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A New Form of Democratic Oversight in the EU: The Joint Parliamentary Scrutiny Group for Europol

Abstract

In 2017, a new Joint Parliamentary Scrutiny Group (JPSG) was created to enable members of the national parliaments of the EU and the European Parliament to exercise joint oversight of the EU agency for police cooperation (Europol). This paper chronicles and explains the lengthy legal and political process leading up to the first meeting of the Europol JPSG in October 2017, and the establishment of its Rules of Procedure at its second meeting in March 2018. In addition, the Europol JPSG is compared to the three EU inter-parliamentary conferences (IPCs) which meet twice-yearly to discuss EU affairs, foreign policy and economic governance. While there are many similarities, the JPSG differs from these others in that it has an explicit mandate to scrutinize, and the target of its scrutiny is a specific EU agency rather than a whole policy field. The JPSG is also distinctive in a number of key respects, including a stronger legal basis, more restrictive membership and participation rules, greater continuity of membership, stronger access to EU officials and documents, a seat on the Europol Management Board and an explicit right to ask oral and written questions. Taken together, these attributes indicate that the JPSG is designed to be an oversight body, rather than merely a discussion forum. Finally, the paper considers the likely future UK role in relation to the Europol JPSG after Brexit.

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A ‘second youth’ for the EU Speakers’ Conference? A critical appraisal of its ‘quasi-constitutional’ role

Abstract

The EU Speakers’ Conference has experienced a ‘second youth’ after the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon by playing a ‘quasi-constitutional’ role in inter-parliamentary cooperation, and in particular by trying to exercise a rule-making function over the many inter-parliamentary venues of the EU’s system of government. The fulfilment of such a function has certainly not been made any easier as a consequence of the constitutional constraints surrounding the positions of the Speakers and Presidents of the European and Member States’ (MS) Parliaments, with a considerable variety in terms of powers and decision-making capacity among the MS and the EU. Despite these limitations, the ‘quasi-constitutional’ role of the EU Speakers’ Conference has mainly consisted of approving guidelines, if not directly rules of procedure, for other inter-parliamentary venues. It has also been argued that the coordinating function of the EU Speakers’ Conference can be much more effective when looking at its ‘quasi-constitutional’ role, and also in its function of joint parliamentary scrutiny in the EU, if it is aimed at enhancing the rational organisation of inter-parliamentary activities in terms of timing, agendas and ex-post supervision of the results, in the absence of any other possible alternative to the Speakers’ leadership.

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Transnational Parliamentarism and the Dynamics of the IPC CFSP/CSDP: Policy-making, Accountability and Cooperation

Abstract

This contribution proposes a framework of transnational parliamentarism to study inter-parliamentary cooperation, and applies it to the interparliamentary conference on CFSP/CSDP. It asks to what extent the IPC’s functioning reflects its constitutive intergovernmental logic, or whether its behaviour in practice might be guided by a transnational logic, hence becoming something more than just the parliamentary mirror of an intergovernmental cooperation framework. To this end we outline three functions that are brought forward by transnational parliamentarism: policy-making, collective accountability and cooperation, and investigate to which extent these logics can be observed in the functioning of the IPC CFSP/CSDP. Applying the framework reveals a nuanced picture of an inter-parliamentary cooperation framework which to some extent goes beyond purely intergovernmental functions of domestic accountability and representation, and also includes the performance of policy-making and parliamentary cooperation functions.

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Attempts to change the British House of Lords into a second chamber of the nations and regions: explaining a history af failed reforms

Abstract

The House of Lords is the world’s longest-established and probably best-known second chamber. Wholly unelected, with most members appointed for life, it appears a vestige of the ‘elite’ form of bicameralism once common throughout Europe. Hence calls for major reform are commonplace. However successful changes have been piecemeal and rare. Meanwhile the UK is not federal, but is nonetheless a ‘union state’, comprising the territories of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, each with its own distinct governing arrangements. These were most recently boosted by the 1997 Labour government’s devolution programme. Hence for decades, and particularly the last 20 years, devolution and Lords reform have both been on the UK’s political agenda. Throughout this time attempts to create a ‘second chamber of the nations and regions’ have repeatedly failed. This paper reviews the proposals made, and the obstacles they faced - drawing lessons for Britain, and territorial bicameralism more widely.

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The Austrian Bundesrat – Imperfect and Unreformed

Abstract

According to many legal and political scientists the Austrian Bundesrat is generally considered to be a paradigmatic example of a politically and legally weak second chamber embedded in a strongly centralised federal system. This view is justified. However, there is the need for a more differentiated view with regard to Austria’s federal system and its second chamber.

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Beyond Second Chambers: Alternative Representation of Territorial Interests and Their Reasons

Abstract

The paper contends that bicameral systems, irrespective of their differences in composition and powers, are unfit to represent territorial interests in the national decisionmaking process, except in some residual cases. What subnational entities seek is participation rather than representation. This is why alternative, executive-based institutions in which also the national government is present are mushrooming and second chambers are ineffective as territorial bodies. Furthermore, there is a clear trend to move from bicameralism to bilateralism, meaning that instead of taking advantage of ineffective multilateral institutions, strong subnational units try to channel their claims through bilateral instruments. Overall, the unresolved dilemma of subnational representation has little to do with the architecture of second chambers and rather lays in the tension between individual and collective representation.

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Bicameralism in Belgium: the dismantlement of the Senate for the sake of multinational confederalism

Abstract

Belgium was established in 1830 as a unitary state with a bicameral parliament, with symmetrical powers for the upper and the lower house. While federalism and bicameralism are often considered a pair, the Belgian system shows an inverse relationship. The Senate gradually turned into a house representative of the sub-states, but its powers declined inversely proportional to the level of decentralisation of the Belgian state. This paper inquires how the dismantling of the Belgian Senate fits in the increasingly devolutionary nature of the Belgian state structure. First, it nuances the link between bicameralism and federalism: bicameralism is an institutional device for federalism, but not by necessity, and only under specific conditions. The official narrative is that the Belgian Senate was reformed to turn it into a house of the sub-states in line as a federal principle, but in reality the conditions to fulfil this task are not fulfilled. Instead, the paper holds that bicameralism in Belgium is subordinate to the needs of multinational conflict management, and that complying with the federative ideal of an upper house giving voice to the collective needs of the sub-states would stand in the way of the evolution of the Belgian system towards confederalism based on two major linguistic groups.

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Extra-legislative Functions of Second Chambers in Federal Systems

Abstract

Discussions regarding the functional design of second chambers in federal or quasifederal systems seem to focus mainly on legislative functions. Thus, extra- or nonlegislative functions related to the executive branch or the judiciary have been rather neglected in the literature. This paper will examine the extra-legislative functions of second chambers which include Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. By grouping the functions into different categories (relations with the Government, appointment functions and functions in the field of international affairs, powers in relation to the European Union and functions granted to maintain the legitimate constitutional order), their effectiveness in serving the purposes of bicameralism, and of regional representation, will be explored.

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The German Bundesrat and Executive Federalism

Abstract

The German Basic Law constitutes federalism as a unique political system which is characterised by intertwined decision-making of the Federation (Bund) and the component units (Länder). The executives of the two federal tiers and the Länder executives within the Bundesrat play a major role in making joint decisions. They are forced to make decisions in the ‘joint-decision mode’ (Politikverflechtung) which is detrimental to accountability. Reform efforts were made to unbundle competences and to reduce the number of bills which require the Bundesrat’s consent. Due to the dominance of the executives and the distribution of powers between the federal tiers (legislation is dominated by the Bund, execution is dominated by the Länder), German federalism is rightly called ‘executive federalism’. German federalism can even be regarded as an embodiment of that concept since it covers all possible aspects of ‘executive federalism’. The Bundesrat has an important share in that classification.

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History of a (Limited) Success: Five Points on the Representativeness of the Committee of the Regions

Abstract

This article briefly explores the reasons why the Committee of the Regions (CoR) has only partially accomplished its representative function. It is divided into three parts. In the first part I argue that the ambiguous nature of the CoR is the consequence of the polysemous notion of ‘region’ in EU law (Palermo, 2005) and of the very heterogeneous approach to the ‘federal issue’ in Europe. In the second part of the article I look at the recent developments that have given the CoR new powers, for instance in light of Art. 263 TFEU in order to defend its own prerogatives and Art. 8 of Protocol No 2 on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. This will be done by looking at a recent resolution of the CoR on a proposal made by the EU Commission to amend Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013. Finally, I deal with some proposals that have been advanced to strengthen the role of the CoR, and their feasibility.

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