Scrutiny of European initiatives by the Assembly of the Republic
The Assembleia da República (AR) has specific competences in European matters attributed to it by Law no. 43/2006, of 25 August 2006, as amended by Law no. 21/2012, of 17 May 2012 (Monitoring, assessment and pronouncement by the Assembleia da República within the scope of the process of constructing the European Union), and by the Constitution and, lastly, arising from the Treaty of Lisbon, which contains a number of innovations on the role of national Parliaments in the European Union.
Accordingly, the AR may pronounce on matters pending decision in European Union bodies that fall within its reserved legislative responsibility (Article 161(n) of the Constitution) and monitor and assess, in accordance with the law, Portugal's participation in the construction of the EU (Article 163(f) of the Constitution).
Law no. 43/2006, of 25 August 2006, as amended by Law no. 21/2012, of 17 May 2012, states that the AR shall also pronounce on other initiatives of the European institutions (Article 1-A), specifically on conformity of EU legislative proposals with the principle of subsidiarity (Article 3) and, in general terms, on EU policy documents and proposals for action (Articles 4 and 7), and sets out the parliamentary assessment process, which is summarised in the following diagram:
As shown in the flow diagram above, the AR, via the European Affairs Committee (EAC), receives the initiatives from the European institutions, and then refers them, depending on their subject matter, to the competent parliamentary committees, which may decide to draft a Report. At the same time, if the subject matter in question falls within the competence of the Legislative Assemblies of the Autonomous Regions, these should be consulted. If the draft acts fall within the sphere of the Assembleia da República's exclusive legislative competence, the Government shall inform the AR and request an opinion, wherefore the Government shall in good time provide the Assembleia da República with information containing a summary of the draft or proposal, an analysis of its implications and, if one has already been set out, the position which the Government wishes to adopt.
When the competent parliamentary committees approve a Report, it is sent to the EAC. The EAC then prepares a final Written Opinion, in which it pronounces on the compliance of a particular initiative with the principle of subsidiarity and reflects any concerns about the substance of the European proposal expressed by the committee with responsibility for the matter in question. This Written Opinion is considered and voted in an EAC meeting.
Finally, the Written Opinion approved by the EAC, together with the Report of the competent parliamentary committee, is sent by the President of the AR to the European institutions and the Government.
In the event that the proposal under consideration is deemed to breach the principle of subsidiarity or has politically important implications for Portugal, the EAC may draw up a draft resolution for submission to the Plenary for discussion and approval.
The process described above must be completed within eight weeks, as established in the provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon on the pronouncement by national Parliaments on the compliance of European draft legislative acts with the principle of subsidiarity. The scrutiny of the other European initiatives follows the same procedure, mutatis mutandis.
The EAC has also adopted a specific procedure, so-called "enhanced scrutiny", for what it regards as priority initiatives. Each parliamentary committee, when preparing its annual Report on the European Commission Work Programme, reports on whether it intends to subject any legislative initiative or any matter to enhanced scrutiny. Every year, the EAC organises a public hearing involving Members of Parliament from the various parliamentary committees, one member of the European Commission, one member of the Portuguese Government, Portuguese Members of the European Parliament and Members of the Legislative Assemblies of the Autonomous Regions to debate the European Commission Work Programme. After the meeting, the EAC selects a pack of initiatives for enhanced scrutiny, which is submitted to the Plenary for approval in the form of a Resolution. The European initiatives that, each year, the AR regards as priorities for scrutiny are the subject of a programme of hearings with members of the Government, members of the European Institutions and stakeholders arranged by the EAC, in coordination with the competent parliamentary committee.
Lastly, since the entry into force of Law no. 43/2006, of 25 August 2006, as amended by Law no. 21/2012, of 17 May 2012, the AR has successfully implemented a methodology for the systematic monitoring of European initiatives, which has resulted in the scrutiny of a significant number of European initiatives and has generated important internal momentum involving the EAC and the standing parliamentary committees.