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The Economic, Social and Environmental Council
I. – THE MAKE-UP OF THE ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL COUNCIL AND THE WORKING OF ITS VARIOUS BODIES
Since the constitutional revision of July 23, 2008, the Economic, Social and Environmental Council has a maximum of 233 councillors. An Institutional Law must modify the make-up of the Council so as to allow the membership of eminent persons qualified in the field of the environment without increasing the overall number of members.
Their term of office is five years. An extraordinary Institutional Act should extend by one year the term of current councillors so as to allow the Government to have an Institutional Act passed by Parliament which will modify the make-up of the Council.
The office of member of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council is incompatible with that of M.P., M.E.P., member of the Government or member of the Constitutional Council.
The administrative working of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council is carried out by the general secretariat (149 civil servants).
1. – The chairman
The Chairman is elected by secret ballot for two and a half years by all the members making up the Economic, Social and Environmental Council. He is in charge, along with the Bureau of the correct running of the Council both from an institutional and an administrative point of view. He appoints, upon a proposal of the Bureau, the sections which are in charge of drawing-up the reports, studies and draft advice notices. He has authority over the departments and is empowered to authorize expenditure.
2. – The bureau
The Bureau, which is made up of the Chairman, four deputy-chairmen, two questeurs, four secretaries and eight members is renewed after two and a half years of office.
It has three main tasks: it decides upon the auto-referrals of the Council, suggests the relevant section to prepare draft advice notices or to carry out studies and it sets, if necessary, the time frame for the tabling of the report.
3. – The sections
The sections are working groups of the Council. Within them (and within the Special Commission for the Plan) councillors have discussions and draw up the draft advice notices which will be submitted to the plenary assembly, the reports and the studies.
The Council has nine sections, whose briefs are laid down by decree. They each have between 27 and 29 members who belong, as much as possible, to all the groups and 8 section members appointed by decree. In addition to this, the Special Commission for the Plan includes the Chairman or a permanent delegate of each section and a representation of each group.
4. – Plenary assembly
The plenary assembly is convened the second and fourth Tuesday and Wednesday of each month by the Chairman. It examines one or two draft advice notices (rarely more than two). The general discussion and the tabling of amendments take place the first day (Tuesday), whilst the examination of the amendments and the final vote occur the second day (Wednesday).
5. – The budget
The budget allotted to the Economic, Social and Environmental Council was €36.94 million in 2009.
II. – THE ROLE OF THE ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL COUNCIL AND ITS RELATIONS WITH THE PARLIAMENT
1. – The role of The Economic, Social and Environmental Council
Requests for advice or studies are referred to the Economic, Social and Environmental Council by the Prime Minister on behalf of the Government. It may also make an auto-referral or since the constitutional revision of July 23, 2008, have matters referred to it by petition in the conditions to be laid down by a pending Institutional Act.
If the Government declares a question a matter of urgency, then the Economic, Social and Environmental Council has one month to give its opinion. Bills on programmes or plans of an economic or social nature, with the exception of the Finance Bill, must be referred to it for opinion. Bills, decrees and private members’ bills within its field of competence may also, optionally, be referred to it.
The constitutional revision of July 23, 2008 has also permitted the Government to consult the Council on draft programming laws which set down the multiannual guidelines for public finances.
2. – The relations of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council with Parliament
In accordance with article 70 of the Constitution, both Parliament and the Government may refer any economic, social or environmental issue to the Economic, Social and Environmental Council and, since the constitutional revision of July 23, 2008, may do the same for an issue of an environmental nature. The President of the National Assembly made use of this possibility for the first time in September 2009, by referring the question of the taxation of daily allowances for work–related accidents to the Council.
Article 69 of the Constitution provides that one member of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council may be appointed by the Council to present to the parliamentary assemblies, the opinion of the Council on such Government or Members’ bills as have been submitted to it. The Chairman of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council gives notice to the President of the assembly in question.
At the appointed hour of his hearing, he is led into the Chamber by the Chief Usher, upon the order of the President who immediately gives him the floor. Once he has finished his presentation, he is led out of the Chamber in similar fashion.
In addition, for its own information, each committee may request, through the offices of the President of the assembly in question, to have the rapporteur of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council make a submission before it on the bills on which he was called to give his opinion.