EU Commission Seeks Intensive Dialogue with National Parliaments

Austrian Parliament, 6 July 2018

EU College of Commissioners led by President Juncker in a discussion with Austrian parliamentarians

“We intend to listen not only to the voices of governments but also to those of national parliaments”, emphasised Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at his meeting with members of the Austrian Parliament, which was chaired by the President of the Austrian National Council Wolfgang Sobotka and the President of the Austrian Federal Council Inge Posch-Gruska. During their visit to Vienna at the inception of the Austrian Presidency of the Council, Juncker and the Commissioners also visited Parliament, where the exchanges focused on the pre-accession process of Western Balkan countries to the EU, subsidiarity, the EU's Multi-Annual Financial Framework and the issue of Migration.

Hahn on the Western Balkans: Either you export stability or you import instability

There was general agreement on the need for a European perspective for the Western Balkan countries. This priority was also highlighted by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, and the Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn. “Either you export stability or you import instability”, said Hahn in summing up the challenge, adding that it was most of all a matter of developing and consolidating the rule of law. Parliamentarianism could make a significant contribution in this context. He therefore welcomed the initiatives announced by the President of the Austrian National Council, Wolfgang Sobotka, designed to further the development of parliamentarianism in that region, for instance by means of a scholarship programme for parliamentarians and staff of parliamentary Administrations.

Sobotka pointed out the connection between legal certainty and economic issues, noting that the rule of law and security constitute an important basis for investment. In addition, the Austrian Parliament’s Democracy Workshop programme is already supporting Montenegro and Kosovo in educational programmes on parliamentary work and democracy; talks have been initiated with Albania and Serbia is also showing an interest. His statements were endorsed by Inge Posch-Gruska, President of the Austrian Federal Council, who called for the focus to be placed on children, who are the future of Europe, and on children's rights.

Subsidiarity: Commission only intends to do what it has to do

Commission President Juncker made a clear statement on subsidiarity. He urged the Commission to focus on the big issues. “We are quite brutal in this respect and only do what we have to do”, agreed Vice-President Frans Timmermans, who heads the Task Force on Subsidiarity. The Vice-President of the Commission praised Reinhold Lopatka for showing particular commitment to the Task Force and noted that a great deal could be improved in terms of procedures. It must be clear who does what and who is responsible for what. As far as subsidiarity control is concerned, a recent study has attested to the excellent work of the Austrian Parliament. In this context, however, Timmermans noted that many parliaments were confusing subsidiarity control with criticism of the content of legislative proposals.

The Austrian Parliament has been a harsh critic of the delegated legal acts adopted in increasing numbers by the Commission, and which exclude parliamentary participation. In this respect Timmermans sees the ball in the field of the MS Governments. He noted that the Commission did not at all insist on this way of proceeding, but Member States often refused to accept responsibility in this context. Juncker added that he was “allergic” to the delegated acts.

Timmermans on migration: A sustainable solution necessarily involves changes to the Dublin system

Timmermans also commented on migration policy and said that a sustainable solution could not avoid changes in the Dublin system; it was not enough merely to protect the external borders. Help is also needed for the regions of Africa. There are no simple solutions, he noted with a nod to the increasing levels of selfishness in Europe.

The Multiannual Financial Framework was another topic, whereby the statements of the Austrian parliamentarians reflected different approaches. Günther Oettinger, Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources, reaffirmed the Commission's position and noted that the EU was the only level that was not allowed to incur debt. Therefore, the Commission envisaged not only spending cuts, for instance in the agricultural sector, but also an increase in the budget and the generation of new own resources in order to be able to cope with the additional tasks and challenges.

In addition to the President of the National Council and the President of the Federal Council, Austrian participants at the meeting included Reinhold Lopatka, Michaela Steinacker, Johannes Schmuckenschlager, Carmen Jeitler-Cincelli, the Chairman of the EU Committee of the Federal Council Christian Buchmann (all ÖVP), the chair of the SPÖ parliamentary group Andreas Schieder, Jörg Leichtfried, the Vice President of the Federal Council Ewald Lindinger (all SPÖ), Petra Steger, Susanne Fürst, Federal Council members Monika Mühlwerth, Georg Schuster and Christoph Längle (all FPÖ), Claudia Gamon (NEOS) as well as Alma Zadić and Bruno Rossmann (both PILZ).

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