LAST UPDATE: 12.04.2018; 10:11

The National Council and the EU

In the National Council the competence for deliberating on EU projects and the adoption of opinions is in principle vested in the Main Committee (B-VG Art. 23 k(2)). Whenever it deals with EU matters it is referred to as the Main Committee on Matters of the European Union. Procedural details are enshrined in the Rules of Procedure Law (§§ 31 b to 31 e GOG-NR).

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.

For deliberations on all other questions within the scope of the rights of participation in the legislative process of the EU the Main Committee elects a Standing Sub-Committee on matters of the European Union. In individual cases the Main Committee may, however, decide to re-assume responsibilities entrusted to the Sub-Committee.

Committee deliberations

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

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. In the course of these deliberations Members may adopt opinions by which they give binding instructions to individual members of the government for negotiations in the EU Council, from which they can only depart under extremely limited conditions and after consultation with both committees.

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. 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 to make recommendations rather than adopt rigid positions.

The EU Sub-Committee

The EU Sub-Committee deliberates on projects and subjects of secondary EU law, for which the EU derives from the primary-law treaties its competence to pass legislative instruments: Regulations, which take immediate legal effect in all EU countries, and Directives, which have to be transposed into national law. The Committee has 21 members.

Committee deliberations

Procedure in the sittings of the EU Sub-Committee is similar to that of the EU Main-Committee. The sittings are open to the public in similar conditions; members adopt opinions and recommendations by majority votes. The deliberations of the EU Sub-Committee are summarised in records which are published on the internet as Annex V to the stenographic records of the National Council.