LAST UPDATE: 20.07.2018; 16:03

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. The Committee 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 EU 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 by the Committee. Sound and video recordings are permitted.

The deliberations of the EU 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.

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.

Introductory statements by the Federal Government

Prior to the debate on an EU project the competent member of the Federal Government or another 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 are adopted by a majority of the committee members present. They 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. For more information, see the chapter on Participation Rights of the Austrian Parliament. 

Room to negotiate at EU level: binding opinions are rare

Opinions that bind Austria’s representatives in the EU Council are rare, and even those that commit the relevant Government minister to a certain position still leave him or her some elbow room. This is because in practice, it may be important for ministers to have some flexibility over their negotiating position in the case of difficult negotiations in the Council. As a result, the Committee tends to make recommendations rather than adopt rigid positions.

The EU Sub-Committee

The EU Sub-Committee deliberates on both legislative and non-legislative EU Projects. The EU treaties provide the EU with competence to pass legislative instruments. There are two main types of 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 on the sittings of the EU Sub-Committee is similar to that of the EU Main Committee. The sittings are open to the public under similar conditions, and members adopt opinions and communications by majority votes. Communications previously adopted by the Sub-Committee can be found here. 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.