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The Chamber of Deputies and the European Union

The Czech Republic, along with nine other states, became a member of the European Union on 1 May 2004. This was the climax of almost fifteen years of efforts to integrate into the European structures, initiated soon after the November revolution in 1989.

Already during the preparations for membership of the Czech Republic in the European Union, the Chamber of Deputies was involved in the discussions on the issues related to integration. On the basis of the so-called European Association Agreement negotiated in 1993 and entering into force in February 1995, the Parliamentary Association Committee was created, which served as a forum for the exchange of views between the members of the Parliament of the CR on the one hand and the members of the European Parliament on the other.

After the elections in 1998, a key player in European affairs was the newly established Committee for European Integration. Its main task was to monitor the process of transposition and implementation of European legislation in the Czech Republic. In the final phase of the preparations for membership in the European Union, also most of the discussions on the form of parliamentary oversight of European affairs and on the relationship between the government and the Parliament in implementing this oversight took place on the grounds of the Committee for European Integration. The past experience of the fifteen states that were then EU members served as a guide.

Parliamentary oversight of European affairs has a different form in each member state, reflecting the local customs and the constitutional traditions of that state. The choice of the model for the involvement of the national parliament in the discussion of European affairs is thus a purely national matter. In general, it is possible to distinguish between member states whose Parliament has a strong influence on the position of their government and states where this influence is weaker.

The states whose parliaments may exercise a veto and enforce changes to the position of their government held in EU structures include primarily Denmark, Austria and Finland. The opposite model is implemented especially in the countries of southern Europe, whose parliaments can neither influence nor reject the position of their government in discussions in the Council of the EU.
At the level of the European Union, the role of national parliaments in European law making was first addressed in the Maastricht Treaty. The Declaration (No. 13) on the Role of National Parliaments called on governments to ‘ensure, inter alia, that national parliaments receive Commission proposals for legislation in good time for information or possible examination’. The subsequent Treaty of Amsterdam already contained the Protocol on the Role of National Parliaments in the European Union, which provided the basic rules for keeping national parliaments informed of EU developments, including rules for the delivery of legislative proposals. In addition, it also provided for inter-parliamentary cooperation between national parliaments. The Protocol further emphasised, among others, that ‘the way in which national parliaments scrutinise their governments in relation to the activities of the Union is a matter for the particular constitutional organisation and practice of each member state’.

The role of national parliaments was further strengthened by the Treaty of Lisbon, which allowed national parliaments to participate in EU affairs in several areas. The most important of these is the role of national parliaments as guardians of the subsidiarity principle in the legislative process of the EU in areas that do not fall within the exclusive competence of the Union. The Protocol (No. 2) on the Application of the Principles of Subsidiarity and Proportionality gives a national parliament or a chamber thereof a period of ‘eight weeks from the date of transmission of a draft legislative act, in the official languages of the Union,’ for the adoption of ‘a reasoned opinion stating why it considers that the draft in question does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity’. If the number of such reasoned opinions reaches a specified quorum, the proposal must either be re-examined (‘yellow card’) or it may even be rejected by the Council or the European Parliament (‘orange card’).

In addition, the Treaty of Lisbon inserted a new Article 12 into the Treaty on European Union, which for the first time explicitly enshrines the role of national parliaments in actively contributing to the good functioning of the Union. In addition to subsidiarity control, this includes the right to be informed by the institutions of the Union and to receive draft legislative acts of the Union, participation in the revision of the EU’s founding treaties, and involvement in the political scrutiny of the activities of Europol and in the evaluation of the activities of Eurojust. Last but not least, national parliaments ‘contribute actively to the good functioning of the Union’ by participating in inter‑parliamentary cooperation between the European Parliament and national parliaments, either through permanent bodies such as the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union (COSAC) or various ad hoc meetings.
The Czech Republic has selected the model of a moderate oversight role of the Parliament with respect to the government, grounded in the information obligations of the government towards the parliament. As a consequence of the constitutional principle of the accountability of the government to the Chamber of Deputies, a stronger oversight function has been implemented in the case of the Chamber of Deputies than in the case of the Senate.

The constitutional basis for the involvement of both chambers of the Czech Parliament in the oversight of the creation of European legislation is Article 10b of the Constitution of the Czech Republic, adopted within the ‘Euro-Amendment’ of the Constitution already in 2001. Its wording establishes the obligation of the government to inform the Parliament regularly and in advance on issues related to the obligations arising for the Czech Republic from its membership in an international organisation or institution. One such international organisation is the European Union. The specification of the method of expression by the two chambers of the Parliament has been left by the Constitution to their Rules of Procedure.
An amendment to the Rules of Procedure of the Chamber of Deputies, provided for by the Constitution, came into force just after the accession of the Czech Republic to the European Union on 7 May 2004. On the basis of this amendment, the European agenda was newly included among the exhaustively defined competences of the Chamber of Deputies and the Rules of Procedure were supplemented by a section on the method of discussing issues of the European Union. The key role in the parliamentary oversight fell to the Committee for European Integration, renamed the Committee for European Affairs, which became one of the seven statutory committees. The provisions of the Rules of Procedure relating to the European agenda took their current form after the amendment in 2009 in response to the strengthening of national parliaments by the Treaty of Lisbon.

The discussion of EU Issues contained in Section 15 A of the Rules of Procedure of the Chamber of Deputies regulates not only the discussion of the actual draft acts and other documents of the European Union, but also the discussions of the position of the government at meetings of the Council and the personal nominations for the Czech Republic to European institutions. In all three of these areas, the Rules of Procedure have entrusted the decisive role to the Committee for European Affairs.

Draft legislative acts and other documents of the European Union are presented to the Committee for European Affairs by the government along with its standpoint. The distinction between legislative acts of the Union and other EU documents is also contained in Article 2 of the Government Directive on the Procedure for Handling Documents of the Council and Other Documents of the European Union, a key document by which the government has regulated its internal mechanism for cooperation with the Parliament of the CR. The Directive regulates the procedure for ministries and other bodies of state administration when handling documents of the Council and other EU documents and when discussing EU issues in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. What is essential for the deliberations in the Chamber of Deputies is the definition of a legislative act as a legal act in accordance with Article 289(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union in Article 2 of the Directive, determining the deadline for the obligation of the government to present its preliminary opinion on the drafts. Since the Rules of Procedure do not specify a time limit for the presentation of such an opinion, the Government Directive on the Procedure for Handling Documents of the Council and Other Documents of the European Union imposes an obligation on the government, or the party responsible, to prepare an opinion (referred to as a ‘framework position’) on each draft legislative act. The deadline for the preparation of a framework position is fifteen working days from being authorised. For a document other than a draft legislative act, the party responsible prepares a framework position only if the Chamber of Deputies or the Senate decides to discuss the document, namely within fifteen working days of receipt of the request for an opinion. Framework positions are submitted to the Chamber of Deputies by being entered into the relevant ISAP database. At the level of the government, the compliance with the obligations of the individual parties responsible for the timely preparation of framework positions for the Parliament is overseen by the Compatibility Department of the Office of the Government.

The Committee for European Affairs discusses draft legislative acts and documents without undue delay. The discussion takes place on the basis of a preliminary opinion of the government and a report from the rapporteur. The discussion results in the adoption of a resolution by the committee. Considering its function as the guarantor of the monitoring and evaluation of all the documents sent by the government, the Committee for European Affairs may decide to refer a draft act or other document for discussion to another committee responsible. The Chairperson of the Committee for European Affairs or the chairperson of the committee responsible then refers the resolution adopted to the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies. Within eight days from the adoption of the resolution, he or she may also ask the Speaker to place the resolution on the agenda of the plenary. This request may also be made by the government. Because of the large number of drafts presented primarily by the Commission each year, this procedure is used only exceptionally – for acts of key importance. Its frequent and consistent implementation would, in effect, paralyse the functionality and effectiveness of the parliamentary scrutiny of European affairs.

For this reason, a legal fiction is constructed in the Rules of Procedure of the Chamber of Deputies, according to which a resolution of the Committee for European Affairs is considered to be an expression of the Chamber of Deputies unless the resolution of the committee is included in the agenda of the next meeting of the Chamber of Deputies. The government is obliged to take such an expression of the Chamber of Deputies into account when formulating its position during discussions in EU institutions.

In this conception, the legal regulation of the position of the Committee for European Affairs becomes particularly important in situations where the committee, as the ‘guardian’ of the compliance of draft EU legislative acts with the principle of subsidiarity, decides that a particular draft legislative act violates the principle of subsidiarity and adopts a reasoned opinion on it, which must be done within the eight-week time limit set by EU primary law.
Resolutions of committees or of the Chamber of Deputies along with draft legislative acts and EU documents are made available to the public on the internet in a special ‘EU Documents’ database. The Committee for European Affairs thus endeavours to increase the transparency of the European agenda and make it more accessible to the citizens.

The communication between the Committee and the government should, however, not end with the adoption of the resolution on a bill being discussed. The bill may undergo substantial changes during discussions in the working groups of the Council and its final form may significantly differ from the one agreed on in the committee. Therefore, the Rules of Procedure confer on the Committee for European Affairs the important right to request before a meeting of the Council the presence of a member of the government who is going attend it. The member of the government is obliged to attend the committee meeting and provide information on the position which the Czech Republic will assume on the given issue at the meeting of the Council. This arrangement may also serve as an instrument for the monitoring and control of how the government has taken into account potential previous expressions of the Chamber of Deputies on a particular issue.
The Rules of Procedure also provide that the government will not assume a final position at the discussions of the Council until the above-mentioned procedure for the consideration of a legislative or other act has been completed in the Chamber of Deputies. This is a classic institution of parliamentary scrutiny of the European agenda, referred to as a parliamentary proviso. Its aim is to reach a consensual position that would reflect the interests of the Czech Republic, represented by the government and supported by the Parliament, at the Council’s meetings.

A specific area of the activities of the Committee for European Affairs are the personnel nominations on behalf of the Czech Republic for the post of European Commissioner, Judge of the European Court of Justice, and nominations to the bodies of the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The committee discusses these nominations before the government takes a final decision on them.

The amendment to the Rules of Procedure adopted in connection with the entry of the Treaty of Lisbon into force has introduced several new features in the section devoted to the discussion of European affairs. In addition to the above-mentioned possibility for the Chamber of Deputies to adopt a resolution containing a reasoned opinion stating why it considers that a draft legislative act does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity, the provisions of Section 15A have been enriched by a regulation on an action for infringement of the principle of subsidiarity by an act of the European Union in reaction to Article 8 of the Protocol (No. 2) on the Application of the Principles of Subsidiarity and Proportionality, which gives the Court of Justice of the EU jurisdiction to rule on actions brought under Article 263 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union by a Member State on behalf of its national parliament or a chamber thereof.
Whereas the institution of an action for infringement of the principle of subsidiarity by an EU act under Article 8 of Protocol No. 2 has not yet been invoked, the second novelty, in the form of the prior consent of the Chamber of Deputies, is activated on average once a year (four times in the seventh as well as eighth terms of office). Its purpose is to ‘compensate’ for the decline in the international-treaty capacity of the Chamber of Deputies in cases where the Treaty of Lisbon allows for the amendment or supplementation of the founding treaties on the basis of evolutionary, transitional and self-amendment provisions, i.e. without the need for ratification by the member states, or where a particular legal act necessary to achieve one of the objectives set out in the Treaties is to be adopted under Article 352 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, without the Treaty providing the necessary powers to do so, and where it is not a measure necessary for the functioning of the internal market. To this end, the Rules of Procedure provide in Article 109i(a)–(f) an exhaustive list of cases in which the Government of the Czech Republic cannot give its consent when voting at the European Council or the Council of the EU without the prior consent of the Chamber of Deputies.

It is clear that the Constitution as well as the Rules of Procedure of the Chamber of Deputies entrust the Chamber of Deputies, specifically its Committee for European Affairs, with relatively significant powers in the area of the European agenda. It would not be possible to exercise these powers without the high-quality professional base ensured by the secretariat of the committee in close cooperation with the Parliamentary Institute. The systematic processing of information and documents provided by the government and European institutions is a prerequisite for the effective involvement of the national parliament in the discussion of European affairs.

In contrast to the relatively brief regulation of the discussion of European Union issues in the Rules of Procedure of the Chamber of Deputies, the Rules of Procedure of the Senate have been amended more extensively and in greater detail in connection with membership of the Czech Republic in the EU. On the basis of this amendment, a key role in EU affairs has been given to the committees in charge, namely the Committee on EU Affairs, which replaced the Committee for European Integration, and the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security. The fundamental difference from the regulation of the discussion of European affairs in the Chamber of Deputies is the absence of the fiction of a plenary opinion, which means that the only relevant output, both for the government and the European institutions, is the resolution of the Senate’s plenary.

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Foreign Activities of the Chamber of Deputies

Foreign affairs and the formation of the state’s foreign policy have historically been understood and implemented as an exklusive right of the ruler, which subsequently passed to the government. Parliamentary intervention in the field of foreign policy is relatively recent. The independent foreign policy activities of the parliament are primarily related to the internationalisation of domestic economic and political activities.

If certain decisions fundamentally affect the character of the state and can have a direct impact on the citizens of the state, they cannot remain outside the control of the parliament, which is the elected representative of the citizens. Otherwise, there is the danger that the foreign policy activities of the state would not have enough support among the public, the decision making would lack legitimacy and there would be a democratic deficit, i.e. a transfer of decision making away from the control of the elected body.
International relations continue to be relationships between sovereign states and are an activity with an emphasis on the ability to act and react quickly and consistently.
The main task of the parliament is to approve and retrospectively confirm, in other words to give the already-mentioned legitimacy to government decisions, and not to run foreign policy directly.
The Constitution of the Czech Republic assigns competence in the field of foreign policy mainly to the executive branch, i.e. the government and the President. Nevertheless, the parliament (in the framework of asymmetric bicameralism primarily the Chamber of Deputies) exercises a general oversight function over the government and is the exclusive legislator in the state. This fact implies a specific interference in the foreign and security policy of the state. In addition, the parliament exercises an independent parliamentary diplomacy, unrelated to its oversight activities with respect to the government. Parliamentary diplomacy makes it possible to present the views of the opposition and helps partners abroad to analyse the full spectrum of opinions ona given issue, thus providing them with information on how foreign policy might develop should the government change.
Regarding specific involvement in foreign and security policy arising from the general oversight function, this group primarily includes giving consent to the ratification of international treaties under Articles 10a and 49 of the Constitution. Article 10a provides that an international treaty may delegate some powers of the bodies of the Czech Republic to an international organisation or institution and that the ratification of such an international treaty requires the consent of the Parliament unless a constitutional act stipulates that the ratification requires approval given in a referendum.
Article 49 of the Constitution subsequently states that the ratification of international treaties regulating the rights and obligations of persons, alliance, peace and other political treaties, treaties from which the membership of the Czech Republic in an international organisation arises, further economic treaties of a general character, and international treaties on other issues whose regulation is reserved to the law requires the approval of both chambers of the parliament. The proposal for consent to ratification is presented separately to the two chambers. The chambers decide by resolution and each chambre has its own procedure for giving its consent to the ratification of an international treaty. The adoption of a treaty under Article 10a requires the consent of a three-fifth majority of all the deputies and a three-fifth majority of the senators present.
In the case of consent to ratification, the two chambers are equal and the order of ratification is not important. If one of the chambers does not give its consent, the treaty cannot be ratified.
Another area in which the parliament has significant competence and which is closely related to the foreign policy orientation of the state is deciding on the participation of the Czech Republic in defence systems ofan international organisation of which the Czech Republic is a member, and expressing agreement with the deployment of Czech troops abroad and with the stay of foreign troops in the Czech Republic, or the confirmation of the government’s decision on the passage of the armed forces of other states through the state, on the participation ofthe armed forces of the Czech Republic in military exercises outside the territory of the state, and on the participation of the armed forces of other states in military exercises in the Czech Republic pursuant to Article 43 of the Constitution. The government may decide on the deployment of the armed forces of the Czech Republic and on the stay of the armed forces of other countries without the consent of the parliament for a maximum period of sixty days in respect of the fulfilment of obligations arising from an international treaty, participation in peacekeeping operations pursuant to a decision of an international organisation of which the Czech Republic is a member, and participation in rescue work in the event of natural disasters, industrial or environmental accidents. The deployment or stay of more than sixty days must be approved by the parliament.
The government must inform the parliament of its decision regarding the stay, deployment, transit or participation of the armed forces in military exercises. The parliament may overrule its decision, for which a dissenting resolution of either chamber passed by a majority of all the members of that chamber is sufficient.
Article 43 of the Constitution also provides for the proclamation of belligerency. This is not a declaration of war, but a regulation of the domestic situation in the event of an attack on the state.
Regarding the scrutiny of the government in foreign affairs, the parliament (in this case the Chamber of Deputies), can use the same range of instruments as it utilises in other areas of parliamentary scrutiny of the government. These include, in particular, interpellations, requests for explanation from both individual deputies and committees, requests for reports, etc.
Interpellations may relate not only to specific foreign policy issues, but also to the definition of the relationship between the government and the President and the creation of a unified foreign policy line.
The most powerful instrument of control in the Chamber of Deputies is a vote of no confidence in the government. However, this instrument has not yet been used in the context of foreign policy.
Another way of influencing the foreign policy decisions of the government is to adopt political declarations or other forms of resolutions on foreign policy issues. Also the Chamber of Deputies has resorted to this step several times. It is necessary to mention that the adoption of a declaration involves to a large extent not only an indirect dialogue with the government but also a way of communication between the representative body and the public. The Chamber of Deputies in this way adopted, for example, a declarationon the Decrees of the President of the Republic (Beneš Decrees) concerning the expulsion of Germans after the Second World War, in which, among other things, it expressed itself on the opening of questions connected with the end of the Second World War.
An important role in the Parliament’s foreign policy is played by the committees on foreign affairs of both chambers.
First of all, it is the existence of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, which is not a mandatory committee but has been regularly established since the emergence of the independent state as a committee of the Chamber of Deputies designated to discuss foreign policy issues. As far as legislative work is concerned, the committee deals only with acts with a foreign element. Its main activity consists of negotiating consent to international treaties. It is the guarantor of all international treaties, regardless of their substantive content. The committee also discusses the relevant chapters of the state budget bill and the draft state final account. It is the scrutiny of the foreign policy budget chapter that is an important instrument of the parliamentary scrutiny of the government’s activities.
The growing agenda related to the accession of the Czech Republic to the EU has led to the creation of a specific procedure for scrutinising the activities of the government within the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). The method of discussing the CFSB reflects a special decision–making procedure at the level of EU Institutions, where there is no time limit set for the deliberations of the EU institutions. Therefore, the committee continually monitors individual EU foreign policy topics.
The Committee on Foreign Affairs is in contact with partner committees in Europe and around the world and represents the parliamentary dimension of the Czech Republic’s foreign policy. It also receives new ambassadors-designate of the Czech Republic and discusses their proposed concepts of action.
The Senate establishes a Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security. This committee covers a broader portfolio than the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Chamber of Deputies, which is because of the lesser powers of the Senate in relation to the government in matters of foreign policy, defence and security. In particular, the committee of the Senate does not have budgetary control powers.
Another form of the parliament’s influence on the foreign policy of the CR is the exercise of parliamentary diplomacy, which consists in sending its own delegations abroad and receiving foreign delegations or in participating in various parliamentary conferences or in the activities of deputies and senators in inter–parliamentary assemblies (for permanent delegations, see the chapters on the status of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate). The task of parliamentary diplomacy is not so much to resolve potential conflicts as to prevent them.
The establishment of personal contacts, mediation of experience, and joint discussions on issues of bilateral relations as well as on global problems are usually means of mutual understanding or sharing knowledge on the operation of parliaments or on legislation. Parliamentary diplomacy can also maintain contacts with states or territories that are problematic for the government.
Another platform for the execution of foreign policy activities in the Chamberof Deputies is the existence of permanent delegations to inter-parliamentary organisations and inter-parliamentary assemblies. In this form, there are permanent delegations to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the Central European Initiative.
The Parliament’s Permanent Delegation to the Inter-Parliamentary Union has groups of friends. Under the rules of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, official groups of friends may only be established between the parliaments of the independent states and territories.
Members of the Chamber of Deputies also establish independent foreign policy relations through groups of friends, which are organised on the basis of cooperation in the Inter-Parliamentary Union and serve to deepen contacts between parliaments within a given geographical framework.
The parliament may also establish unofficial groups of friends with parliaments that are not involved in cooperation within the Inter-Parliamentary Union. The Chamber of Deputies thus created a group of the friends of Taiwanin the early 1990s despite the fact that the CR does not have direct diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
In addition to permanent delegations and groups of friends, representatives of both chambers participate in cooperation within the parliamentary dimension of the Visegrad Group, which brings together the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland. Regular meetings are held at the level of the speakers of the two chambers as well as individual parliamentary committees.
An example of the use of parliamentary diplomacy can be seen in an intervention of the Speaker of the Senate in 2001, Petr Pithart, who went to Cuba to negotiate with the regime there over the fate of two Czech citizens who had been imprisoned for their contacts with Cuban dissidents. Besides the Speaker of the Czech Senate, also the Inter-Parliamentary Union was involved in the negotiations for their release.
A similar manifestation of the distinctive diplomacy of a parliamentary chamber was the trip of the Speaker of the Senate to Taiwan in 2020.
An important part of the parliament’s foreign activities is also its work within inter-parliamentary development cooperation. The Chamber of Deputies has participated in many twinning projects. Under its leadership, a twinning project was implemented to strengthen the capacity of the Parliament of the CR in European affairs in Moldova. Furthermore, the Chamber of Deputies was also involved, for instance, in the implementation of an EU technical cooperation project in the parliament in Lebanon. In cooperation with international organisations, Chamber of Deputies experts helped to create parliamentary research and information centres in North Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania. Last but not least, the Chamber of Deputies has been actively engaged in the INTER PARES project, within which parliaments of EU member states assist in the development of parliamentary administration in third countries.

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International Cooperation

Permanent Delegation to the Central European Initiative

Head of delegation

Permanent Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE

Head of delegation