The EU Main Committee
The EU Main Committee deals with changes in primary law, i.e. treaties such as the Treaty of Lisbon or treaties concerning the enlargement of the EU, and items on the agenda of the European Council. It is composed of 21 members and is chaired by the President of the National Council.
The sittings of the Main Committee on EU matters are open to the public unless the European Union has ruled to the contrary, as is the case when confidential (designated as “confidentiel”) or secret (designated as ”secret“) EU documents are up for discussion. The degree of confidentiality is determined by the EU institutions. However, the public may also be excluded by a majority decision taken upon the proposal of a committee member. Sound and video recordings are permitted.
The participation of Austrian Members of the European Parliament
Austrian Members of the European Parliament have the right to attend committee sittings in an advisory capacity, so that they can inform the committee members about the current state of negotiations in the European Parliament.
The deliberations of the Main Committee on matters of the European Union are summarised in records which are published on the internet as Annex IV to the stenographic records.
Introductory statements by the Federal Government
Prior to inception of the debate on an EU project the competent member of the Federal Government or a representative of the competent ministry delegated by him/her will usually be given an opportunity to make an introductory statement. The object is to inform committee members of the current state of negotiations and Austria’s position on the project in question. In the subsequent debate every committee member is free to table motions concerning the opinion to be adopted. These will be put to the vote once the discussion has ended.
Opinions, which are adopted by a majority of the committee members present, are intended to contribute to the process of defining Austria’s negotiating position vis-à-vis the EU authorities. For more information, see the chapter Participation Rights of the Austrian Parliament.
Room to negotiate at EU level: binding opinions are rare
Opinions that would be binding for Austria’s representatives in the EU Council are rare, and even those that would commit the Government member in question will still leave him or her some elbowroom. This is, above all, due to the fact that many politicians have come to consider this instrument to be of little practical value. In difficult negotiations in the Council it may be highly important to keep one’s negotiating position fairly flexible. As a result, there is a tendency make recommendations rather than adopt rigid positions.