Friday, 17 February 2017

How the EU ACTUALLY works

I've been a lecturer on EU Law for the last quarter of a century (I've also taught European Politics, been an assistant to a Member of the European Parliament,  and dealt with EU institutions as an assistant in the UK Parliament and in my own political work). There are a lot of misconceptions about what the EU does - and how it does it. It is that widespread lack of knowledge amongst British citizens that was the necessary foundation for the Brexit result. Much misinformation has been spread - and I'm glad to hear that Wikipedia has evaluated thre Daily Mail - and found it to be a wholly unreliable source.

So where does one go to find out accurate information?.

At an academic level - there are some excellent textbooks - these two are my personal favourites.

These can be expensive - and are, by nature, complex. There is a lot of FREE information available.

A free booklet from the European Parliament is well set out & VERY informative. It was produced in 2013, so information about the results of the 2014 election (which led to the current party makeup in the EP) are not included. It is available here.

There is a useful website at https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu_en

Key knowledge about the EU involves

- membership (currently 28 members) - in the media the EU (and its institutions, especially the Court) is often confused with the European Convention on Human Rights. That is part of the Council of Europe - a wholly distinct organisation with almost double the number of members.

- the key institutions. Each have their own role - and personnel. The European Commission is the Executive. Despite false assertions in certain parts of the media - it is not an all-powerful body. It may propose legislation - but the Council of Ministers and European Parliament must pass that legislation. Its members are nominated by the (elected) governments of the member states. Before appointment the European Parliament holds hearings, and individual commissioners regularly appear the Parliament. The Council of Ministers is made of government ministers from each member state.  (When Heads of Government/State meet - it is called the European Council, and together the democratically elected leaders of the 28 states set the agenda for the EU). The European Parliament is directly elected every five years. The Court of Justice of the EU is responsible for upholding the legal rules of the EU (interpreting and applying EU Law - and providing legal review of the acts of the institutions).

I subscribe to daily emails from 'Politico' (an American political-journalism company based in Arlington County, Virginia, that covers politics and policy in the United States and internationally.)
Politico, European Edition

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Following Westminster

If your interest lies in following what is done in the UK Parliament - this is my guide to useful resources -

As with Congress, original resources from Parliament are the best way to follow activities, without the filters that the media put on. [I am NOT criticising the Media - their job is to take the raw material to present it to the public in a manageable form, and to explain what is happening - and I am a BIG user of the media myself!]

The Parliamentary website is http://www.parliament.uk

A snapshot of forthcoming business can be found here. We are currently on a short recess.

As I suggested in my previous post on Congress, the best way to discover the vast amount of available information is to explore the website tab by tab. Parliamentary Business is subdivided into sections on each House (Commons : Lords) ; What's On; Bills & Legislation (from this and previous Parliaments); Committees, Publications and Records and ParliamentTV - which provides live feeds (and recordings) of proceedings in the Chambers and committees.

The Links that I find most useful to use are -

1 To see what is coming up.

Commons Business Papers - If you click on 'Summary Agenda and Order of Business' (I have not linked - as it changes for each specific sitting day) - you can select 'Order Paper' [as a PDF, my preferred option - or you can choose a webpage with links to the various parts]. The PDF gives a summary of business and approximate timings. On subsequent pages there is much more detail - such as the questions set down for Question Time; subjects and relevant motions for the main part of the day; and the subject of the daily adjournment debate. If Westminster Hall is being used - details of the debates there are listed. Committee meetings - their location and subject (and witnesses) are listed. Future business is also listed.

Lords Business Papers - Click on 'House of Lords Business'. Again there is a choice of a webpage or a PDF. The style is very different - and the key things to read are the text of the 4 oral questions; and Business of the House (for that date). Future business is also set out. Many a Washminster post has been planned as a result of reading through this document (green in the printed edition). This is followed by a list of motions - which may or not be taken (most will be balloted for). There are also notice of Questions for Written Answer - the answers will eventually appear in the Lords Hansard. (I also like the practice of shaming Government Departments who have failed to give a response within 10 working days - the list follows the Written Questions). Bills in Progress (and their type) are listed on a subsequent page. Secondary legislation in the pipeline is also listed. Details of upcoming committee meetings are set out - and 'Minutes of Proceedings' of the previous meeting of the House are recorded. Finally papers and secondary legislation published since the last edition of the Business papers are listed. Peers can collect them from an office near the chamber, but they are generally available to the rest of us on other websites. I will post about accessing these in a future post.

2 To read what has been said

Hansard is the record of what is said in the Chambers (and also Westminster Hall [Commons] and the Moses Room [Committee stages of bills held out of the Lords Chamber]).

A useful gateway to Hansard is available at https://hansard.parliament.uk

3 To watch the Chamber or committees

ParliamentTV  or view BBC Parliament - on TV or via the  website

4 To follow the work of the Select Committees

Each committee has its own website - access through http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/

The BBC gives excellent coverage of Parliament - particularly through 'Today in Parliament' - and also through The Week in Westminster and the Westminster Hour on the radio. BBC Parliament is a mini-C-SPAN for the UK.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Following Congress

For newer readers of Washminster - a short guide to following events in Congress.

The best resources come from the Houses and Senate themselves.

House of Representatives

The website can be found at http://www.house.gov There is lots of background information. Click on the tabs underneath the main header

- Members of the House [Representatives] - the district (UK - constituency); name; party; Office - do see the 'Key to Room Codes' on that page - and in future posts I will give some of the background to each of the Office Buildings); Telephone number; and the Committees that each member sits on. This page can be listed alphabetically either by State or by Members' last name.

- Leadership - Names (with pictures) of the leadership of each of the two parties. Currently the Republicans (also referred to sometimes as the G.O.P.) are the Majority, and the Democrats are the Minority.

- Committees - these are the powerful workhorses of the House. Woodrow Wilson (when writing as a scholar, before he became President) wrote that "The House sits, not for serious discussion, but to sanction the conclusions of its committees as rapidly as possible. It legislates in its committee rooms...". They are much more powerful than Westminster committees - although the power of the Leadership (the Speaker) has greatly increased in recent decades.

- Legislative Activity - This page has key links to resources enabling the House to be followed from off Capitol Hill - and indeed across the world. You can look ahead with the House calendar (the coming year); the more immediate schedule; keep up to date with the day's business as it happens - Floor proceedings.  The live streaming of committee meetings and hearings can be found at https://www.congress.gov/committees/video When the day is over, you can read the Daily Digest of the Congressional Record for the previous day (and other dates).

- The House Explained - is a good resource for learning about the House and how it works.

The Rules Committee has on its website, a 'parliamentary Bootcamp' - which provides an excellent course on House practice and procedure.


The Senate website is https://www.senate.gov. The red tabs take you to -

- A list of Senators, with key information about each. It also tells you which 'class' they are - this tells you when they are up for re-election. Class 1 Senators are up for re-election in November 2018.


- Legislation and Records - allows you to search by bill number and track floor activity; and using the blue sidebar you can follow other Senate activities - such as confirmations and Treaty ratifications. The Senate calendar and Floor Schedule can be accessed at https://www.senate.gov/legislative/calendars.htm 

Other red tabs take you to information about the Seanate's history; the art it contains; advice on visiting the Senate; and other reference material.

The Senate website is compact - so worth exploring the various links on the site - because there is a host of information to be uncovered.

The Media

To watch Congress - C-SPAN is the place to head to. Again it is a website worth exploring. As well as live streams from the House and Senate - there is a vast, searchable, video library. This not only covers proceedings within Congress - but programmes about history, the courts, and political issues. I hope to produce a post shortly just on C-SPAN.

Congress has three main newspapers devoted to it - and they each have websites. You can subscribe to newsletters and alerts from each of them. They are

The Hill

I'm a big fan of (even if President Trump isn't), and a subscriber to

The Washington Post
New York Times

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Reading Amendments

To follow the debate on the European Union (Notice of Withdrawal) Bill (or ANY bill) in the House of Lords, you need to equip yourself with the version of the bill that the Lords will be using.

A quick word of caution here - a Bill goes through a number of printings; after any amendments have been made - and when it comes up to the Lords from the Commons. Helpfully, on the website - the 'latest bill' is always highlighted.

Amendments, if passed, would amend the text of that version of the bill. So you need to look at the wording of the amendment, to see what it would do.

Amendments tabled in the House of Lords [Note for my American readers - tabled in the UK Parliament is the OPPOSITE of 'tabling' in Congress. Tabling in the USA is the term used for killing off a bill or an amendment (by throwing it under the table). In the UK tabling means putting on the table. So in the UK "I am tabling an amendment means - "I am putting an amendment down for discussion"] are numbered then printed. You can access the amendments here. These amendment papers are the second (set) of documents needed.

 Some amendments would ADD words to a bill - as for example Lord Lea of Crondall's Amendment to Clause 1 -

Clause 1
Page 1, line 3, at end insert “while retaining membership of the European Economic Area (EEA)” 

On the pdf version of the bill, you'll see the page number at the top.

Page 1, as you can see is numbered, but is not the first page of the whole document.

Not every line is numbered, in fact only lines 5, 10, 15 etc have the number printed on them. So a bit of basic maths is needed to find line 3. (Go to line 5 - go up two lines - and you have line 3)

so if Lord Lea's amendment was passed the bill would read

(1) The Prime Minister may notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU while retaining membership of the European Economic Area (EEA)
A more complex amendment - which still is a simple "insert" is

Page 1, line 3, at end insert—
“( ) No agreement with the European Union consequent on the use of the power under subsection (1) may be ratified unless a full report has been produced by Her Majesty's Government on the implications of that agreement for—
(a) the future of the United Kingdom, and
(b) the economic, social and political relations of the United Kingdom with the Republic of Ireland;
and each House of Parliament has had an opportunity to consider this report.”

The effect of this amendment passing (as well as adding these words) would require that a specific report MUST be produced by the Government before any negotiated deal could be ratified.

A whole new clause could be added - (if the bill becomes an act it would be known as a 'section'), as with this amendment

After Clause 1
Insert the following new Clause—
“Parliamentary approval for agreements with the European Union
(1) No Minister of the Crown may conclude an agreement with any institution of the European Union regarding the withdrawal of the United Kingdom under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union until—
(a) the Government has laid a copy of the final draft of the agreement before each House of Parliament, and
(b) each House of Parliament has passed a resolution approving the final draft of the agreement.
(2) The requirements under paragraphs (a) and (b) must also be met where a Minister of the Crown proposes to conclude any separate agreement with the European Union pertaining to the future political and economic relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

(3) In the case of a proposed agreement setting out the arrangements for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the resolution under subsection (1) must have been passed by each House of Parliament before the proposed terms are agreed with the Commission, with a view to their approval by the European Parliament.”

All of the current amendments seek to add to the provisions in the bill. (It is such a short bill, that removing words or clauses - at this stage is near impossible. But should any of amendments be passed, we would expect amendments at later stages, particularly at "Ping-pong" stage - to take words or clauses out.)

"Leave out" is the key phrase to remove words in a clause, or the clause itself - as in
  1. Page 2, line 10, leave out subsection (1)

    Page 2, line 10, leave out “, or the Director (or his deputy),”

    Page 2, leave out line 10
"Leave out..... and insert" is the wording to remove and replace by new wording.

Page 1, line 10, leave out “may” and insert “shall” 

The effect of that would be to turn a power to do something into a duty!

To know more - go to the very useful guide to amendment style - which is available at -

***  All these points relate to amending the Act itself. That will start at the Committee Stage. But first, 2nd Reading must be held. That will be on the MOTION "that the bill be now read a second time." Such a motion can be amended or rejected. (Both are very rare).

Friday, 10 February 2017

Lords Amendments

The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill has been passed by the House of Commons (the language can be a bit confusing - each House passes a Bill by completing 1R, 2R, Committee Stage, Report Stage (only if amendments made in committee) and 3R); if there are any differences between the 'bills' passed - "Ping-pong" takes place - and when the two Houses have agreed on the same text - the bill goes to the Queen for Royal Assent. That is what most people think of when they say a bill has been passed.)

The bill was taken up to the Lords on Wednesday - where it had its first reading. This was a pure formality. The 2nd Reading debate starts on 20th February (both Houses have a short recess).

The text of the bill - and any amendments put down can be viewed at http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/europeanunionnotificationofwithdrawal.html under "All bill document"

This is the page to watch - as more amendments are put down.

I will be posting about how amendments are written - to aid your understanding of how the process works.