The need to strengthen Parliament's power of scrutiny over EU funding of projects in third countries (e.g. promoting development cooperation, stability, or democracy and human rights), was reiterated by MEPs in the Development, Foreign Affairs and International Trade committees this week.
With the Lisbon Treaty in force, Parliament co-decides with the Council on almost all new laws, but lacks real control over EU instruments for development cooperation, promoting stability in third countries, cooperating with industrialised countries and promoting democracy and human rights.
No loyal co-operation among co-legislators
MEPs in the three committees voiced concern that the Council had decided on 10 December 2010 to reject the use of the "delegated acts" procedure, which would strengthen Parliament's powers of scrutiny over Commission spending under these external financing instruments, and instead ask Parliament to accept the Council's (first reading) position without further negotiation.
"What we are asking is to be treated on equal footing with Council when exercising the democratic scrutiny rights", said Parliament's rapporteur on the Development Co-operation Instrument, Gay Mitchell (EPP, IE), in the Development Committee.
"On this issue the Council has been as mobile as a concrete wall" complained Charles Goerens (ALDE, LU), in the Development Committee, adding that the Council's refusal to examine Parliament's counter proposal was contrary to the principle of loyal co-operation between the two institutions.
Need to create a strong precedent
Failing to introduce the delegated acts procedure could also create a poor precedent, rather than a strong one, for forthcoming negotiations on all EU financing instruments for 2014-2020. "If we lose this battle, we may have to wait for a new Treaty in order to finally obtain the powers that the Lisbon Treaty is giving us now", said Mr Mitchell.
To strengthen democracy, Lisbon Treaty Article 290 does in fact empower Parliament, as co-legislator with the Council, to object to or even revoke certain decisions proposed by the Commission on where and how money is spent. According to the MEPs, this should be done via the so-called "delegated acts" procedure.
Consequently, Parliament voted by a large majority, at its October 2010 first reading, to apply this procedure to external assistance financing instruments. The Council's rejection of this position led the three committees to recommend that Parliament re-table its first reading demands at the second reading.
Quick reaction from Council needed to unblock funds
As the disbursement of funds for a multitude of projects financed by these EU instruments is currently blocked because of this legislative impasse, MEPs call on the Council "to react as quickly as possible to Parliament's second reading position in order to ensure that a solution can be found and that funds can be unblocked as soon as possible".
The whole package of proposals for the revision of the EU financial instruments for external assistance could be put on the agenda of the February plenary session for a second reading vote, which - if Parliament's position is not taken up by the Council - will most likely end up in conciliation.
Strategy papers for geographic and thematic programmes, as well as multiannual indicative programmes drafted by the Commission for the external co-operation instruments "shall be adopted by means of delegated acts", according to Parliament's first reading position. This would give the European Parliament a de facto veto, by enabling it to block these strategy papers and multiannual programmes and require the Commission to present amended proposals.
Two recommendations for second reading on the financing instrument for development cooperation drafted by Gay Mitchell (EPP, IE) and Charles Goerens (ALDE, LU) and another for the promotion of human rights and democracy, drafted by Barbara Lochbihler (Greens/EFA, DE) and Kinga Gal (EPP, HU) were adopted by the Committees on Development and Foreign Affairs. The Committee on International Trade adopted its recommendations for second reading regarding the Financing instrument for co-operation with industrialised countries, by Helmut Scholz (GUE/NGL, DE). So far, Parliament has not received Council's position on the Instrument for Stability, rapporteur Franziska Brantner (Greens/EFA, DE).
In the Chair: Gabriele ALBERTINI (EPP, IT), Eva JOLY (Greens/EFA, FR) and Vital MOREIRA (S&D, PT)