Joined Cases C‑237/11 and C‑238/11, France and Luxembourg v. Parliament

Court annuls votes of European Parliament concerning Parliament’s calendar of periods of part-sessions for 2012 and 2013, on the ground that those periods, split into two parts by the Parliament, cannot be regarded individually as periods of monthly plenary part-sessions.

>> The Treaties require the European Parliament  to meet in 12 monthly plenary part-sessions per year in Strasbourg, including the budgetary session. However, they do not prescribe the length of those periods of plenary part-sessions. It is traditional for two periods of plenary part-sessions to be held in Strasbourg in October to compensate for the lack of a plenary part-session in August. In accordance with the Parliament’s practice, the periods of ordinary plenary part-sessions, which last four days, are held in Strasbourg while the additional periods of part-sessions are held in Brussels.

Following two amendments tabled by Mr Fox MEP, the Parliament, by two votes adopted on March 9, 2011, amended the calendar of periods of part-sessions for 2012 and 2013. Firstly, one of the two periods of plenary part-sessions of four days to be held in October 2012 and October 2013 in Strasbourg was cancelled. Secondly, the remaining period of plenary part-sessions of October 2012 and October 2013 were split in two: two separate periods of plenary part-sessions of two days were thus to be held during the week of 22 to 25 October 2012 and two during the week of 21 to 24 October 2013 to be held in Strasbourg.

France brought an action before the Court of Justice seeking annulment of those two votes of the Parliament. Supported by Luxembourg, it submitted that those votes infringed the Treaties and the case-law of the Court. It alleged, inter alia, that the Parliament had broken the regularity of the rhythm of the periods of plenary part-sessions by scheduling additional part-sessions in Brussels when only 11 periods of plenary part-sessions were scheduled for Strasbourg.

The Court first of all referred to the judgment in Joined Cases 358/85 and 51/86 France v Parliament [1988]. The Court held that even though that judgment concerned the interpretation of the Edinburgh Decision, that decision had been incorporated without amendment into the protocols concerning the seats of the institutions. In addition, not only did the parties agree on the relevance of that judgment for the present cases, but they also relied on it to support their divergent points of view.

The Court held that the judgment in France v Parliament is based on considerations regarding the relationship between, on the one hand, the competence of the Member States to determine the Parliament’s seat and, on the other, the Parliament’s power to determine its own internal organisation.

The Court stated that in France v Parliament it had concluded that the Edinburgh Decision must be interpreted as defining the seat of the Parliament as the place where 12 ordinary plenary part-sessions must take place on a regular basis, including those during which the Parliament is to exercise the budgetary powers conferred upon it by the Treaty. By the same token, the Court held that additional plenary part-sessions cannot be scheduled for any other place of work unless the Parliament holds the 12 ordinary plenary part-sessions in Strasbourg, where it has its seat.

In addition, the Court held that, by so defining the Parliament’s seat, the Member States have not encroached upon the power of the Parliament to determine its own internal organisation. Whilst the Parliament is authorised, under that power of internal organisation, to take appropriate measures to ensure the proper functioning and conduct of its proceedings, its decisions in that regard must respect the competence of the Member States to determine the seat of the institutions.

The Court however held that the Member States had the duty, in exercising their competence to determine the seat of the institutions, to respect the Parliament’s power to determine its own internal organisation and to ensure that such decisions did not stand in the way of the proper functioning of that institution. The Court held that the constraints imposed on the Parliament by the Edinburgh Decision were inherent in the need to determine its seat while maintaining several places of work for the institution, and did not conflict with the practice generally followed by the Parliament.

Similarly, the Court now held that the plenary partsessions as provided for in the contested votes did not satisfy the requirements under the protocols concerning the seats of the institutions.

The Court first of all pointed out that draft calendar of plenary partsessions for October 2012 and 2013 differed clearly from that set out in the contested votes.

Secondly, it argued that it was clear from the actual wording of the amendments which led to the contested votes that their purpose was to ‘cancel’ the first period of plenary partsessions proposed for October 2012 and 2013 and ‘to split [the second period] into two’. Thus, according to the wording of those amendments, one of the two fourday partsessions scheduled for October in the two years at issue had to be cancelled, whereas the other partsession, which was split into two, was converted into two twoday partsessions.

 Thirdly, the Court found that that reading of the contested votes is borne out by the Parliament’s own practice, as is apparent from the agenda for the partsessions of 22 and 23 October and 25 and 26 October 2012.

 The Court held that it could be seen from the agenda for those partsessions that the first took place on Monday 22 October from 17h00 to 23h00 and on Tuesday from 08h30 to 23h00, whereas the second took place on Thursday 25 October from 09h00 to 23h00 and on Friday 26 October from 09h00 to 13h30.

Thus, the two newly created plenary partsessions for 2012 did not correspond to the duration of a single period of ordinary plenary partsessions as scheduled for the other months of 2012. As a general rule, those partsessions started on Monday at 17.00 and end at 23.00, then continued on Tuesday from 09.00 to 23.00, on Wednesday from 09.00 to 23.00 and on Thursday from 09.00 to 17.00, when they ended.

 The Court held that it was clear from that comparison of the calendars that the contested votes objectively entailed a significant reduction in the time available to the Parliament for its debates or deliberations in October 2012 and October 2013. As compared with the ordinary plenary partsessions, the actual time available for the partsessions during October was reduced by more than half.

 The Court furthermore held that it was apparent from the judgment in France v Parliament that the seat of the Parliament was the place where ‘12 ordinary plenary partsessions’ of that institution must take place on a regular basis, and that those 12 partsessions must be distinguished from the ‘additional plenary part-sessions’ which cannot be scheduled unless the Parliament actually holds the 12 ordinary plenary part-sessions.

The Court held that that distinction presupposed that, for a partsession to fall in the category of ‘ordinary plenary part-session’, it must be equivalent to the other ordinary monthly part-sessions scheduled in accordance with the protocols concerning the seats of the institutions, in particular in terms of the actual duration of the partsessions.

However, the partsessions in October 2012 and 2013 were not equivalent in terms of duration to the other periods of ordinary monthly partsessions scheduled by the same votes.

Finally, as regards the Parliament’s argument relating to its power to determine its own internal organisation, although it was indisputable that the Parliament held such a power, in exercising that power, respect the competence of the Member States to determine its seat, since the protocols concerning the seats of the institutions were predicated on mutual respect on the part of the Member States and the Parliament for each other’s areas of competence.

The Court pointed out that, although that increase was to a large extent attributable to the constant expansion of the Parliament’s areas of competence, it did not explain how the work to be carried out in a plenary partsession would be any less; nor does it explain the reasons why such an increase in the work carried out by the committees would have repercussions specifically on the plenary partsessions to be held in October.

The Court found that reduction in the duration of the first period of plenary partsessions to one and a half days, motivated by the consideration that the budget session could from now on, in practice, be dealt with quickly, was not consonant with the importance of the budget session.

The Court held that the exercise by the Parliament of its budgetary powers in plenary sitting constituted a fundamental event in the democratic life of the European Union and must therefore be carried out with all the attention, rigour and commitment which such a responsibility demanded. The exercise of that power required, inter alia, a public debate in plenary sitting enabling the citizens of the European Union to acquaint themselves with the various political orientations expressed and, as a result, to form a political opinion on the European Union’s actions.

Lastly, the Court observed that, even if the disadvantages and costs engendered by the plurality of the Parliament’s places of work – as described by that institution in the context of these proceedings – were acknowledged, it was not for the Parliament or for the Court to remedy that situation: rather, it was for the Member States to do so, where appropriate, in the exercise of their competence to determine the seats of the institutions.

The Court concluded that the two plenary partsessions scheduled by the contested votes for October 2012 and October 2013 could not be regarded as two monthly plenary partsessions within the meaning of the protocols concerning the seats of the institutions.

The contested votes must therefore be annulled to the extent that they did not provide for 12 monthly plenary part-sessions to be held in Strasbourg in 2012 and 2013.