EU deal gives Parliament extended powers

Tiered services. US, 2009.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso has agreed to new terms in the European Parliament's relations with the EU executive, giving the assembly more power to scrutinise laws and raise its profile vis-à-vis member states.

Leading members of the European Parliament have agreed on the assembly's future relations with the Commission under the EU's new Lisbon Treaty, which confer new powers to the Strasbourg assembly.

The new 'Framework Agreement', agreed last Wednesday (27 January), will govern relations between the Parliament and the Commission for the 2010-2015 period.

It will be submitted to a vote on 9 February, just ahead of a poll on the incoming Barroso II team.

A working party consisting of MEPs Klaus-Heiner Lehne (EPP, Germany), Hannes Swoboda (S&D, Austria), Dagmar Roth-Berendt (S&D, Germany), Diana Wallis (ALDE, UK) and Rebecca Harms (Green/EFA, Germany), has agreed the arrangements with Commission President Barroso, according to an internal document obtained by EURACTIV.

Writing to Parliament President Jerzy Buzek on behalf of the Working Party, Klaus-Heiner Lehne MEP says the two sides have agreed on a five-page draft resolution, which will be put to a vote on 9 February.

Discussions with Barroso have been intense and sometimes difficult in recent weeks, Lehne writes. However, he sees the results as very positive.

Lehne writes that Barroso has recognised the principle of equal treatment of Parliament vis-à-vis the Council of Ministers and is ready to give Parliament experts access to draft documents and preparatory meetings.

Lehne also reports that Barroso has agreed to strengthen the way the Commission deals with the Parliament's legislative requests, saying clear deadlines have been set for the Commission to react.

The draft resolution also includes measures to improve the Commission's accountability, via a transparent initiative to nominate the Special Representatives and foreign ambassadors that are to make up the future European External Acton Service (EEAS).

There, apparently, the Parliament has stepped back from earlier demands by MEPs that ambassadors should appear in Parliament for an approval hearing.

The Parliament has also won the Commission's approval to be represented at international conferences with observer status, the paper says. It also states that the Parliament and the Commission should seek a common understanding before the EU executive adopts its annual work programme.

Odd one out

The draft resolution says that if the Parliament asks the Commission president to withdraw a commissioner-designate, he should seriously consider requesting that member to resign. The resignation of individual commissioners is not foreseen under the Lisbon Treaty.

The Parliament has also been awared the opportunity to question individual commissioners, including Cathy Ashton, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs, following the existing model of 'Question Hour' with the Commission president.

On 9 February, the European Parliament in Strasbourg is expected to vote on the Barroso II Commission, provided that the new commissioner-designate from Bulgaria, Kristalina Georgieva, receives the green light following her hearing, due on 3 February in Brussels.

But before the vote, MEPs will discuss with Barroso his new team and its division of responsibilities, as well as the new Framework Agreement.

By noon, they will have voted on the Agreement. The vote of approval on the new Commission will take place an hour later, leaving the Parliament's political groups enough time to evaluate the debates.

The legal basis governing relations between the European Parliament and the European Commission over the last period were covered by the 2005 framework agreement. With the Lisbon Treaty, the Framework agreement is expected to take on board innovations which elevate the role of the Parliament to unprecedented levels in EU decision-making.

One innovation is that MEPs will decide Europeans laws in conjunction with government ministers.

Second, national MPs have a defined role in EU affairs. They are now given the right to raise objections against draft EU legislation (so-called orange card) as a reinforced control mechanism for the principle of subsidiarity.

Third, through the new Citizens' initiative, ordinary citizens have the opportunity to demand EU legislation being drafted by presenting a million signatures in favour of a proposal.

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