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Friday, April 09, 2010

And the winner is...the European Commission

Remember the promise that the Lisbon Treaty would 'streamline' the EU institutions, i.e. making them simpler and more democratic? Well, if you still believe it (after this, this, this, this and this) with the risk of being bored to death, check this out:

One of the more mysterious - and tedious - elements of EU decision making is "comitology". The system works like this: after an EU law has been agreed by the European Parliament and Council (after having been proposed by the Commission), the Commission, aided by national experts, still has room for manoeuvre in amending or adding to the Directive at a later date, with limited involvement from the European Parliament and the Council (as we explain here on page 31). Whenever a Directive says that something will be decided through "implementing measures", this means that details of an EU law are hammered out in these comitology committees.

The European Affairs Committee of the Danish Parliament has noted that the system of comitology “means that the Commission can adopt EU legislation against the will of a majority of Member States in the Council", saying “We find such a procedure undemocratic” and “Another problem with the comitology system is the short time made available for parliamentary scrutiny.”

Recently, University of Utrecht researcher Gijs Jan Brandsma found that expert bureaucrats from the Commission and member states, sitting in these comitology groups, are responsible for deciding the content of almost half of all EU regulations after the actual decision has been made by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. Brandsma argues that the extensive use of expert bureaucrats creates big problems for scrutiny and accountability. In his thesis, called "Backstage Europe" he also interviews one of those expert officials, who in a revealing remark sums up how much discretion these guys have in the implementation stage:

On our way to Brussels, he tells me how he has decided what his input is going to be. Nobody higher up in the hierarchy seems to be involved in his case. There are no instructions. His ministry does not take a clear position regarding his file.
Incedentally, experienced EU lobbyist Daniel Guéguen, has just published a book, titled: "Comitology: Hijacking European Power?". In it, he writes,

today, without comitology, the EU would quite simply be at a standstill. Where does the political level stop and the administrative start? (...) The system has become totally out of balance because the implementating measures have come to +/- 2500 per year while only about fifty directives have been adopted during the same period.
He concludes, "comitology represents about 98 percent of the regulatory activity of the Union in a year. And this 98 percent is the Commission's competence".

This is where the Lisbon Treaty comes into the picture. Under the Treaty, the system is being 'streamlined' (wait for the irony) and replaced by a new legal framework which seperates between delegated acts (art 290 TFEU) and implementing acts. Guéguen attempts to explain the new system:

The word comitology is going to disappear! The only common element of understanding about it is going to be removed from the dictionary. From now on, people will talk of delegated acts (which replace quasi-legislative acts) and implementing acts (which replace comitology strictu sensu).
This is murky territory, but basically, "Delegated acts" are "quasi-legislative acts" which amend Directives. They have political impact and are therefore subject to scrunity by the European Parliament (according to a deal agreed in 2006). "Implementing acts" are very similar, but classified as "administrative measures" with no political impact and therefore subject to very limited parliamentary scrunity. Confused? We are too. But it's getting worse.

According to Guéguen, the Lisbon Treaty will blur the distinction between the two even further, and interpreation will vary from institution to institution.

And MEPs are not quite keeping up. A press release from the European Parliament notes that an EP report on how delegated acts will work is due to be discussed in plenary in April. It notes that Hungarian MEP József Szájer, who is the author of the report, claims that the new system will mean a power boost for the European Parliament, arguing "The consequences of this change are considerable as the EP has achieved its historical maturity being placed on the same footing as Council."

But Daniel Guéguen disagrees; MEPs might be put on the same footing as the Council but, he says, "under the Treaty of Lisbon, the Commission will dominate the institutional trio" (page 62). He argues:

as for the Council of Ministers and the member states, they seem to have forgotten what they negotiated and what they signed in the Treaty of Lisbon (...). The new reform (...) was meant to put the European Parliament on the same footing as the Council of Ministers for delegated and implementing acts. But quite the reverse has occurred. The Council of Ministers has lost its power in the area of implementing to the Commission. It can only intervene after the event for delegated acts and has seen its power curtailed in the area of implementing acts
He concludes: "Henceforth, the institutional triangle is no longer an equilateral triangle. One side of the triangle, the Commission side, is now considerable larger than the two other sides."

Perhaps a book that should be on MEPs' reading list.

We've recently found that around 70 percent of the cost of regulations in the UK originates in EU legislation. In addition to that, 50 percent of the content of these EU laws could well be decided after the Council and the European Parliament have agreed on the actual proposal. And now the Lisbon Treaty would give the unelected Commission more powers to implement laws under the radar of public scrutiny.

This Treaty's democratic credentials aren't exactly getting stronger by the day.

1 comment:

Alberto Alemanno said...

To know more on the new rules on comitology after March 1, 2011:


Alberto Alemanno