Parliamentary monitoring of the Government in EU affairs
According to the Fundamental Law of Hungary, the supreme organ of popular representation is the National Assembly, the most important legislative organ. Since Hungary's accession to the EU on 1 May 2004, there has been a partial transfer of legislative powers to the European Union institutions (such as the European Commission, the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament). However, the partial transfer of legislative activity does not mean a loss of powers; it rather provides the right to exercise these powers at European level together with other Member States.
The acquis communautaire (the EU legal order) has been part of the Hungarian legal system since 1 May 2004, and it has primacy over national legislation. The Treaties constitute the primary European Union law, while secondary European Union law is enacted by the European Union institutions. From the date of EU accession, a relevant segment of legal instruments in force in Hungary has been created by the institutions of the Union. There are policies where the European Union has exclusive competence and which may not be governed by national legislation. Exceptions are established accordingly by EU law. The Treaty of Lisbon defines the domains where the EU can support, coordinate or complement the action of Member States. It also defines the shared competences and the national ones, where national parliaments maintain their legislative power in whole or in part.
The obligation of Member States to harmonise laws may also necessitate national legislative activities. Directives oblige Member States to achieve a certain objective, but they give Member States the option to decide on the means of implementation. Directives thus possibly entail national legislation. The other binding European legal instrument is regulation. As regulations are directly applicable, national legislation may only be necessary in exceptional cases. Third, obligatory decisions may set legislative tasks for national parliaments as well.
The Treaty of Lisbon, which entered into force on 1 December 2009, lists a set of instruments to enhance the role of national parliaments with regard to the functioning of the European Union:
- receiving information on draft legislative acts of the institutions of the European Union in accordance with Protocol 1 on the role of national parliaments in the European Union;
- checking compliance with the principle of subsidiarity in accordance with the procedures provided for in Protocol 2 on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality;
- taking part in the evaluation mechanisms for the implementation of Union policies relating to the area of freedom, security and justice in accordance with Article 70 TFEU and being involved in the policy monitoring of Europol and the evaluation of Eurojust's activities in accordance with Articles 80 and 58 TFEU;
- taking part in the revision procedures of the Treaties pursuant to Article 48 TEU;
- receiving information on applications for accession to the European Union in accordance with Article 49 TEU.
For the first time, the Treaty of Lisbon introduced a veto right for national parliaments to prevent discussion of a proposal, particularly in the case of a passarelle clause, in cross-borders matters of family law (by virtue of Article 81(3) TFEU) and during a simplified revision procedure (by virtue of Article 48(7) TEU). Pursuant to Sec. 72 of Act XXVI of 2012 on the National Assembly and Sec. 144 of Parliamentary Resolution 10/2014 (24 February 2014) on Certain Provisions of the Rules of Procedure, the National Assembly makes an objection based on the report submitted by the Committee on European Affairs on the existence of the objection. Following the adoption of the report, the Speaker shall convey the objection without delay to the President of the European Council or to the Council and shall simultaneously inform the Government thereof.
The Barroso initiative was launched in September 2006 to improve the flow of information to national parliaments on the EU decision-making process. According to this initiative, all EU legislative drafts and consultative documents are directly transmitted upon their publication to the national parliaments of EU Member States. A separate EU database that allows for structured ordering and searchability has also been set up in the National Assembly.
European Union law sets new tasks for Parliament as it assures it the option to participate in the European Union decision-making process to a certain extent. Through a scrutiny procedure regulated in Act XXXVI of 2012 on the National Assembly, the National Assembly takes part in the decision-making process indirectly, as the Government and the National Assembly cooperate according to special rules in formulating the national position regarding draft legislation in the European Union.
The National Assembly also monitors the activities of the Government in EU affairs. The instruments that already existed before the accession have remained intact (such as interpellation, questions, committee hearings, parliamentary debates and committees of inquiry), and these instruments can also be used with regard to European Union affairs. In addition, Sec. 69 of the Act on the National Assembly defines further obligations for the Government in the area of informing the Assembly:
With regard to meetings of the European Council, the Government fulfils its obligation to supply information in a special way. The European Council defines the general policy-making direction and priorities of the European Union; its members are the Heads of State or Government of the Member States. Hungary is represented by its Prime Minister at meetings. Before the meetings, the Prime Minister is under obligation to appear before a special committee with the aim of reaching the widest possible consensus with Parliament. In order to fulfil this obligation, the Prime Minister appears before the Consultative Body on European Union Affairs. By law, members of the Body are the Speaker of the National Assembly, the leaders of parliamentary groups, the chairman and vice-chairman of the Committee on European Affairs, the chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs and the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs as well as other persons invited by the Speaker. The Prime Minister gives a briefing in camera on the position he wishes to represent at the European Council. The briefing is followed by a debate.
A similar meeting may be held before other strategically important policy-making events of the European Union (intergovernmental conference); in the event that a meeting of the Consultative Body on European Union Affairs is not summoned, the Government is still obliged to inform the National Assembly regularly about such meetings.
The Prime Minister must also provide a report to the plenary after meetings of the European Council.
The Government provides an annual report to the plenary on questions tied to Hungary's membership in the European Union and on the status of European integration.
The monitoring rights of the National Assembly are also expanded with the option to hear delegates appointed by the Government to certain institutions of the European Union. The National Assembly may thus hear delegates nominated by the Government to the following institutions: the Commission, the Court of Justice, the General Court, the Court of Auditors and the Board of Directors of the European Investment Bank. The hearing takes place before the Committee on European Affairs or another competent standing committee. The hearing differs from the usual hearings of candidates to government and state positions since the hearing of the delegates mentioned above is not obligatory, the Committee does not vote and does not make a formal decision on the appropriateness of the candidate.