For the first time, Europe's elected regional and local representatives can challenge new EU laws they consider to be in breach of the subsidiarity principle - the principle that decisions should be taken as closely as possible to the citizens - at the European Court of Justice. Having requested this right for fifteen years, and finally having obtained it in the Lisbon Treaty, the Committee of the Regions (CoR) fleshed out its implementing provisions just days after the entry into force of the new EU Treaty.
Meeting in plenary session from 3-4 December in Brussels, CoR members decided that, in future, they can refer EU laws which infringe the subsidiarity principle to the Court of Justice by a simple majority. The Lisbon Treaty improves the standing of regions and cities in the European Union's political system and boosts the institutional role of their representative body in Brussels, the Committee of the Regions, throughout the legislative process.
In addition to extended consultation requirements during the adoption of EU legislation, the CoR now also has the right to bring legal actions before the European Court of Justice in two instances: To protect its own institutional prerogatives, and to request the annulment of new EU legislation that it considers being in breach of the principle of subsidiarity, in the policy areas where the EU Treaty requires that the CoR be consulted.
Committee of the Regions President Luc Van den Brande (BE/EPP) highlighted that, after years of negotiations with the EU member states and the other institutions, obtaining the right to initiate infringement proceedings at the Court of Justice is a great achievement in itself. "We see this new right to challenge EU laws in court more as a deterrent than an actual threat. We are convinced that this new possibility will deepen our relations with other EU institutions and national parliaments. We will exercise this right with caution, but with great conviction in cases where we feel it is necessary to defend the subsidiarity principle in EU lawmaking. However, we hope that swift implementation of all Lisbon Treaty provisions, which reinforce subsidiarity already in the pre-legislative stage and during the adoption of new EU laws, will ensure that it never comes to that", declared Van den Brande.
The new Lisbon Treaty provisions made it necessary for the CoR to adapt its internal rulebook and lay down the procedures for putting these rights into practice. Based on the preparatory work of a task force of CoR members chaired by Karl-Heinz Lambertz (BE/PES), First Minister of the German-speaking Community in Belgium, CoR members unanimously adopted a revised set of internal rules. By doing so in the same week as the Lisbon Treaty entered into force, the Committee of the Regions demonstrated its commitment to live up to its new responsibility. Notes to the editor: The subsidiarity infringement procedure in detail In future, the President of the Committee of the Regions, or the CoR commission responsible for drawing up the draft opinion, may propose to bring an action before the European Court of Justice for infringement of the subsidiarity principle by a legislative act on which the EU Treaty provides that the Committee be consulted.
The CoR plenary session, which meets five times a year, would then decide on this proposal by a majority of the votes cast. When such a decision is adopted, the action shall be brought by the President on behalf of the Committee. When the plenary session is not able to take a decision within the two-month deadline stipulated by the Lisbon Treaty, the Bureau of the Committee of the Regions may decide, by a majority of the votes cast, on a proposal by the President or the CoR commission. When such a decision is adopted, the President shall bring the action on behalf of the Committee and shall ask the plenary assembly at its next session to decide whether to maintain the action.
The Lisbon Treaty and Europe's regions and cities For the first time in its history, the European Union explicitly recognises "territorial cohesion" as a fundamental objective in addition to economic and social cohesion. Another important change is that the local and regional right of self-government is now enshrined in the EU treaty. When new EU legislation is drafted, the competences of regional and local authorities must be taken into consideration and they must be heard in wide-ranging consultations at an early stage. The treaty also provides for greater subsidiarity monitoring by national and regional parliaments with legislative powers (so-called "yellow card" procedure).
The Lisbon Treaty enables the Committee of the Regions to be consulted by the European Parliament, not just by the Commission and the Council. Furthermore, with the new Treaty the CoR will have the right to be consulted by the three institutions on new policy areas, such as energy and climate change. To bring the Committee's mandate period into line with that of the other EU institutions, the mandate period of CoR members was extended from four to five years. Click here for more detailed information on how the Lisbon Treaty strengthens local and regional authorities. For more information, please contact: Michael Alfons +32 (0)2 546 85 59 +32 (0)2 282 20 85 Athénais Cazalis de Fondouce +32 0)2 282 24 47 +32 (0)2 282 20 85 Chris Jones +32 0)2 546 87 51 +32 (0)2 282 20 85