Committees and Plenary meetings
Designated Committees and specialized bodies
The Senate has entrusted the deliberation on the European agenda primarily to two committees: the Committee on EU Affairs and the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security. In the Standing Rules of the Senate, they are referred to as “designated committees”. These two committees share the responsibility for management of scrutiny of EU legislation in the Senate. They decide about selection of documents for scrutiny, about involvement of other committees and about submission of scrutinized documents for plenary debate.
The Committee on EU Affairs deals with all EU policies regulated by the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, i.e. policies falling within the former first and third pillars. When debating EU documents, the Committee focuses on impacts of decision-making of the EU institutions on domestic legal order and on citizens and enterprises. The adherence to the principle of subsidiarity is particularly monitored. During the scrutiny, stakeholders and representatives of the civil society are consulted.
The Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security deals mainly with documents falling within the area of common foreign and security policy. The Committee follows the creation and implementation of foreign and security policy of the EU and discusses proposals for binding measures and other EU documents. Whereas in case of the Committee on EU Affairs, consideration of EU documents makes up the bulk of the agenda, in case of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security, the European agenda complements the Committee’s deliberation of international treaties submitted to the Senate, information provided by the Ministry of Defence and by the Armed Forces and, last but not least, of bills.
Both Designated Committees select EU documents for scrutiny from weekly overviews of annotated draft legislative acts, binding measures and communication documents.
The fact that a draft legislative act has been selected for scrutiny by a Designated Committee constitutes an impediment to participation of a government member in decision-taking with respect to the act in question by a European Union body. The Treaty-based eight-week period for parliamentary scrutiny shall commence with the proposal of a legislative act being made available to the Parliaments of the Member States in all the official languages of the European Union. The government shall provide the Designated Committee with Explanatory Memorandum containing the position of the former to the EU document in question. The governmental position is subsequently presented by the representative of the Ministry responsible during the Committee’s deliberation of the document.
After the debate, the Designated Committee may decide to take the document into account. Alternatively, it can adopt a resolution whereby it forwards the document to the plenary. Annex to the resolution contains a recommendation for the position to be adopted by the Senate.
Besides the Designated Committees, other Senate bodies (committees or commissions) are also involved in the scrutiny of the European legislative process. Designated Committee may request that the body of the Senate which would have subject-matter jurisdiction should a bill be considered, submit its opinion on the document under scrutiny. The specialized committee adopts a resolution whereby it recommends the Designated Committee either to take the document in question into account or to adopt a substantive resolution. In the latter case, it provides the Designated Committee with recommendations as to the content of the resolution.
Over the years, European agenda has become an integral part of the Senate plenary meetings. For instance, preliminary government information on the agenda of a meeting of the European Council and subsequent information on the results thereof is a regular item of the agenda.
The plenary also deals with recommendations adopted by the Designated Committees to the draft legislative acts and other documents of the EU. Moreover, according to the Senate’s Standing Rules, the President of the Senate shall place such documents on the agenda of the earliest meeting. In case a draft legislative act is scrutinized, the President of the Senate is required to call the meeting prior to the elapse of the period of eight weeks set forth in the law of the European Union. The position of the plenary is communicated to the government by which it should be taken into account in all subsequent materials and positions for the meetings of the Council of the EU. The reflexion of the Senate’s resolutions in the governmental positions is evaluated by the European Union Unit in its annually published analyses.
Moreover, plenary resolutions of the Senate are communicated directly to the European Commission. Direct communication of the Commission with the national Parliaments commenced in 2006 and continues also with the Lisbon Treaty in force. The Czech Senate is, together with the French Sénat, German Bundesrat, British House of Lords and Swedish Riksdag, among the most active chambers in this regard. Reactions of the Commission to the Senate’s observations are available in the IPEX database and on the Commission web pages.
Besides the regularly executed powers in the area of preliminary scrutiny of the European legislative process, the Senate has recently acquired important powers by the amendment of the Standing Rules adopted in connection with the Lisbon Treaty. According to this amendment, the government cannot, without prior approval of the Senate, grant its consent in the European Council/Council to the decisions enabling the extension of the EU powers (flexibility clause) or changing unanimity procedure in the Council to qualified majority voting (passerelle clauses). In addition, the Senate may initiate an action for annulment of a legislative act of the EU before the Court of Justice of the EU on the grounds of infringement of the principle of subsidiarity. Similar provisions have been incorporated in the amendment of the Rules of Procedure of the House of Deputies.