The President of the EPP-ED group, Hans-Gert Pottering criticised the absence of Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Anna Lindh, when Commission President Romano Prodi's delivered his speech before the Parliament's plenary session on 13 February (see European Report No 2568 for further details). But Mr Pottering's complaint is symptomatic of a deeper malaise affecting institutional relations between the Parliament and the Council. At the Conference of Presidents of Parliamentary Committees on 14 February, a heated discussion heard criticism of the fact that Ministers increasingly rarely attend the work of Committees. They are usually replaced by officials from the Council's General Secretariat, and often bereft of any negotiating mandate or instructions regarding the Member States' policy stance on the legislative texts being debated. The Presidents of the Parliamentary Committees passed this issue on to the heads of political groups, meeting on 15 February in the Conference of Presidents.The Conference of Presidents reached the same diagnosis. A letter should be sent to Mrs Lindh to invite her to attend the meeting of the Conference of Presidents on the fringes of the next plenary session from 12-15 March for a first exchange of views. Several ideas were floated for establishing closer relations between the two institutions, such as a framework agreement after the example of that concluded with the European Commission (see European Report No 2515 for further details). An alternative hypothesis would involve the Council and Parliament taking a longer-term view. A declaration included in the Final Act of the Nice Treaty concerning Article 10 of the EC Treaty provides in effect that all inter-institutional agreements will in future only be concluded with the blessing of all three institutions. This is not the case regarding the Framework agreement governing relations between the Commission and the Parliament for the duration of the legislature, the Council challenging and arguing that it is not bound by some of its details (see European Report No 2516 for further details).Pending the...

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