered. If the number of replies is lower than the number of observations, that is because some of them did not require a reply. At the beginning of the procedure, the European affairs committee also informed the Commission of cases where, after discussion, it had concluded that documents did comply with the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. Subsequently, it decided to inform the Commission only about cases where, at least, requests for further explanations had been made. The only controversial cases were those of Communications from the Commission about «Regions for economic change» and on «Deposit-guarantee schemes» as well as the draft European programme for critical infrastructure protection. The European affairs committee certainly considered these compliant with the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, but subject to certain conditions. These reservations did not receive any response.
The time taken by the Commission to reply, however, cannot be considered satisfactory. The three-month timescale that it had given itself might appear generous, since it is twice as much time as assemblies have to make their observations. However, this timescale has not always been observed. Far from it : the average time taken to reply is in fact three and a half months. If some responses were quite quick, others were only provided after five or six months.
However, after a certain time, dialogue no longer has any point as the decision-making process is too far advanced for subsidiarity and proportionality issues to have a chance of being taken into account.
It is impossible to avoid observing that the quality of dialogue is sometimes unequal.
- Some responses appear satisfactory.
In some cases, the Commission has admitted the need to explain its proposal more fully and has provided further justification that the European affairs committee found sufficient. Dialogue therefore achieved its objective : providing further detail or clarification of the Commission's reasoning or intentions, while at the same time responding to questions or indeed concerns.
In this way, the dialogue that has transpired regarding the concept of «exclusive competence» has enabled a useful clarification to be obtained.
In several proposals sent to the Senate, the European Commission considered it unnecessary to justify the action envisaged as regards the subsidiarity principle, because it was in an area in which the EU had «exclusive competence». It is true that the principle of subsidiarity does not apply in cases where the EU has «exclusive competence». This specification, which features in Article 5 of the treaty establishing the European Community, merely states the obvious : if the EU is exclusively competent, the problem of how best to share responsibilities between the EU and the Member States does not arise.
The whole problem was that the Commission was applying this concept of «exclusive competence» to areas in which it did not apply, such as harmonisation of rules and procedures in the field of civil aviation, the VAT regime applicable to television and broadcasting services, the free market in services in the field of public procurement, and so on.
In reality, there is no exclusive EU competence unless the latter can only act by completely taking over from Member States. The areas concerned are listed in a new article introduced by the Lisbon Treaty.
« The Union shall have exclusive competence in the following areas:
(a) customs union;
(b) the establishing of the competition rules necessary for the functioning of the internal market;
(c) monetary policy for the Member States whose currency is the euro;
(d) the conservation of marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy;
(e) common commercial policy.
2. The Union shall also have exclusive competence for the
conclusion of an international agreement when its conclusion is provided for in
a legislative act of the Union or is necessary to enable the Union to exercise
its internal competence, or insofar as its conclusion may affect common rules
or alter their scope. »
The areas in which the EU has exclusive competence are therefore few in number and must not be confused with those in which the EU has exercised shared competence. In the areas of shared competence, once the EU has taken action, Member States can no longer legislate in that area. But for all that, the EU does not have exclusive competence and its actions remain subject to the principle of subsidiarity (the principle of proportionality applies whether or not the EU has exclusive competence).
In its responses to the European affairs committee's observations, the Commission recognised that it had used the term «exclusive competence» injudiciously. Thus, regarding the document on harmonisation of rules and procedures in the field of civil aviation, the Commission explained that the term «exclusive competence» did not refer to transport policy, which is a competence shared with Member States, but to the competence to implement inter-institutional procedures. In this case, it concerned adapting to new rules on comitology, which could only be done by the EU.
The Commission made a similar argument when it came to the draft directive on the VAT regime applicable to television and broadcasting services, and to certain services provided electronically. It recognised that indirect taxation «does not constitute an area which was initially part of the Community's exclusive competence pursuant to Article 5 EC». It did however observe that the exercise by Member States of their concurrent competence over taxes on turnover was strictly framed and limited by measures harmonising national legislation adopted by the Council. Above all, it explained that the Community's «exclusive competence» to which it had referred in setting out its reasons «was then based on the fact that the proposal's sole aim was to extend the period of application of a community act».
After this exchange, the European affairs committee did not observe any cases where the Commission used the argument of «exclusive competence» wrongly. However, during scrutiny of the proposed regulation reforming the CMO for fruits and vegetables, it appeared that the Commission was not providing any explanatory notes in regard to subsidiarity, thus giving the impression that the EU could have exclusive competence over this area. That is why the European affairs committee reminded the Commission in its observations that the common agricultural policy was not an exclusive competence of the EU. In response, the Commission recognised the need to provide explanatory notes for this proposal in regard to subsidiarity.
Thus the dialogue that the Senate has engaged in with the Commission led the latter to counter its drift towards thoughtlessly enlarging the category of exclusive competences which are not subject to subsidiarity monitoring.
- Other responses appear less satisfactory.
But in other cases, the Commission restricted itself to reiterating the justifications given in its explanatory notes or preamble to the proposal. However, if the European affairs committee had made observations, it was in order to obtain fuller justification, at the very least .
It has even occurred that the Commission responded in opportune terms to observations made concerning subsidiarity. In this way, in its observations about the proposed reform of the CMO for wine, the European affairs committee considered that, to be fully compliant with the subsidiarity principle, this document ought to accord greater latitude to Member States for measures that could be financed within the "national envelopes" that were intended to be granted. In its response, the Commission restricted itself to indicating that it is «not in favour» of the measures given as an example by the European affairs committee «because of their many disadvantages». However, the question was merely to find out whether the principle of subsidiarity ought to leave greater latitude to Member States. If so, it would be up to them to assess the advantages and disadvantages of possible measures, subject to the Commission's control over any distortions of competition.
- Finally, in some of its responses, the Commission resorted to highly questionable arguments.
Different situations pertaining between the Member States
This happens when the Commission bases its arguments about subsidiarity on the different situations that pertain between the Member States, when setting out its reasons for a proposal.
In this way, the European Commission highlights the various measures taken by Member States and the unequal performance among them to justify its proposal about road infrastructure.
Similarly, to justify a proposal about fiscal incentives for research and development, it underlines that the regime for foundations is characterised by wide variations in organisation, administration, conditions of functioning, legal status and fiscal treatment.
Such justifications are worrying. If different situations among Member States can form a justification in regard to the subsidiarity principle, one might as well cross this principle out of the treaties, because there is no area of action possible by the EU where this argument could not be used. In reality, this kind of reasoning would end up depriving the terms of the subsidiarity principle of all useful effect.
EU financing available
An equally questionable argument was used by the Commission in response to the European affairs committee's observations about the proposed directive on the safety of road infrastructure. The Commission used the fact that road infrastructure is often co-financed by structural or cohesion funds to justify the subsidiarity aspects. There again, to use such logic would mean neutralising the subsidiarity principle, since European funds finance such varied projects in so many different fields.
· Overall, the dialogue with the Commission comes down to a greater effort to justify its proposals, resorting to arguments which can appear of unequal value, some gaining approval, while others cause astonishment.
Such a slender result is all the more disappointing because the concerns expressed by the European affairs committee, at least in certain cases, were plainly not unfounded, since some of the documents in question started a debate on subsidiarity in the European Parliament or in the Council.
Thus debates in Council accorded a place to the requirement for subsidiarity in fields like airport capacity, soil protection, the safety of road infrastructure, reform of the CMO for fruits and vegetables and managing flooding risks. The same was true in the European Parliament for documents on critical infrastructure protection, soil protection, reform of the CMO for wine, flooding risks and so on.
Such debates show that the problem of subsidiarity is now taken more seriously by the Union legislator. That suggests that it would have been useful for the Commission to look into subsidiarity more deeply at the earliest stage of the dialogue with national parliaments.
Direct dialogue on subsidiarity and proportionality was launched at a time when the process of revising the treaties seemed to be at an impasse. Is there still any point now that monitoring of subsidiarity is to be enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty, relying largely on national parliaments to take action ?
The treaty of Lisbon confirms and completes the guidelines already set out in the constitutional treaty. It puts in place a mechanism for monitoring subsidiarity, in three stages :
- within eight weeks of the date of transmission of a draft legislative act, each chamber of a national parliament may send to the EU institutions a «reasoned opinion» setting out the reasons why it considers that the draft in question does not comply with the subsidiarity principle. The institutions of the EU shall «take account» of the reasoned opinions sent to them. Where one third of national parliaments have sent a reasoned opinion, the draft must be reviewed (for documents regarding police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, this threshold is dropped to one quarter). To apply this rule, each national parliament has two votes; in a bicameral system, each chamber has one vote;
- if a draft legislative act is contested by a simple majority of the votes allocated to national parliaments and if the Commission decides to maintain it, the Council and the Parliament must take a position on whether the draft complies with the principle of subsidiarity; if the Council (by a majority of 55% of its members) or the Parliament (by simple majority) decides against it, the draft shall be rejected;
- after a document is adopted, Member States may bring an action to the Court of Justice for infringement of the subsidiarity principle that has come from a national parliament or a chamber of one. Proceedings are always formally brought by the Government of a Member State, but the protocol opens up the possibility that the Court could be simply «notified» by this Government, while the action really emanates from the national parliament or one of its chambers.
The monitoring of subsidiarity envisaged in the Lisbon Treaty is quite distinct from the direct dialogue that has been going on for more than a year.
This monitoring of subsidiarity is governed by the treaties and is part of the EU's decision-making process. It can put a stop to that process or have the result overturned. However, it is uniquely concerned with proposed legislative acts and relates exclusively to subsidiarity, whatever the dangers of considering this principle in isolation from all others.
Direct dialogue is informal in nature; it creates no obligation. But it relates to a much larger field, because it covers all documents issued by the Commission and not just legislative proposals. In particular, it includes Green Papers, which seem to lend themselves very well to the subsidiarity dialogue. As it has been seen, the purpose of this dialogue is in fact to intervene as far in advance as possible, preferably before a legislative proposal is introduced.
The field of direct dialogue is also larger, since it relates to both subsidiarity and proportionality. Also, because it is an informal dialogue, it appears possible to extend it to related issues such as the legal basis.
Direct dialogue with the Commission therefore remains useful in a specific way. As was noted by COSAC's contributions from Berlin and Lisbon, it affords extra possibilities which can actually complete the monitoring mechanism envisaged by the treaty revision.
This dialogue can therefore work in combination with the monitoring mechanism envisaged by the Lisbon Treaty.
To start with, direct dialogue was an initiative launched by the President of the European Commission. Within the Commission, this measure was probably far from obtaining unanimous support. On the part of the national parliaments, there are not many reservations in principle to be found, but direct dialogue with the Commission calls for changes in political culture and working habits. The «European reflex» is still far from being the rule within Parliaments. It is not surprising that, after a year, the overall picture is more of a laborious cranking up than a triumphal march. At the same time, the lessons from this initial experience must be learned in order to give the dialogue its full import.
The dialogue cannot be really useful unless it happens at the very start of the process. That is why the European affairs committee made great efforts to meet the deadline of six weeks, and that is why it considers that a period of three months for the Commission to reply is too long.
The European affairs committee examined the Commission's work and legislative programme for 2007, with the aim of engaging in the process as early as possible. But it then had to conclude that this document did not allow it to take a position, because to scrutinise subsidiarity and proportionality one must know the main provisions of the document in question.
On the other hand, with the same intention of intervening early on, the European affairs committee noted that green papers could lend themselves particularly well to subsidiarity monitoring, since they were the precursor to regulatory texts. While examining these first green papers, the European affairs committee expressed its astonishment to the Commission that the latter had not set out its justification in regard to subsidiarity and proportionality for the various measures it was putting out to consultation. The Commission replied that at that stage it did not have to provide justifications in regard to subsidiarity and proportionality in that these were not yet proposals. The European affairs committee considered this response perfectly justified, but felt that it in turn was entitled to alert the Commission at this stage to subsidiarity or proportionality problems that might be caused by any planned measures, and to indicate what solutions seemed most in keeping with subsidiarity or proportionality.
When the Commission makes proposals arising from a green paper, the European affairs committee does intend to examine whether its comments have really been taken into account. It is in fact over the long term, by ensuring effective monitoring of the whole chain leading up to a regulation or a directive, that national parliaments can hope to exercise real control over subsidiarity.
Thereafter, information on the comments made by national parliaments must be more widely circulated. Reciprocal information between national parliaments still comes up against obstacles. At the same time, the Council and the European Parliament do not always seem well informed of the existence or content of comments made by parliaments. In order for the dialogue on subsidiarity to have a better chance of changing some of the Commission's attitudes, what it actually needs is for this dialogue to be the starting point of a debate that continues throughout the various stages of the decision-making process.
It would be desirable for all the dialogue - comments from national parliaments and responses from the Commission - to be made public by the European Commission. They could be grouped together on a specific database (which could feature on the IPEX site). Such a database could be useful, not only to national parliaments, but also to the Council and European Parliament, indeed to the Court of Justice.
Finally, interparliamentary cooperation must be intensified. It is clear that the more assemblies that raise a subsidiarity issue about a document, the better the chance will be of the Commission taking the concerns expressed seriously. That is equally true when it comes to scrutiny of the document by the European Parliament and the Council. Thus, the document that provoked the most comments - the proposal on matrimonial law - was also the one that was most discussed within the Council from the point of view of subsidiarity.
But to enable converging positions to be taken, there must be some collective reflection to arrive at common criteria, reference points that enable assemblies' points of view to come together in the relatively short time that they have. COSAC appears to be the appropriate forum to reflect on these common criteria, and it could take advantage of the considerations already undertaken by the Committee of the Regions.
Certainly, the results of the first year of direct dialogue with the Commission have been less than spectacular. However, one must bear in mind how difficult the objective is. It is to develop a «culture of subsidiarity» which does not currently exist either in most Member States or at European level. And it is no doubt only because it will be combined with the monitoring mechanism envisaged by the Lisbon treaty that direct dialogue will have a greater significance. In any case, a lot will depend on interparliamentary cooperation. It will be essential to develop this in order to breathe life into direct dialogue as the monitoring mechanism. That supposes that all concerned admit how high the stakes are.
It must therefore be underlined that greater attention to the requirement for subsidiarity is in the interests of European construction. The EU should concentrate on the grand aims for which it constitutes the most appropriate level and fulfil them efficiently, then its legitimacy will be strengthened. Citizens expect results from the EU in terms of growth and jobs, sustainable development, the struggle against international delinquancy, defending the interests and values of Europe in the context of globalisation. As Mr. Willi Stächele underlined at the meeting between the European affairs committee and the European affairs committeeof the Bundesrat, everyone would like to see the EU act against global warming ; the problem arises when the final result turns out to be a document on urban mobility.
At the same time, it is necessary to leave Member States and local authorities a margin for manoeuvre whenever possible. That is the guarantee of better adaptation to European diversity and to the realities on the ground. In the end, it is also the surety of better efficiency. And it's also the way to disarm criticisms that the EU has stirred up quite unnecessarily. Did the construction of Europe require it to legislate on bathing waters, natural habitats, migratory birds, or indeed indirect taxation of hairdressing or catering ? Documents like this - besides often being difficult to apply - in the end only lend credence to the idea of a Union that is remote yet invasive, and deaf to its citizens' most pressing concerns.
Member States and their citizens need to unite to become stronger and more efficient together. They do not need a nanny state supervising every aspect of their lives. As Abraham Lincoln stressed in a declaration to the United States Congress : «You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could do for themselves.»
The European affairs committee met on Tuesday 20 November 2007 to consider this report. The Rapporteur, Mr. Hubert Haenel, submitted the report, then the following debate took place :
Mr. Simon Sutour :
I subscribe to your analysis of direct dialogue with the European Commission. In a different connection, I would also like to underline the benefit of the informal contacts we can have with members of the Commission when we go to Brussels. Nowadays, these contacts are no longer uncommon. In the past, we were seen as a bit of a nuisance. Why were national parliamentarians bothering about European issues, when there was a Commission, a Parliament and a Council for that ? I think that there has been some evolution. When I was received by Mrs Fisher-Boel to prepare my report on the CMO in wine, I got the impression I was being listened to. People were paying attention, which reflected the sentiment that our views could have an influence on the Government. During our last trip to Brussels, I also felt that the Commission was inclined towards dialogue, but so were the MEPs that we met.
I therefore detect some progress, which is perhaps partly due to the result of the referendum, which revealed a feeling of democratic deficit and incomprehension. It's an ill wind that blows no good! I'm all in favour of the passage of the report that underlines that there was no need to legislate on bathing waters or natural habitats to construct Europe. Such superfluous legislation damages the image of European construction in citizens' eyes. It seems to me that greater vigilance over subsidiarity is justified.
Mr. Hubert Haenel :
Your points remind me a of a remark made by Willi Stächele, Minister of the Land of Bade-Wurtemberg and Chairman of the Bundesrat's European Affairs Committee, at our meeting with our counterparts in the Bundesrat. He thought that, since the referenda, members of the Bundesrat were taken more seriously in Brussels. But in my opinion, the change started before that. At the beginning of the Convention on the Future of Europe, we still felt a lot of resistance towards recognising a role for national parliaments. Then, little by little, there was some evolution despite everything.
Mr. Roland Ries :
I find this report enlightening, it is a useful summary. I would like to underline that our role is not to arbitrate between the European institutions, but to oversee compliance with subsidiarity by the institutions of the European, taken in the round. Every institution has a tendency to increase its area of action, and the younger an institution is, the more it seeks to extend its reach.
The report rightly underlines that some of the arguments put forward by the Commission are highly contentious. If one accepts that the existence of different situations is enough to justify EU action despite the subsidiarity principle, then there is no longer any limit to its actions. Similarly, the argument by which co-financing entitles the EU to act worries me. It is a more general problem : up to what point does co-financing give the right of scrutiny ? When I was mayor of Strasbourg, I went around our local institutions seeking contributions for our planned tramway. I was unfortunate enough to say before the Council of Bas-Rhin : «I'm interested in your point of view on the project, but if you want to help Strasbourg, let the city choose the solution.» The Chairman of the Council - at that time it was Daniel Hoeffel - replied : «If we're financing it, we want to have our say on the solution.» For my part, I am not in favour of making grants conditional, or in that case it should be as restricted as possible. At the moment I am examining the European document on urban mobility : the Commission is proposing labelling cities, with conditions to fill in. That would boil down to letting the Commission choose in place of those most closely concerned.
Mr. Simon Sutour :
For my part, I am not shocked that the people paying, whether it be the EU or another level, want to have their say on how funds are spent. What seems contentious to me in the EU's thinking in the road infrastructure document is that it goes much further. It suggests that, when the EU co-finances roads, it can impose rules. That's going too far.
Mr. Roland Ries :
This does indeed show clearly why we should be wary of the increasing trend towards attaching conditions to grants. When grants are subjected to overly specific conditions, then the local authorities' power of judgement is breached and one is practically deciding in their place. I recognise that the problem is not straightforward, but for my part, I think that the idea «I co-finance, therefore I co-decide» is dangerous.
Mr. Charles Josselin :
I was also interested in this report. I would like to make some comments.
Some of the documents that are sent to us are very technical. I think it is the task of our European affairs committee to detect the political stakes underlying certain technical documents, even if it is sometimes difficult.
I think that Governments have a responsibility when it comes to subsidiarity. The Government is alerted very early to the prospects for documents being introduced. The Council still has a lot of power. Are ministers doing their job as regards subsidiarity ? I am not sure. On the same theme, does France's Permanent Representation play a positive role ? Do we have satisfactory relations with it ?
I also have a question about the fact that, in this dialogue with the Commission, we deal with all documents, and not only those that are legislative pursuant to our Constitution. Are we not risking reproach for going beyond our competence ?
I would also like to underline the benefits of dialogue with the European Parliament. I was chairman of the National Assembly's European affairs committee for nine years, from 1981. At that date, the European Parliament had been elected by direct suffrage for two years and it had a great appetite for power. It did not even understand that national parliaments might have a role to play on European matters. Nowadays, there is a more open and constructive attitude. Nevertheless, the European Parliament is still far from having a culture of subsidiarity : the temptation to want Europe to take care of everything is always there, especially as there is no law at the European level restricting the Parliament's area of action, like there is in France. Would it not be useful to develop links with the Committees of the European Parliament to put forward our concerns ?
Finally, the Balladur Report suggests creating a «Comité des Affaires européennes» instead of the «Délégation pour l'Union européenne». That ought to be the occasion to better define relations between the body tasked with European issues and the standing committees. For the most important questions, we should bring together the various levels that have competence, and take a position in plenary session as often as possible. Other parliaments tackle European issues more often in plenary session. Creating the «committee» could encourage this development.
Mr. Bernard Frimat :
I too see an interesting synthesis in the report that you have just presented to us. Subsidiarity is indeed an important subject.
The report rightly criticises the idea that co-financing could afford competence. That would be to void the subsidiarity principle of its content. Nor can we uphold the notion that «who pays decides». I have experience in regional politics, and it seems to me that it is there that the principle of subsidiarity has begun to be most meaningful. Europe was there to set the broad rules of the game, but the regions were at the heart of the decision. Once the objectives were defined, there was freedom to allocate the means. It would have been outrageous for the Commission to decide how they were used. In this type of field, the Commission should define the general framework. There should be a partnership, but a Commission that is omnipresent is not desirable.
One of the points of dialogue on subsidiarity is to give us an incentive to inform ourselves about documents at the opportune time, which is to say at an early stage. That is true for subsidiarity issues, but also issues of substance. The great risk for national parliaments is to arrive after the battle. If we make a contribution after the first reading of the document, that is too late to be of any use. For the «energy package», we can clearly see that it's all happening now, before the first reading. This permanent oversight that we exercise over subsidiarity and proportionality should help us to respond better on matters of substance too. It improves the early warning capacity and allows us to draw attention to it sooner. Standing committees need to contribute as quickly as possible. I know that the direction chosen will not necessarily be what I would have wished, but at least the contribution will be useful. I also think that we should try to make a contribution to all the actors : the Commission and Council, but also the European Parliament.
Mr. Christian Cointat :
I do not dispute the point of the report. But it makes me feel melancholy. The vogue for subsidiarity seems to me to be the new guise of the same old national egoism. In reality, faith in European construction is receding. People say they support the European idea, but at national level, their actions tell a different story. European construction has made a lot of progress, but nowadays it no longer has the same impetus. Even in the Lisbon Treaty one gets that impression, but I will still vote for it without hesitation!
I would like us to give subsidiarity a more positive sense. When the community provides funding, clearly that does not authorise the European authorities to decide everything, but it can set the broad guidelines. We need a happy medium.
Subsidiarity should not be invoked just to put the brakes on. Institutions have to be able to function. In this regard, let us avoid laying all the blame at the Commission's door. It comes more from the Council, which plays the dual role of executive and legislature. Often it allows national egoism and raison d'Etat to triumph, which is a long way from democratic considerations. We have to take a political approach. Subsidiarity must be handled with intelligence and good judgement. Above all, it should not serve to give absolution to national egoism : it is better to accept some venial sins in the other direction.
Mr. Bernard Frimat :
I will not pursue these theological comparisons, which are not my strong point! I recognise that subsidiarity is a complex notion. It should not be understood as an encouragement for renationalisation. In broad outline, for my part, I see it as an antidote to European bureaucracy. Citizens should feel that Europe is there to help them, not to hinder them.
Mr. Christian Cointat :
It's the Council that's responsible! The Commission does not decide.
Mr. Bernard Frimat :
The Commission has a monopoly on proposal. That's a very important power. For all that, I don't wish to let Governments off the hook. They have too much of a tendency to say : «The good things are all my doing; the bad things all come from Brussels!» But it's a good principle to try to make sure that decisions are made at the most appropriate level; that is true at the national level as well. Everyone can see how, if national management chooses where to put pillar boxes, the outcome will be worse than if the choice were made locally. It is no insult to the European institutions to say that their bureaucracy can be unwieldy.
Mr. Simon Sutour :
I hope that you will forgive me a bullfighting analogy. I think we have waved a red rag in front of our colleague Mr. Cointat, a former European official who represents French expatriates; now we are going to attempt a good pass!
I don't think we should see subsidiarity as going in a negative direction. However, it might now be necessary to turn the wheel in the other direction to correct some excesses.
Politics needs to be anchored locally; it needs to be in touch with realities on the ground. That is also true for national politics. For example, those who suggest removing sub-prefectures are those who don't know the role they play in the community. Everything appears simpler from behind a desk. That goes for Europe too, whatever the institutions might be. We created constituencies for electing Members of the European Parliament, in principle to bring them closer to voters. I can tell you that some of them do not have anything to do with their constituencies! Now, nothing can take the place of being anchored locally. There is nothing prestigious about taking part in meetings of a syndicate for electrifying small communities, but those who have not done so do not understand certain realities. One cannot look down on people and then be surprised when they vote «no» as soon as they get the chance.
Mr. Charles Josselin :
When I was a minister, I often used to say that Belgium was a flat country, but there were mountains to climb in Brussels! I'm a European, but I am also a decentraliser. Commission officials are of very high calibre, and one can understand that they feel they have to intervene when they notice the weakness of administrations in some of the member states. However, we must plead for the funder to be technologically neutral, indeed ideologically neutral, and not try to impose its own solutions. When the World Bank funds a water conveyance system, it does not have to insist that a private operator should be used rather than a public-sector body. We must trust the people responsible on the ground. We are doing our job by highlighting how subsidiarity should be the counterpart to European integration.
Mr. Pierre Bernard-Reymond :
Subsidiarity is a principle that can't be codified; it is not a criterion that could come into play automatically. There is a balance to be found on a case-by-case basis.
There is also a demand for Europe. I was in Government during the controversy that blew up from the famous document about soft cheeses. In the end we managed to find a solution, with no small difficulty. We felt that people were beginning to get alarmed about the development of European regulation. Just after that, I was made aware of a request for European regulation from French and German manufacturers of explosives. They were saying to us «in our two countries, safety rules are stricter than in others; we need European harmonisation, or we will be obliged to move out to other Member States.» So we can see that there is also a demand for European intervention coming from the professions, which is legitimate and must be taken into account.
In any case, I agree that subsidiarity should come into play at all levels : I was a mayor for 18 years, a deputy mayor for just as long, and I would have liked the chairs of regional and general councils to have taken inspiration from it!
Mr. Yann Gaillard :
In any case, I note that this idea of subsidiarity, which can appear abstract, is very real for many of us, because we have seen through to personal experiences of it. We've heard from a former European official, a former local official and also former ministers ... from that I conclude that subsidiarity really is a fundamental issue. We must avoid national parliaments and local authorities becoming marginalised, little by little. While being European, one must be able to defend oneself against too much of Europe.
Mr. Hubert Haenel :
At the time of the referendum, I was heavily involved in the «Yes» campaign, and in meetings I noticed this feeling that Europe does too much. At the same time, people feel that Europe does not do enough in fields like judicial and police cooperation, foreign policy and defence, but there is a feeling that Europe is a little too heavy. I agree that subsidiarity can't be codified, but it does correspond to a real concern.
I approve of the idea that we should try to identify the political stakes in documents that appear to be technical : that is indeed the thrust of what we're doing.
Are Governments responsible for failing to take adequate account of subsidiarity ? I say yes. In the subsidiarity working group of the Convention, that is a point that came out clearly. The Council is a place of bargaining and compromise, and it's subsidiarity that pays the price. If a measure is acceptable to it, no Government is going to displease another Government that is asking for such a measure, even if it appears that the right level of action is national and not European. Both the jurisconsult Jean-Claude Piris and European Commissioner Antonio Vittorino recognised that. I often say that a technocrat is an official who is under no orders. If there have been abuses, it is because those responsible politically were not watching out for subsidiarity.
Does the existence of a field of law in France form an obstacle to our monitoring ? The answer is no. The legislative criterion applies only when we implement Article 88-4 of the Constitution which allows us to pass resolutions for the attention of our Government. We can still ask to be informed about non-legislative documents, and in this case the Government usually accedes to our request. But the dialogue on subsidiarity is very different. We are talking to the European Commission, and we are informed directly about all documents, of whatever nature. It transpires that we are informed by the Commission about twice as many documents as we are by the Government under Article 88-4.
I will also respond to the question about cooperation with the Permanent Representation : it is very good. Our administrative branch has an office on its premises. We have a good relationship of trust because Pierre Vimont, then Pierre Sellal, were able to see that we were responsible partners.
As regards relations with the European Parliament, I think we all feel that progress has been made. On the Convention, at the beginning, one could feel a certain wariness towards national parliaments from the European Parliament. There were distinct working groups for subsidiarity and the role of national parliaments. The working group on subsidiarity was chaired by a Member of the European Parliament, while that on the role of national parliaments was chaired by a sympathetic Labour Member of Parliament, Gisela Stuart, who had a lot to do with the pasionarias of the European Parliament. It took some time for the climate to become a bit more constructive. Nowadays, the European Parliament understands that a partnership with national parliaments was necessary. We are not here to prevent Europe from progressing, on the contrary! What we want is that Europe better meets the expectations of its citizens, and refocuses its action.
On the European affairs committee's relations with the relevant subject committees, I would say that our first responsibility is to provide an early warning system. The standing committees lack the time and capacity to do that. That is what we did by informing ourselves very early on about subjects like reform of the CMO in wine, or before that, the services directive. That is what we have started to do for the reform of the common agricultural policy and the financial perspectives. The problem is that our warnings do not always set off a fast enough reaction. Europe needs to permeate all the bodies of the Senate more.
I agree with Bernard Frimat that subsidiarity is an antidote to bureaucracy. I think that it is getting better understood. There has been a change in attitudes; even they are not yet fully set.
For my part, I didn't mind Christian Cointat's theological references. Quite the contrary, and I will give him a precise response : «Don't be frightened!» Subsidiarity is not there to put the brakes on European construction, but to ensure that decisions are taken at the right level. And for that to happen, we must not give European institutions a free hand. That is not to say that we should raise subsidiarity unthinkingly; that has never been our intention. During debates at the Convention, I sometimes got the impression that national parliaments were considered suspect. In the end I spoke up to say «Let's stop thinking that the `good Europeans' are in Brussels and the `bad Europeans' are in Member States!» I would not say that that is the Commission's attitude nowadays. Fortunately, one can stress subsidiarity without being accused of euroscepticism.
Mr. Pierre Bernard-Reymond :
In any case, I hope that this report will be sent to the Commission so that it can take note of it and let us know its response.
After the debate, the European affairs committee authorised publication of the report.
Délai de réponse de la Commission supérieur à trois mois et demi
Délai de trois mois et demi à quatre mois
- Proposition de directive concernant les règles de procédure et les critères d'évaluation applicables à l'évaluation prudentielle des acquisitions et augmentations de participation dans des entités du secteur financier
- Livre vert sur l'amélioration de l'exécution des décisions de justice au sein de l'Union européenne : la saisie des avoirs bancaires
- Proposition de règlement relatif aux statistiques sur les produits phytopharmaceutiques
Délai de quatre mois à cinq mois
- Livre vert sur la protection diplomatique et consulaire du citoyen de l'Union dans les pays tiers
- Proposition de directive concernant les impôts indirects frappant les rassemblements de capitaux (refonte)
Délai de cinq mois à six mois
- Proposition de directive relative à l'achèvement du marché intérieur des services postaux de la Communauté
- Proposition de règlement établissant des règles spécifiques pour le secteur des fruits et des légumes et modifiant certains règlements
- Communication de la Commission sur la stratégie communautaire en matière de politique des consommateurs pour la période 2007-2013 : « Responsabiliser le consommateur, améliorer son bien-être et le protéger efficacement »
Délai supérieur à six mois
- Proposition de directive relative au régime de TVA applicable aux services de radiodiffusion et de télévision et à certains services fournis par voie électronique
La Commission européenne s'était fixé un délai de trois mois pour répondre aux observations transmises par les parlements nationaux.
En trois occasions, la Commission a répondu avec une grande célérité : sa réponse est parvenue à la délégation un mois et demi après l'envoi de ses propres observations. Dans les trois cas, il s'agit toutefois de textes que la délégation avait estimés conformes aux principes de subsidiarité et de proportionnalité, tout en formulant certaines réserves à leur propos. Ces textes sont les suivants :
- le programme législatif et de travail de la Commission pour 2007, pour lequel la délégation avait conclu qu'il ne se prêtait pas à un examen sous l'angle de la subsidiarité et de la proportionnalité ;
- le livre blanc sur l'amélioration du cadre régissant le marché unique des fonds d'investissement, pour lequel la délégation avait seulement déploré l'absence de motivation au regard de la subsidiarité et de la proportionnalité ;
- le livre vert intitulé « Moderniser le droit du travail pour relever les défis du XXIe siècle », pour lequel la délégation avait fait part de ses interrogations au sujet de la formulation du titre.
La majorité des réponses est arrivée au-delà du délai de trois mois et, dans quelques rares cas, la réponse a même été fournie après un délai de cinq à six mois, comme en témoigne le tableau ci-contre.
Il semble que ces retards aient tendance à s'amplifier au fil des mois. À titre d'exemple, la délégation n'a toujours pas reçu de réponse de la Commission aux observations qu'elle lui avait transmises le 18 juillet 2007 tant sur le livre vert sur les services financiers de détail dans le marché unique que sur le livre vert sur le futur régime d'asile européen commun, soit plus de quatre mois après son envoi.
En ce qui concerne les cas de poursuite du dialogue avec la Commission, il apparaît que les réponses de la Commission aux nouvelles observations transmises sont toujours parvenues à la délégation au-delà du délai de trois mois - en règle générale, entre trois mois et demi et quatre mois.
a) La position de la délégation
À propos du programme législatif et de travail de la Commission pour 2007 (COM (2006) 629 final), la délégation a adopté les observations suivantes :
« La délégation pour l'Union européenne du Sénat estime que ce document, par sa nature, ne se prête pas à un examen sous l'angle de la subsidiarité et la proportionnalité. »
Ces observations découlaient des considérations suivantes :
« Le programme législatif de la Commission ne se prête pas à un examen sous l'angle de la subsidiarité et de la proportionnalité. Les textes sont présentés en quelques lignes qui peuvent tout au plus permettre d'examiner s'ils disposent d'une base juridique. Mais l'examen de la subsidiarité et de la proportionnalité suppose de connaître les principales dispositions. Seul un cas particulièrement flagrant - qui supposerait un manque de vigilance difficile à envisager - pourrait être détecté à ce stade. »
b) La réponse de la Commission européenne
La Commission s'est prononcée dans le même sens que la délégation en faisant valoir les arguments suivants :
« Enfin, s'agissant du programme législatif et de travail de la Commission, il y a effectivement, comme l'a noté la délégation pour l'Union européenne d'un document qui cadre et annonce une série de propositions à venir dans le contexte plus général des objectifs politiques de la Commission sans entrer dans le détail des propositions elles-mêmes. L'intérêt de ce document tient par conséquent essentiellement dans sa vertu programmatrice mais il est vrai qu'il ne se prête pas à un examen sous l'angle de la subsidiarité et de la proportionnalité. »
À propos du Livre vert sur les technologies de détection dans le travail des services répressifs, des douanes et d'autres services de sécurité (COM (2006) 474), la délégation avait noté que la Commission ne fournissait aucune motivation au regard de la subsidiarité ou de la proportionnalité.
La Commission a justifié cette absence de motivation dans les termes suivants :
« La Commission tient tout d'abord à expliquer pourquoi ses livres verts ne contiennent pas de motivation au regard de la subsidiarité et de la proportionnalité. En règle générale, un livre vert est destiné à ouvrir un débat avec les parties intéressées sur un problème et/ou des solutions. Les données et opinions ainsi récoltées servent notamment à déterminer les options compatibles avec les principes susnommés et, le cas échéant, à rédiger une proposition législative. C'est à ce stade seulement que la Commission peut et doit motiver. Le Protocole sur l'application des principes de subsidiarité et de proportionnalité annexé au Traité d'Amsterdam stipule (article 4) en effet que `pour toute proposition de texte législatif communautaire, les motifs sur lesquels elle se fonde font l'objet d'une déclaration tendant à la justifier en démontrant qu'elle est conforme aux principes de subsidiarité et de proportionnalité.' »
Lors de l'examen de cette réponse par la délégation, le président de la délégation a jugé celle-ci pleinement justifiée et a formulé les remarques suivantes :
« À ce stade, on ne peut en effet exiger de la Commission qu'elle fournisse une motivation étayée. Mais il me semble aussi que nous, parlementaires nationaux, nous sommes pleinement dans notre rôle en faisant connaître à la Commission, dès le stade du Livre vert, les bornes à l'intervention de l'Union européenne que les principes de subsidiarité et de proportionnalité font d'ores et déjà apparaître. Le Livre vert donne souvent naissance ensuite à des propositions législatives et il est bon que - avant même qu'elle ne commence à rédiger ses propositions - la Commission soit mise en éveil à ce sujet. »
Ces documents sont l'occasion, pour la délégation, de faire connaître à la Commission européenne, très en amont du processus législatif, les problèmes de subsidiarité ou de proportionnalité que pourrait soulever telle ou telle mesure envisagée ou d'indiquer les solutions qui paraissent les plus respectueuses de la subsidiarité ou de la proportionnalité.
On trouvera ci-dessous trois exemples.
Livre vert : « Vers une Europe sans fumée de tabac : les options stratégiques au niveau de l'Union européenne » (COM (2007) 27 final)
La délégation a noté que, dans ce Livre vert, la Commission présentait cinq options « stratégiques, modulées en fonction de cinq degrés d'intervention. Dans les trois premières (« maintien du statu quo », « mesures volontaires » et « méthode ouverte de coordination ») les États membres conservent un rôle moteur, la « valeur ajoutée » communautaire consistant en des mesures de sensibilisation, la mise en place d'un forum européen sur le sujet ou en l'échange d'expériences et de bonnes pratiques. La quatrième (« recommandation de la Commission ou du Conseil »), sans être contraignante, envisage la fixation d'« objectifs clairs, assortis de calendriers et d'indicateurs spécifiques », « la mise en place d'un système de suivi et la publication des résultats » de la politique menée. La cinquième constitue une approche maximaliste en préconisant l'application d'une législation harmonisée. »
La délégation a, dès ce stade, voulu marquer les limites découlant du respect de la subsidiarité et de la proportionnalité :
« La délégation pour l'Union européenne du Sénat :
- estime, en tout état de cause, que, parmi les options stratégiques présentées par la Commission, seules les trois premières respecteraient les principes de subsidiarité et de proportionnalité. »
Livre vert sur les services financiers de détail dans le
La délégation a ainsi tracé les limites qui doivent, selon elle, circonscrire l'action de l'Union européenne en ce domaine :
« La délégation pour l'Union européenne du Sénat :
- considère que le degré de l'harmonisation envisagée pour la réglementation des services financiers de détail doit être adapté aux différentes actions entreprises, des règles relatives à la protection des consommateurs pouvant par exemple être fixées par des mesures nationales au-delà de règles uniformes pour l'ensemble de la Communauté ;
- estime que l'intervention communautaire n'est pas justifiée en ce qui concerne le développement de la culture financière des consommateurs. »
« Une stratégie de l'Union
européenne pour aider les États membres
La délégation s'est de même prononcée ainsi :
« La délégation pour l'Union européenne du Sénat :
- considère que la prévention des effets dommageables liés à une consommation abusive d'alcool relève en priorité d'une action au niveau national, voire au niveau local, compte tenu des fortes différences culturelles qui existent entre les États membres en matière de consommation d'alcool ;
- estime, par conséquent, qu'une action au niveau communautaire devrait se limiter à l'échange et à la diffusion de bonnes pratiques et que la création d'un forum « Alcool et Santé » pourrait contribuer à cet objectif ;
- souligne, en revanche, que la mise en place de programmes de financement et de campagnes d'information et de sensibilisation au niveau européen serait susceptible de porter atteinte aux principes de subsidiarité et de proportionnalité, dans la mesure où les objectifs de ces actions peuvent être réalisés de manière suffisante et plus efficace par les États membres, tant au niveau central qu'au niveau régional et local, et ne peuvent, en raison des dimensions ou des effets des actions envisagées, être mieux réalisés au niveau communautaire ;
- estime, en outre, que le montant limité du budget communautaire amène d'autant plus à prendre en compte les principes de subsidiarité et de proportionnalité afin d'exercer une sélection rigoureuse des dépenses à engager. »
La Commission européenne, dans sa réponse, est d'ailleurs allée dans le même sens :
« Il n'est pas envisagé par cette Communication que la Commission engage des campagnes globales de sensibilisation au niveau européen, mais qu'elle aura pour tâche de faciliter l'échange de bonnes pratiques en la matière à l'échelle de l'Union européenne comme socle de référence pour les éventuelles initiatives engagées par les États membres ou les autorités locales, y compris en matière de prévention des dommages liés à l'alcool sur le lieu de travail. »
L'exemple le plus caractéristique de poursuite du dialogue est fourni par la proposition de directive sur la gestion de la sécurité des infrastructures routières (COM (2006) 569 final).
I. Au cours de son premier examen de ce texte, en novembre 2006, la délégation a critiqué les éléments d'appréciation fournis par la Commission au regard de la subsidiarité et de la proportionnalité :
« L'objectif poursuivi d'améliorer la sécurité routière est certes louable, mais l'affirmation de la Commission selon laquelle une réglementation communautaire sera plus efficace que l'échange des bonnes pratiques, qui se fait depuis plusieurs années, relève de la pétition de principe. En effet, la Commission considère que `sans une méthodologie contraignante et un engagement juridique dans toute l'Union européenne, les États membres seuls ne sont pas en mesure de garantir ce niveau commun de sécurité' ».
En conséquence, la délégation a adopté les observations suivantes :
« La délégation pour l'Union européenne du Sénat, demande à la Commission européenne de préciser pour quelle raison l'échange des bonnes pratiques entre États membres ne serait pas une solution suffisante pour améliorer la gestion de la sécurité des infrastructures routières. »
II. La Commission a répondu en janvier 2007. L'essentiel de son argumentation était le suivant :
« Sans une méthodologie obligatoire et un engagement de valeur juridique au sein de l'Union européenne, les États membres ne sont pas en mesure de garantir seuls ce niveau élevé de sécurité, comme le montrent les performances très hétérogènes des États membres pris séparément.
L'échange de bonnes pratiques dans le secteur de la gestion de la sécurité des infrastructures routières a lieu depuis maintenant plusieurs années dans l'Union européenne et sur la scène internationale, au travers de groupe de travail, de conférences et d'ateliers, sans qu'on ait pu enregistrer d'amélioration générale des performances en matière de sécurité des infrastructures routières. Une forte demande se manifeste d'ailleurs en faveur d'une initiative au niveau européen, comme le dévoilent les commentaires reçus en réponse à la consultation publique sur la gestion de la sécurité des infrastructures routières. De plus, les États membres souhaitant améliorer leur niveau de sécurité routière sont souvent demandeurs d'une mesure règlementaire. Cela indique clairement que selon eux, l'échange de bonnes pratiques est insuffisant pour leur permettre de le faire. »
III. La délégation a examiné la réponse de la Commission en mars 2007 et a adopté de nouvelles observations :
« Nous avions demandé à la Commission européenne `de préciser pour quelle raison l'échange des bonnes pratiques entre États membres ne serait pas une solution suffisante pour améliorer la gestion de la sécurité des infrastructures routières'.
L'argumentation utilisée par la Commission dans sa réponse n'est guère convaincante. À sa lecture, on a un peu le sentiment que l'on utilise des arguments stéréotypés qui ne résultent pas d'une analyse méthodologique serrée et sérieuse. C'est ainsi que la Commission évoque l'hétérogénéité des performances des États membres pris séparément. C'est certainement vrai, mais on ne voit pas en quoi cela est de nature à justifier l'intervention de l'Union. On pourrait utiliser cet argument pour quasiment l'ensemble des secteurs. On pourrait dire qu'il y a une hétérogénéité en matière scolaire entre les États membres, et en conclure qu'il faut une action de la Commission pour introduire une base commune en matière de programme scolaire. On pourrait constater que l'enseignement des langues donne des résultats très différents dans les différents pays et l'on pourrait en conclure qu'il faut une base commune d'exigence procédurale ! L'argument n'est guère sérieux.
Par ailleurs, la Commission mentionne qu'il se manifeste `une forte demande en faveur d'une initiative au niveau européen'. Là encore, ce n'est pas parce qu'il existe une demande de la part des professionnels qu'il y a une nécessité d'intervention de l'Union européenne. Le principe de subsidiarité est précisément utile pour éviter que l'on ne réponde à des demandes inconsidérées de réglementation communautaire.
En conséquence, nous souhaiterions que la Commission nous communique de nouveaux éléments de nature à faire apparaître de manière plus claire que les principes de subsidiarité et de proportionnalité sont pleinement respectés. »
IV. En juillet 2007, la Commission a adressé une réponse à ces nouvelles observations. L'essentiel de celle-ci consistait à rappeler les arguments déjà énoncés. Toutefois, une remarque spécifique a attiré l'attention de la délégation :
« Les normes de sécurité de la route diffèrent notablement sur le réseau routier européen aujourd'hui. Souvent construit avec des Fonds structurels et de cohésion de l'Union européenne, il y a une responsabilité à s'assurer que les États membres appliquent une méthodologie cohérente. »
V. En novembre 2007, la délégation a examiné cette deuxième réponse de la Commission :
« Dans sa seconde réponse, reçue en juillet 2007, la Commission opère un changement sensible dans son argumentation. Elle revient sur l'opportunité et la cohérence de la réglementation proposée : selon elle, dès lors que des avancées communautaires ont été constatées dans la sécurité des véhicules, elles doivent être proposées également dans la sécurité des infrastructures. Cela s'apparente à l'évidence à une pétition de principe. Si personne ne met en doute le fait que la Communauté puisse agir mieux que chaque État membre pour assurer la sécurité des véhicules, on voit mal en quoi il en découlerait obligatoirement que les États membres ne peuvent eux-mêmes réaliser l'objectif de sécurité des infrastructures. Les véhicules sont à l'évidence transfrontaliers tandis que les infrastructures sont par définition peu mobiles !
Par ailleurs, la Commission relève que la demande est supportée non par les seuls industriels, mais par les organisations professionnelles dont elle établit la liste. Enfin, elle considère que la compétence de la Communauté est justifiée par le fait que le renforcement de la sécurité des réseaux contribue à l'objectif de cohésion économique et sociale prévu par le traité et que les infrastructures routières sont souvent financées par les fonds structurels ou par le fonds de cohésion.
Ainsi, si l'on suit l'argumentaire de la Commission, la compétence communautaire sur la sécurité des infrastructures est justifiée par le financement antérieur de ces infrastructures. Cette position paraît très contestable et ouvre la voie à de nombreux abus car l'Union européenne finance un très grand nombre d'actions dans des secteurs qui ne sont pas pour autant intégralement couverts par une compétence communautaire. C'est notamment le cas en matière de recherche : ce n'est pas parce que l'Union participe au financement de tel ou tel programme de recherche qu'elle peut ou doit réglementer le statut des chercheurs ! Mille et un exemples peuvent être avancés : médiathèques, restauration de bâtiments, recherche sur les moteurs, créations de zones d'activités... sont des projets éligibles aux crédits européens. Suivre une telle logique ouvrirait une boîte de Pandore en laissant l'Union européenne s'immiscer dans des domaines qui sont manifestement hors de sa compétence. Cette dérive est d'autant plus importante que le champ d'intervention des fonds structurels et du fonds de cohésion est large et que les cadres réglementaires sont souvent interprétés de façon extensive pour faciliter l'accès aux fonds régionaux.
Cette logique défendue par la Commission rappelle un ancien contentieux communautaire connu sous le nom des `actions sans base légale' : le Parlement européen, fort de son pouvoir d'initiative budgétaire, lançait des financements avant même d'avoir la compétence sur le fond. La Commission semble ici s'inspirer d'une logique du même type.
Certes, le texte considéré est d'importance mineure et il peut être tentant de renoncer à poursuivre le dialogue avec la Commission. Mais l'argumentation de la Commission pose un problème de principe. »
Et la délégation a adopté de nouvelles observations :
« La délégation pour l'Union européenne du Sénat observe que la Commission européenne n'a toujours pas établi la nécessité d'une directive dans ce domaine et qu'elle n'a toujours pas démontré que l'amélioration de la sécurité des infrastructures routières fait partie des objectifs qui `ne peuvent pas être réalisés de manière suffisante par les États membres et peuvent donc, en raison des dimensions ou des effets de l'action envisagée, être mieux réalisés au niveau communautaire'. Elle souligne que le fait que les infrastructures routières puissent faire l'objet de cofinancements par les fonds structurels ou le fonds de cohésion ne donne aucune compétence particulière à l'Union pour prendre un acte législatif dans ce domaine, et ne saurait lui servir de motif pour écarter le principe de subsidiarité. »
* (1) At interparliamentary meetings on «the Future of Europe» held on 8 & 9 May 2006 in Brussels. President Barroso's initiative was supported by COSAC, which met soon afterwards (22 & 23 May 2006) in Vienna.
* (2) These reports are available on the site www.cosac.eu/en/
* (3) For each of these meetings, a report of the debates has been published in a special edition of the «Actualités de la délégation pour l'Union européenne» and can be found on the «Europe» page of the Senate website.