MEPs win substantial new powers over new Commission - La Treizième Étoile: A blog on EU politics
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MEPs win substantial new powers over new Commission

Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Whilst it was overshadowed by the vote confirming the new Barroso II Commission, the European Parliament won a somewhat substantial victory yesterday as it seeks to flex its muscles thanks to its new powers provisioned to it under the Lisbon Treaty.

Shortly before the vote on the Commission, the Parliament approved, by a show of hands, a set of key principles to be put into place in the cooperation agreement that governs relations between the two European bodies.

The Hemicycle Debating Chamber by ajburgess, on FlickrBoth parties are currently in the process of revising the Framework Agreement that defines such matters as each party's political responsibilities, the flow of information and legislative coordination.

One of the key achievements made so far is a commitment on the part of the Commission to treating the Parliament and the Council of Ministers on an equal footing. This will mean MEPs will gain access to meetings and be able to view full documentation on the Commission's meetings with national experts.

President Jerzy Buzek will now be allowed to attend the weekly meeting of Commissioners when major laws are being proposed, and the twice monthly meeting of political group leaders in the Parliament will host Commission President José Manuel Barroso when legislative and budgetary matters are being discussed.

Another victory for the Parliament was is making Commission more accountable. The power-sharing deal suggests that Mr Barroso must "seriously consider" whether to ask an individual commissioner to step down if Parliament withdraws its confidence. If however, he chooses not to let the Commissioner go, he then has to explain his reasons before MEPs in the following plenary session (and he better have good reasons!).

As it stands the Parliament is permitted one sole vote on the entire Commission, whereas this new arrangement will certainly increase the MEPs' political clout. As it was well documented in the media and although it was not a legally-binding veto, MEPs recently forced the resignation of Bulgarian commissioner designate Rumiana Jeleva by threatening to vote against the Commission as a whole.

Jerzy Buzek listens carefully as José Barroso's addresses the hemicycle (Photo: European Parliament/FlickrThe other main change agreed so far will see a further reform to the Question Hour format which used to feature just Mr Barroso. Under the agreement, other Commissioners, including the High-Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, can be summoned to face questions in the hour-long slot held each month in Strasbourg - implemented in the hope of mirroring the spectacle of the UK's Prime Ministers Questions (PMQs).

However, Parliament's negotiating team did not get there own way on everything - they lost out in two major areas:

Firstly, they failed to secure agreement from Mr Barroso that there should be hearings for senior appointees to the EU's future diplomatic service, as we have just seen for the Commissioner-designates. Instead they received commitment that the ambassadors will be appointed in a transparent manner.

And secondly, Mr Barroso rejected an attempt by MEPs to oblige the Commission to come forward with legislation if the chamber requested it. Mr Barroso thought this was something that was stepping on the Commission's rights as sole initiator of EU legislation.

As a compromise however, the Commission has pledged to respond to a legislation request by the Parliament within three months and propose a law, if it decides to do so, within a year, and will give reasons to MEPs if it chooses not to legislate.

In the debate preceding the show of hands on Tuesday morning, Diana Wallis (ALDE, UK), a member of the Parliament's negotiating team, referred to Mr Barroso's stated commitment to the "Parliamentary dimension of the EU" and said "post Lisbon, this Parliament is much more than a mere dimension."

"It is a reality, a real force, and a true Parliament worthy of the name. This Parliament is now a fully legislative partner, and a Parliament rightly able to hold your Commission to account."

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