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Rights of Participation of the Austrian Parliament

Involvement in EU Legislation

Austria’s accession to the EU meant that some legislative powers were transferred to the European Union. EU Regulations have direct effect in all EU member states without needing to be implemented at national level, while EU Directives have to be implemented through national law. This means that Directives give individual member states some flexibility as to the form they should take in national law. When Austria joined the EU, care was taken to give Parliament the power to influence the negotiating and voting position and of members of the Austrian government who represent Austria at EU level in the Council of the EU and the European Council. This helped ensure that the Austrian Parliament could influence European legislation before its adoption.

By taking position on matters they deem to be important, both the National and the Federal Council can instruct the competent Federal minister or Federal Chancellor on what their negotiating position should be or even how they should vote, during the negotiation phase in the Council of the EU or the European Council. This means that, with respect to EU matters, the Austrian Parliament can actually be active before a decision is taken at EU level.

What is more, the National and Federal Councils can address communications directly to the EU organs to make their position clear. They do this through the "political dialogue" with national parliaments, initiated in 2006 by the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso. This mean of exchanging information is known as the "Barroso Initiative". Through the Barroso Initiative, national parliaments were able to state their positions on all EU legislative proposals regarding legislative acts and state their positions on the matter in Hand even before the Lisbon treaty came into force in 2009.

Assessment of Subsidiarity

Another important right of participation is the right to scrutinise the compliance with the subsidiarity principle: the idea that the EU can only legislate in areas which cannot be handled more effectively at regional or national level. This principle was first introduced by the Maastricht Treaty and is now seen as one of the fundamental principles of governance of the EU. The entry into force of the Lisbon-Treaty further strengthened national parliaments’ rights of participation with respect to compliance with the subsidiarity principle. If a parliament feels that a proposed piece of EU legislation runs counter to the subsidiarity principle, it can raise an objection by adopting a reasoned position.

Presenting the "Yellow Card"

This can, however, only be done within eight weeks of the date on which the draft legislation was made available in all EU languages.

If one third or more of the national parliaments in the EU raise an objection within that period, this is known as a "Yellow Card", and the EU Commission has to reconsider its proposal, although it is not obliged to modify its proposal as long as it sets out reasons for not doing so. However, if half of the national parliaments in the EU raise objections to the modified draft within eight weeks, this is known as an "Orange Card". At this point, the positions taken by the national parliaments and the Commission‘s response are then transmitted to the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. If either a majority of governments or Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) agrees that the orange card is justified, then the legislation is defeated outright which means that the Commission has to give adequate reasons why its proposal is in keeping with the subsidiarity principle.

The positions taken by the national parliaments and the Commission‘s response thereto are then transmitted to the European Parliament and the Council of the EU.

In addition to these "early warning mechanisms", the Lisbon Treaty also gave national parliaments the right to bring an action after the adoption of a legislative act which infringes on the subsidiarity principle. Every chamber of an EU national parliament – in Austria, the National or the Federal Council – can independently take legal action before the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Involvement of Committees

These "rights of participation" in EU matters – the right to adopt positions, the political dialogue and the subsidiarity check – are vested in the National Council’s EU Main Committee, its Standing Sub-Committee on Matters of the European Union (Standing EU Sub-Committee) and in the Federal Council’s EU Committee. These committees may also submit concrete EU projects and motions on EU projects to the plenaries of the National and/or Federal Councils for decision. Any decision to bring an Action before the ECJ for violation of the subsidiarity principle is, however, reserved for the plenaries of both chambers.

All modifications of the EU Treaties, the accession of new member states and certain kinds of EU decisions still require the approval or consent of the National and Federal Councils in order to enter into force, and there are a number of cases in which the two chambers can reject a proposal.