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Parliament’s investigative powers – Committees of inquiry and special committees

Written by Eva-Maria Poptcheva

In the aftermath of the ‘LuxLeaks’ scandal relating to tax evasion by multinational companies through Luxembourg, Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands, Parliament decided to set up a ‘special committee’ to look into unfair tax practices in the EU. 188 MEPs had originally requested a committee of inquiry be established, but the Conference of Presidents found that the legal conditions to set up a committee of inquiry would not be met in this case.

© European Union, 2015 (EP)

Parliament’s right of inquiry is an important instrument for the exercise of its control functions. Parliament’s investigative powers, however, fall short of the powers of committees of inquiry in national parliaments, which have quasi-judicial investigative tools at their disposal. Committees of inquiry are limited to examinations of alleged contraventions and maladministration in the implementation of EU law, thus excluding evidence-gathering about general subjects and inquiries into actions by third-country authorities. ‘Special committees’, on the other hand, can be set up for any parliamentary inquiry and have thus been used more often by Parliament. Although they are not equipped with formal powers, special committees conduct their inquiries using the same investigative mechanisms as committees of inquiry.

The Lisbon Treaty conferred on Parliament the power to propose and adopt a binding regulation on the inquiry rules. A proposal put forward by Parliament during the last parliamentary term met with opposition from both Council and Commission, which claimed that Parliament sought to extend its right of inquiry excessively. The Committee on Constitutional Affairs has appointed a rapporteur to continue the trilogue negotiations in a bid to obtain the consent of the Council and the Commission.

Read the complete Briefing here
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