Functioning of democratic institutions
In 2017 the Commission examined amendments to the Rules of Procedure of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. While Rules reflected the constitutional provisions, the Commission recommended: their adoption as an internal act of Parliament, specific procedures to minimize the negative effect of Article 81 of the Constitution (allowing for a revocation of MPs mandate by a political party); to review the rules on the formation of coalitions.
At the request of the European Court of Human Rights, in 2017 the Venice Commission prepared an amicus curiae brief for the case of Berlusconi v. Italy. The case concerned the revocation of the mandate of a Parliament member. Such revocation should be possible only for very serious offences, and should be, ideally, provided by the Constitution or an organic law. The brief was based on the analysis of examples from 62 countries, and concluded that, in most cases, the Parliament has limited discretion in such cases, where the Parliament member has been found guilty of a criminal offence. The procedures before Parliament should not necessarily offer all fair trial guarantees, and an appeal to the constitutional court would not be mandatory.
The opinion of 2016 on the constitutional reform in Albania examined, inter alia, the question of participation of the executive and legislative branches in the election of the members of the bodies of judicial governance.
The 2016 opinion on Azerbaijan largely concerned the system of checks and balances and further strengthening of Presidential powers vis-à-vis Parliament, already very weak under the current Constitution. The opinion also examined the (lack of) involvement of Parliament in the process of constitutional amendments.
The 2016 opinion on the state of emergency in Turkey examined emergency powers of the Government to enact emergency legislation and the Parliament’s controlling powers in this respect. In another opinion on Turkey the Commission examined the question of the parliamentary immunity and its importance for the free debate in Parliament.
In 2016, the Commission also resumed its work aiming at updating its 2010 report on the role of the opposition in a democratic parliament, its legal rights, concerning in particular the participation of the opposition in the legislative processes, the parliamentary supervision and scrutiny of the executive, and more geenrally the relations of then opposition with the majority as well as the duties of a constructive opposition.
In addition, the Commission examined, in 2015, the Ukrainian legislative framework pertaining to the prevention of and fight against political corruption, as well as the draft law on integrity checking of persons authorised to perform the functions of state or local government in Ukraine. The practice of political accountability of governments in the functioning of parliamentary systems within the member states has also been a special point of interest for the Venice Commission.
In 2014, the Commission expressed concerns over the municipal reform in Azerbaijan, as some of the proposed amendments put the independence of the bodies of local self-government at risk.
In 2014, The Commission also examined the new Ukrainian law on lustration. The Commission’s conclusions (which were adopted as an interim opinion) were very critical: without disapproving the idea of lustration as such, the Commission stressed that the law was formulated in overly broad terms which created a risk of abuse and political prosecution. Subsequently, the Commission also assessed the draft amendments to the law on lustration elaborated following its 2014 Opinion.
The separation of political accountability and criminal responsibility of ministers in a well-functioning parliamentary system was examined by the Venice Commission in a report adopted in 2013 on the “Relationship between political and criminal ministerial responsibility”. The Commission stressed that criminal procedures should not be used to penalise political mistakes and disagreements. In this connection, the Commission adopted in 2012 a critical opinion on the practice of blanket resignation of ministers in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In 2013, at the request of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Commission adopted a report on the role of extra-institutional actors in a democratic society (lobbying), providing an overview of strategies to strengthen the democracy-supportive role of such actors. The report was prepared as a contribution to the Committee of Ministers’ assessment of the feasibility of a legal instrument in this field.
The Commission’s work in this field also covers other areas such as: