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Speeches, Interviews

19.04.2006

European Conference on Subsidiarity, Final Statement by Andreas Khol, President of the Austrian National Council


 

When I was making some introductory comments yesterday, I said that I am fed up with merely talking about the principle of subsidiarity, rather than turning things operational and speaking about concrete issues. Now I can stand here as a content president of the Austrian parliament because this conference has done a brilliant job. We have discussed very concrete projects. I have gleaned a lot from the discussions which I have followed avidly. Allow me to summarise things briefly and to explain to you what we intend to do.

The discussions have clearly shown that there is a interdependence between European legislation and national legislation. Competences are something where the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality come in. They are the hinges, so to speak. The involvement of national parliaments in European legislation occurs at two levels. First you have got the level based on national constitutions. In some countries, like Austria, the voting patterns of government members in European councils can be discussed and influenced by the national parliaments.

And then there is a second level. Members of the European Parliament do not really talk about it much, but this is the European level. Reviewing initiatives, legal texts proposed by the European Commission is something where we can allow for upstream examinations. We have to follow both these tracks though they may sometimes be quite difficult. There are green papers, white papers, draft directives; it is difficult for MPs in the national parliaments to consider all these pieces of legislation in greater detail. This is the nitty-gritty, something we have to do weekly, monthly.

There are tools both at the national level and at the level of Brussels, and we have to start working with them. Both the Amsterdam and Maastricht Treaties have laid down the principle of subsidiarity and proportionality and have turned them into enforceable building blocks. This has been expressed quite clearly in a number of presentations. Hurdles do exist but these building blocks must be taken into account and must be enforced.

That is no ‘cherry-picking task’ as was pointed out by our Swedish colleague who said that we should make these preliminary examinations and not anticipate them in the Constitutional Treaty and that we should act on the basis of the Amsterdam Treaty, protocol no. 30 as was rightly pointed out by Mr. Nikolai. I very much support what he said. This inter-institutional agreement of 1993 is something that should be adapted to ongoing developments  of European legislation.

But such an agreement is not necessary if the Commission expressed its intent to conduct preliminary examinations. That would be sufficient for the moment. At the same time the European Parliament and the national parliaments will then be informed about legal initiatives and texts proposed by the Commission and they will then have the chance to make a preliminary examination, to formulate objections, to coordinate matters and to pass on this information to the European Commission which will consider it and take justified doubts seriously.

Mr. Verheugen, you said something very appropriate this morning. While preparing this conference it was very important to know what wishes we could express.  Someone who, contrary to the Commission, insists on such national parliamentary rights, will not be very successful.

You spoke about projects that we very much subscribe to as your own projects; about putting standards to the test, about the fiche subsidiaire explained to us by Prof. Calliess yesterday. We are very happy to hear that you are devising such a plan. You also said that you are in favour of these preliminary examinations being put into practice hic nunc, that is to say immediately. We should build on this idea.

The next topic on my agenda: we should and must examine the issue of lodging complaints with the European Court of Justice via the national instances in each country. National parliamentarians are called upon to take action. We as national parliamentarians have not been elected to engage in a preliminary examination of European legislative proposals. This is a task resulting from the ethics of legislation.

We have to take on this new challenge of reviewing and subjecting European legislation to preliminary examinations. The COSAC is to play a key role in this respect. It is to coordinate the national objections formulated in subsidiarity proceedings. That has already been pointed out by Mr. Fischler.

Secondly there is the question of best practices. It was fascinating to hear from Mr. Stoiber that the German Bundesrat has formulated 30 subsidiarity objections to legal proposals that are unknown to us in Austria. It would be important to exchange this information. We have an excellent information system, IPECS, and we have to make optimum use of it.

The coordination of national parliaments, best practices as well as a proposal made by Mr. Lequiller that the Commission’s legislative programme should be discussed once a year by COSAC in the presence of the Commission. That is an important proposal that we should likewise take on board.

Whether this is a Commission declaration stating that parliaments are to be informed and that their concerns are to be respected, is a question that will need to be dealt with. We from the Austrian National Council will come up with a proposal in the upcoming COSAC meeting (I have discussed this with Mr. Fasslabend who is the chairperson of COSAC). This proposal will contain all the elements that I have just mentioned: COSAC’s role in coordinating affairs, best practices, legislative programmes, the request to the Commission to allow for preliminary examination procedures.

I would like to thank you very much for your cooperation. My thanks especially go to the two experts, Mr. Fischler and Prof. Calliess, and to all the participants here, to those who have opted for this preliminary examination. Let’s start working.

 

Date: 21.04.2006