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Participation in the framing of European policies

Law 234/2012, which has been in force since 19 January 2013, regulates the participation of Italy in the framing and implementation of legislation and policies of the European Union.

Government's reporting obligations

Law 234/2012 places specific obligations on Government to refer and report to the Houses of Parliament. Specifically, Government is required to forward to both Houses of Parliament:

  • upon receipt, draft legislative acts and policy guidance instruments adopted by EU institutions, along with amendments and preparatory documents, a notification of the date on which they will be debated, and, in some instances, an explanatory memorandum containing an assessment of the aforementioned acts and instruments, their urgency and their level of priority. Within 20 days of forwarding those acts to Parliament, Government is also required to produce a technical report that analyses whether they comply with EU principles in terms of responsibilities, likelihood of a negotiated agreement and their potential impact on the legal order of Italy;
  • the consultation documents of the European Commission and any comments submitted by Government to EU institutions;
  • reports and background papers prepared by the Permanent Representation to the EU dealing with: any meetings, including informal, of the EU Council and its preparatory bodies or any trilogues between Parliament, the EU Council and the EU Commission; acts, draft acts or any other initiatives or matters concerning the EU; any pre-litigation and litigation procedures initiated against Italy;
  • quarterly reports on financial flows between Italy and the European Union.

In addition, Government is bound by law to provide the relevant parliamentary bodies with:

  • advance notice of the policy position that it intends to take at meetings of the European Council and, if so requested by the relevant parliamentary bodies, the policy position it intends to take at meetings of the EU Council of Ministers;
  • subsequent notification of the outcome of European Council meetings and EU Council of Ministers meetings within 15 days of their taking place;
  • information about initiatives or issues concerning the Common Foreign and Defence Policy (with particular regard to Defence) discussed by the EU Council of Ministers.

Government shall also provide documentary assistance and information to the relevant offices of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate to the EU institutions through the Permanent Representation of Italy to the EU, in a manner agreed between the President of the Council of Ministers (Premier) and the Presidents of the two Houses of Parliament.

Law 234/2012 requires Government to provide Parliament with:

  • a report, due by the 31st of December of each year, outlining the positions and priorities that Government intends to adopt over the coming year in respect of European integration, institutional matters and individual policies. The Chamber of Deputies considers the foregoing report in concomitance with its examination of the legislative programme of the European institutions;
  • a report, due by the 28th of February of each year, on the actions taken by Italy over the previous year in pursuit of its agenda, including actions undertaken in furtherance of the policy goals adopted by the two Houses of Parliament. The Chamber of Deputies considers the foregoing report in concomitance with its examination of the European Delegation Bill.

At the Chamber of Deputies the reports are considered by all relevant committees, as well as by the EU Policies Committee, which then reports to the Plenary of the Chamber. Consideration of the reports on the Floor of the Chamber usually concludes with the approval of a resolution.

Law 39 of 2011 on public accounting further requires Government to follow the European Semester procedure for the ex-ante coordination of economic policies, which entails promptly reporting to and discussing with Parliament on the drafting of national reform programmes in order to implement in Italy the European Union's agenda for growth and jobs (EU 2020 Strategy).

Law 234/2012 requires Government to apprise the Houses of Parliament of its nomination or designation of Italian members of the European Commission, the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Court of Auditors, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions, the Board of Directors of the European Investment Bank, and European Union agencies. The parliamentary committees may demand to hold hearings with the appointees after the latter have taken office.

Parliamentary scrutiny reserve

Law 234/2012 introduced the prerogative of Parliament to scrutinise EU proposals and legislative acts when, as required by law, they are referred to it by Government. The prerogative may be invoked by either House of Parliament or by Government itself.

In the first case, when Parliament exercises its prerogative, Government must invoke the parliamentary scrutiny reserve before the Council and may not proceed with the drafting of the relevant acts, within the scope of its remit, until the parliamentary scrutiny has been concluded or 30 days have elapsed from when Parliament was informed that the reserve had been invoked. To this end (as envisaged in the opinion of the Committee on the Rules of Procedure of 6 October 2009), the President of the Chamber notifies Government when the parliamentary examination of an act begins.

The second case arises when Government invokes on its own initiative the parliamentary reserve in respect of a proposed act or one or more parts of the same, and informs the Houses of Parliament of its decision. Also in this case, Government may proceed to draft the relevant legislation once the 30-day term has expired even if Parliament has not pronounced itself.

The opinion of 6 October 2009 of the Committee on the Rules of Procedure spells out the prerequisites and procedures for invoking the scrutiny reserve and establishes that, if so requested by the competent parliamentary committee, the President of the Chamber of Deputies must inform Government that Parliament, in exercise of its prerogative, has begun the scrutiny of an act. Committee discussions must be effectively under way before the scrutiny may be reported to Government as having begun, for the mere act of adding the scrutiny of an act to the relevant committee's order of business is not sufficient in itself to initiate the scrutiny.

Other provisions of Law 234/2012

Law 234/2012 decrees Government responsible for ensuring that the policy position it takes at the Council or at other institutions or bodies of the EU is consistent with the policy-setting guidelines it received from Parliament. If Government is unable to comply with Parliament's policy-setting guidelines, the President of the Council of Ministers or the minister responsible must report to the competent parliamentary bodies to explain why.

The same law also prescribes that Government must:

  • preventively consult Parliament about any agreements for the introduction or strengthening of financial or monetary rules or with significant ramifications for the public finances; ensure that, in the negotiation of the agreements in question, its policy position accords with Parliament's policy-setting guidelines; and, if unable to assure accordance with Parliament's guidelines, give due explanation to Parliament for the divergence;
  • apply an "emergency brake", if both Houses have adopted a policy-setting instrument to this end, and demand that the question be submitted to the European Council. The "emergency brake" refers to provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon enabling a Member State to request that - with respect to decisions on the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), the free movement of workers, the mutual recognition of court judgements or the introduction of new categories of offences and certain minimum rules and penalties - the question be referred to the European Council.

Examination of EU draft legislative acts - the Chamber's procedure

Law 234/2012, which codifies consolidated legal practice, asserts that as part of the political dialogue with EU institutions, the Houses of Parliament may forward any document pertinent to the formation of European policies to the institutions of the European Union and, at the same time, to the Italian Government. The law stipulates that when conveying their opinions to the institutions of the EU as part of the political dialogue, the Houses of Parliament should also take account of any observations and proposals made by the subnational governments, assemblies and governing councils of the regions and autonomous provinces.

At the Chamber of Deputies, EU acts and draft legislative acts- forwarded by the Government or by EU institutions - along with the related preparatory documents, are referred for consideration to the relevant committee and, as a general rule, for opinion to the EU Policies Committee.

The relevant committees may adopt a final document, which is transmitted to Government as well as to the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission as part of the political dialogue.

The aforementioned opinion of the Committee for the Rules of Procedure of 6 October 2009 also establishes that the scrutiny carried out by the competent committees under the meaning of Rule 127 should conform as much as possible to the provisions of paragraph 4, 5 and 6 of Rule 79 on pre-legislative scrutiny. They stipulate that parliamentary committees may organise fact-finding hearings and inquiries.

Subsidiarity check - the Chamber's procedure

In compliance with two opinions issued by the Committee on the Rules of Procedure of the Chamber on 6 October 2009 and 14 July 2010, the EU Policies Committee has been tasked on a trial basis with verifying, within 40 days of receiving the assignment, whether draft EU legislative acts comply with the principle of subsidiarity. The parliamentary committee whose remit covers the subject matter in question chooses a rapporteur to take part in the discussion of the EU Policies Committee.

The EU Policies Committee issues a reasoned opinion containing its evaluation of the extent to which the principle of subsidiarity is being respected. Within 5 days of the Committee's publication of its opinion, Government, one fifth of the members of the Committee itself, or one tenth of the members of the House may submit the opinion to the Plenary of the House. In any case, the parliamentary procedure must be concluded within 8 weeks of the transmission of the draft legislative act. The opinion may be referred back to the Committee provided that the referral does not cause the deliberative process to breach the foregoing 8-week term. If an opinion is referred back to the Committee, a request may be made to have the Committee's new decision submitted for fresh consideration by the Floor of the House.

When a favourable opinion of the EU Policies Committee is submitted to the Floor of the House for reconsideration, 20 MPs or one or more Chairpersons of political groups representing an equivalent number of MPs may propose a specific motion setting out the reasons for which they deem the draft legislative act in question to be contrary to the principle of subsidiarity. If no motion is submitted, the matter cannot be debated. Only in cases where a favourable opinion of the EU Policies Committee has been rejected will a vote be held on the motion.

Once approved by the EU Policies Committee or by the Plenary of the Chamber, the documents containing the negative reasoned decision on subsidiarity shall be forwarded by the President of the Chamber of Deputies to the European institutions. The EU Policies Committee may nonetheless expressly request that the documents containing a favourable opinion also be forwarded to the European institutions.

Law 234/2012 stipulates that the subsidiarity check on draft EU legislation implies that regional assemblies must be able to convey their observations to Parliament.