Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic
Answers to the questionnaire of the Polish Senate for the 6th meeting of the Association of European Senates
Question Nr. 1- Legal premises (constitutional, statutory, regulatory) of the role played by the Senate in European Union affairs. Competencies of the Committee on EU Affairs and legal premises for its appointment.
The position of the Czech Senate concerning European Union matters (EU) must be divided into two stages: before and after the accession of the Czech Republic to the EU.
In the first stage the Senate has mostly dealt with the harmonization of Czech and EU law and through the European Integration Committee it followed the negotiation process. The relevance of the Senate's positions for the executive derived among other things from the fact that the agreement of both chambers of the Parliament of the Czech Republic is essential for the ratification of important international treaties by the president of the Republic.
The preparation of the second stage began in the year 2000 by the consideration of the so-called Euro-amendment of the Constitution of the Czech Republic that anchored the new article 10b that imposes to the government the duty to inform regularly and in advance the Parliament of matters related to the membership of the Czech Republic in the EU. Both chambers are entitled to adopt positions on EU decisions in the making. The Constitution has as well created space for the establishment of a joint European Committee of both chambers that would speak on behalf of the Parliament.
In parallel with the work on the application statutes of the above-mentioned general provisions of the Constitution the Senate delegate and his alternate have participated in the work of the Convention on the Future of Europe. The Senate has considered 22 of their reports, adopted resolutions on the division of competencies in the EU and on the role of national parliaments, it has been the sponsor of the National Forum on the Future of Europe, has taken note of a series of government reports on its positions in the Inter-Governmental Conference, etc.
In the spring of 2004 amendments of the Rules of Procedure of both Chambers (having the character of an Act) were adopted, specifying (somewhat differently) the scope of the information duty of the government with respect to the Parliament and regulating the debates of the chambers on European documents. In the Senate two committees shall be entrusted with the European agenda: the EU Affairs Committee shall be responsible for the first pillar and the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security Committee for the second pillar. The procedural specificities of the documents produced within the two pillars are taken into account by the Rules of Procedure; the Senate defines the competence of the respective committee by its own decision. The main difference between the pillars is the application of the Parliamentary reservation for the submitted legislative acts (in principle for the first pillar): if the Senate decides to examine the merits of it, the government must wait for its position during 35 days after the delivery of the draft legislation to the Senate.
Question nr. 2 - Division of competencies in EU affairs between the Lower House and the Senate:
With regard to the government and in the joint legislative procedure the Constitution makes the Senate the weaker of the two chambers of the Czech Parliament. However, it is not true to the same extent for all competencies, European affairs not being an exception. The very article 10b of the Constitution does not make a difference between the chambers: both are informed, both may address the government. However, it is obvious that in the case of the conflicting positions of both chambers the government may take into account the very fact of its dependence on the trust of the Chamber of Deputies.
In practice some sort of a division of labour is assumed, where the Chamber of Deputies focuses on oral interviews with the ministers before the EU Council meetings, while the Senate would concentrate more on documents of a long-term impact, the constitutional foundations of the EU and its further development, etc. A greater interest of the Senate for the common foreign and security policy is also noticeable. This logic corresponds to the purpose of Czech bicameralism, where the Chamber of Deputies is the chamber creating and controlling the government, while the Senate fulfils the role of the chamber of reflection. It may as well draw at once attention to the issues mostly overlooked by the government and its lower house majority.
It is precisely the possibility of the division of labour that was one of the reasons why a joint European committee of both chambers has not been established. Among the other reasons we may mention the necessary agreement on the composition of the committee and the mode of adopting its decisions. Senators (81) did not want namely to lose their equal footing on European affairs and intended to be secure against being out-voted by the 200 deputies. Although the government made a statement favouring a joint committee, it did so only during the consideration of both proposals of the amendment of the rules of procedure.
Question nr. 3 - Government/Senate relations in EU affairs.
The amendment of the Rules of Procedure allowed the Senate to express itself with full knowledge of the matter on the most diverse European acts whose shape may be influenced by the government. It is precisely the executive as part of the European legislator (in many areas it acts anew instead of the Parliament) that is the addressee of the Senate positions and recommendations. Moreover, the Senate may request information on the way the government has dealt with its recommendation, as the case may be why it did not act upon it. The Parliamentary reservation preventing the government to vote in the Council until the Senate adopts a position has been already mentioned in the answer to the question nr. 1.
The right of the Senate to be consulted concerning the candidates for EU bodies was discussed a few years ago, but senators themselves refused it. The Chamber of Deputies has on the opposite reserved the right for such non-binding consultations. However, nothing prevents the executive from informing the Senate about its intentions.
As for the transposition of the European directives into domestic law, the legislative process has formally not changes in comparison with the current situation. However, the European Integration Committee that shall consider European law "in the making" shall no longer be the guarantor of the compatibility of the bills with European law within the Senate. Legislative committees shall oversee the compatibility of domestic and European law within the limits of their competencies. The government is bound to submit to the Senate at least once a year a report on the state of play of the transposition of EU law and this should resolve the "lagging behind" of the Czech Republic.
Question nr. 4 - The participation of the Senate in inter-parliamentary collaboration within the EU:
In the past years the Senate has established several bi-lateral contacts in (old and new) EU States. It is also involved in the activity of inter-parliamentary organisations; its representatives are taking part in international parliamentary conferences, etc. The Conferences of the Presidents of Parliaments and the COSAC, possibly as well the Association of European Senates, have more importance from the point of view of the activity in the EU. The lastly mentioned bodies could contribute to a continuous exchange of information that is one of the conditions for a successful use of the control mechanism of the subsidiarity and proportionality principles.
Question nr. 5 - Possible changes of the regulations concerning the position of the Senate in EU affairs:
In view of the date of the accession of the Czech Republic to the EU no experience-based judgments can be made on the efficiency of the selected model of the involvement of the Senate into the European agenda. After the elapsing of approximately one year the efficiency of the parallel activity of both chambers is to be evaluated and if need be the shaping of a joint European committee should be considered. It will be possible at the same time to eliminate relevant shortcomings and react to the final version of the European Constitutional Treaty (especially on the mediated access of national Parliaments to the European Court of Justice).