Written by Eva-Maria Poptcheva,
The European Parliament has recently been making increasing use of its investigative instruments – special and inquiry committees. The TAXE Committee, established in the aftermath of the ‘LuxLeaks’ scandal to look into unfair tax practices in the EU, was followed by the TAXE 2 special committee on tax rulings. The EMIS committee of inquiry is looking into emission measurements in the automotive sector. The recently revealed ‘Panama papers’ prompted a new committee of inquiry on tax havens.
Parliament’s right of inquiry is an important instrument for the exercise of its control functions. Its 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 work 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.
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