In this document you will find information about the procedure on the European policy and legislative process in the Dutch Senate. For general information about the election, procedures and history of the Senate, please check the website of the Dutch Senate.
When the process of reflection on Europe was completed in the Senate in June 2009, it was decided to adopt a new procedure on the European policy and legislative process. This procedure took effect at the start of the 2009-2010 parliamentary year. The new procedure for the Senate’s committees is elaborated in the text below.
As the 'gatekeeper' role of the standing committee for European Afairs (EA) has been abolished, each committee must now itself select which European proposals it wishes to scrutinise. The new procedure provides two selection options for this purpose.
1)Annual Legislative and Work Programme of the European Commission
Each year the European Commission publishes its Legislative and Work Programme. This document contains a general introduction as well as the policy priorities for the coming year and a list of definite proposals. For each proposal the programme lists the proposed title, the type of proposal or act and a description of the scope and objectives. Two examples from the 2009 programme are:
Communication on ICT, R&D and Innovation
Non-legislative action / Commission Communication
The Commission's aims are to propose an ICT research and innovation strategy that enables Europe to lead ICT developments, to support the growth of new businesses and to make better use of ICT innovations to address key socio-economic challenges.
Council recommendation on cross-border aspects of childhood immunisation
Legislative Proposal / Council Recommendation Legal basis:EC Treaty, art. 152 (4c)
The Recommendation concerns childhood immunisation practices for families with
children taking up residence in another Member State and addresses inadequate
vaccination coverage for certain childhood vaccine-preventable diseases. As a result of the free movement in the EU, more and more EU citizens come into contact with healthcare
systems that are organised differently than in their country of origin. Differences in
childhood immunisation schedules may pose a problem for these families and put health
As soon as the programme becomes available, it is put on the agenda in all committees of the Senate. Each committee is asked to indicate which proposals that come within its remit should be scrutinised by parliament. The committee should therefore designate the priority dossiers. As soon as all committees have notified their 'own' priority dossiers, these files are entered in a single list - the annual European Work Programme of the Senate. This list will be placed on the agenda of the Committee of Senior Members of the Senate (the chairs of the parliamentary groups) for forwarding for adoption by the Senate in plenary session. It is up to the committees to determine whether they wish to scrutinise - and consequently place on the list - a directive, regulation, decision, Green Paper, White Paper or any other European document. To emphasise its own responsibility, the Senate will not, unlike previous years, await the government's assessment of the Commission's Legislative and Work Programme.
2)Overview of proposals presented by the European Commission
The European Commission directly presents its new proposals to the national parliaments at the same time as it presents them to the governments, the Council and the European Parliament. The document formally presented is the Dutch version of the proposals. As the work of translating the proposals at European level can take a few weeks, the staff of the Senate produce a list of recently published European proposals, often in English and/or French. This 'List of new European proposals' will be:
-presented weekly by e-mail to all members;
-attached to the provisional agenda of the Senate
-be included in the new European newsletter - EUpdate - with a link to the weekly overviews.
The European proposals on this weekly list will be split according to policy field.
Below is an example of the data available on a proposal:
COM (2009) 260/F of 09/06/2009
Competent agency: Directorate-General for the Tax
and Customs Administration
Proposal for a COUNCIL DECISION on a Community position within the Joint Committee established by the Agreement on the European Economic Area on the adaptation of Protocols 10 and 37 on simplification of inspections and formalities in respect of carriage of goods
All members have the opportunity to indicate on the basis of this 'List of new European proposals' in the committee concerned that they wish to have a proposal put on the committee's agenda. The customary notification system applied in the Senate is used for this purpose. If the committee concerned will not meet that week, a member may also ask the staff of the committee to have the proposal put on the agenda of the next committee meeting.
A European proposal that is being dealt with on the basis of the List of New European proposals by a committee is not included in the list of priority files - the Senate's European Work Programme (see above).
The procedure for dealing with European proposals in the Senate is organised as far as possible in keeping with the procedure for dealing with draft national legislation (bills).
The first time that a European proposal appears on a committee's agenda the 'procedure' is discussed, just as in the case of a national bill. If a European proposal has been classified by the committee as priority (and thus included in the Senate's European Work Programme) it is automatically put on the committee's agenda for discussion of the procedure. If a proposal is selected by a member from the List of New European Proposals, it is thus put on the agenda for 'procedure' on request.
If the committee decides that it does not wish to consider a European proposal, it 'takes note' of the proposal, thereby completing the procedure.
Consideration of proposals
If the committee decides that it does wish to consider a European proposal, it adopts the same procedure in practice as in the case of national bills. The committee decides to undertake a 'preliminary scrutiny' and proposes a date for a submissions meeting for the purpose of written consultations with the government. n receipt of the government's reply, the 'further procedure' is put down on the agenda. If necessary, a date for the 'further submission of written questions' is chosen or a date for oral consultations or possibly even a date for a plenary debate in the Senate. The committee may also terminate its consideration of a proposal at any time by 'taking note' of it.
When European proposals are scrutinised, there is one additional possibility: the subsidiarity check. Under the Treaty of Lisbon, the subsidiarity check should be completed within 8 weeks. This 8-week period applies in cases where a committee wishes to send a response to the European Commission. If a committee decides to complete its consideration of a proposal in discussions with the Dutch government and rely on the government's own efforts, including any objections regarding the subsidiarity of the proposal, it is not bound by the 8-week period. When putting a European proposal on the agenda, a committee should therefore decide as quickly as possible whether 1) there may be subsidiarity objections and, if so, 2) whether it wishes to submit an opinion to the European Commission. The committee may also decide to adopt a twin-track approach, i.e. submit subsidiarity objections to the European Commission and (substantive) questions/objections to the Dutch government.
If a committee decides to carry out a subsidiarity check, it should convene a meeting for submission of comments. Once again, it should be noted that the submission of a specific opinion on subsidiarity can run in parallel with the comments submitted to the government. Any subsidiarity objections of the committee are also passed to the committee of the House of Representatives responsible for policy on the issue in question, with a request to consider whether it shares the view of the Senate and whether the two chambers of the States General should possibly send a joint letter to the European Commission. The reaction of the House of Representatives committee is then discussed in a subsequent committee meeting in the Senate. If necessary, consultations can be held with the House of Representatives committee and, if desirable, a joint letter can be drafted to the European Commission. Such a letter has to be adopted in a plenary session. However, the Senate committee may decide during its consideration of a proposal that it will send a letter on behalf of the Senate alone (signed by the President of the Senate) to the European Commission.
At the request of the Committee of Senior Members of the Senate a separate memorandum has been drawn up on the 'parliamentary scrutiny reserve' as provided for in the Act approving the Treaty of Lisbon.
Once a committee decides to launch the procedure for scrutinising a European proposal an (initially brief) electronic file is prepared at www.europapoort.nl. This file includes the most relevant documents pending consideration of the proposal by the committee. Depending on the stage/intensity of the scrutiny procedure, additional information may be sought. A committee may always submit a request for further information or a request to inform the parliaments of the other EU Member States. The staff of the committee will also inform the members of any specific developments if this is considered necessary for the consideration of the European proposal.
Biannual consultation between the standing committees for Europe of the Senate and the House of Representatives
The letter from the President of the Senate to the President of the House of Representatives concerning proposals for cooperation in relation to Europe includes a proposal for twice-yearly consultations between the Senate's standing committee on European Affairs (EA) and the standing committee on European Affairs (EuZa) of the House of Representatives. These consultations can serve as preparations for the six-monthly plenary COSAC meeting. However, the joint commission meeting also makes it possible for the Senate's committee to bring additional questions, developments and positions to the attention of the committees/members of the House of Representatives. Naturally, these consultations do not prevent one-on-one contact between the committees responsible for policy issues, but they do make it possible for the Senate's committees to bring specific matters to the attention of the House of Representatives through the intermediary of the standing committee on European Affairs (EA). The question of which issues could be raised will therefore be assessed by Senate's committees before the joint consultations of the ESO/EuZa standing committees.
Standing Committee on European Affairs
The Senate's new procedure therefore means that the standing committee on European Affairs (EA) lost its 'gatekeeper' function and thus cease to be the committee charged with first scrutinising all Commission proposals. The committee plays a coordinating role in scrutinising cross-committee proposals and can be requested to be involved by the Senate's committees while scrutinising a specific proposal. To ensure the smooth operation of the procedure, the EA committee will have an almost permanent evaluating role, partly with a view to the planned evaluation of the new procedure.
The EA Committee continues to carry out its existing activities. These include the preparations for the Parliamentary Debate on European Affairs, the interparliamentary contacts, the institutional dossiers and the cooperation with the House of Representatives as well as providing the impetus for debate on European affairs in the Senate.
The European proposals are for the most part scrutinised by reference to the same criteria as draft national legislation. Substantive criteria applied by the Senate include legitimacy (issue of competence), practicability (particularly in the case of European directives which are 'merely' binding as to the result to be achieved, and proposals based on the 'open coordination' method) and enforceability. Attention can also be paid to constitutional aspects, privacy protection, legal coherence and the consequences for Dutch legislation. The principles of subsidiarity (should a proposal be introduced at the European level?) and proportionality (is the correct legislative instrument being used?) provide some guidance in this respect.
Striking features of the Senate's scrutiny of European proposals in recent years have been that:
-much attention has been paid to ensuring the coherence of European and national policy (complementary - contradictory - integral approach);
-specific attention has focused on whether the European proposal provides an adequate and necessary solution to the problem in question;
-checks have regularly been made to ensure compatibility with international conventions/principles such as privacy, fundamental rights protection, UN principles;
-the question of whether the Netherlands really needed the specific proposals was frequently raised;
-doubts were raised about the consistency of different European proposals (and the government's opinion on this).
The Senate of the States General is very internationally oriented. It has also been closely involved in European integration. Within the European Union the role of the national parliaments has been strengthened, partly as a result of diplomatic efforts by members of the Senate. Members of the Senate take part in structured interparliamentary consultations in Europe. National policy and European policy are closely interwoven.
The group of the leaders of all political parties represented in the Dutch Senate felt it would be desirable to examine what activities are and should be undertaken by the Senate through its committees, members and President in the context of parliamentary diplomacy and what the priorities should be.
On 16 November 2010 the group of the leaders of all political parties represented in the Dutch Senate adopted a memorandum on parliamentary diplomacy. The memorandum was an initiative of the (former) President of the Senate, René van der Linden. The aim of this memorandum is to outline the diplomatic activities of the Senate and indicate how the effectiveness of the Senate's work can be enhanced still further through parliamentary diplomacy.
Every three weeks the staff of the Senate will publish a newsletter known as the 'EUpdate'. This will provide information about the progress made in considering the various European proposals in the Senate. For example, a total overview can be provided and any links between different European proposals can be examined. The 'EUpdate' will be distributed by e-mail and in hard copy. As it will be a public document it will also be published on the Senate's websites. This will give third parties the opportunity to respond to specific proposals. The newsletter will also contain information about the European institutions and major European developments.
Partly as a result of the process of reflection on Europe in the Senate, it has also been decided to restructure the Senate's European website. Each Senate committee now has its 'own' page on www.europapoort.nl where it will be possible to find out what European proposals are currently under consideration by the committee concerned. This structure resembles as closely as possible the structure of the Senate website on which the progress of scrutiny of draft legislation per committee can be found. The provision of hyperlinks between www.eerstekamer.nl and www.europapoort.nl will create a user-friendly setting. Members will also easily be able to click on a menu to reach the electronic dossier made for each European proposal and monitor the progress of the proposal in the European institutions.