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Access to EU decision-making – an open door to a sealed room?

10th August 2017

In the latest in our Summer series of blogposts from our junior staff, Lisa Laumen, Account Executive, writes about how EU decision-making has changed since the Lisbon Treaty.

The European Parliament (EP) has become a more powerful legislative body since its creation in 1952, evolving from a consulting body to a supranational assembly.

Since the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, the EP has been a co-legislator with the Council in a majority of areas, and co-decision, under which 89% of the legislative files have been concluded under this legislative term, has become the norm.

This has immensely increased the workload of the EP and the Council, as more time and personnel is needed. To remain efficient, the Amsterdam Treaty introduced the possibility of reaching early agreements (EAs), files concluded at either first or early second reading, based on an informal compromise between the co-legislators.

“Precooking” legislation

On the one hand, the legislative power of the EP has increased over the years, contributing to the democratic legitimacy of the EU. However, on the other hand, the rise of early agreements pre-assumes an extensive use of ‘trilogues’, facilitating EU decision-making as the EP, the Council and the Commission ‘precook’ legislation in informal meetings. A trade-off is made between legitimacy and efficiency, as only a limited amount of actors are involved in these inter-institutional negotiations.

The shift from a formal to an informal mode of shared decision-making has had important implications for the distribution of decision-making weight among individual actors within and outside the EU institutions. Hence, lobbying strategies have been adapted accordingly depending on the nature of interest groups. Of course, the EP’s (shadow) rapporteurs, the Council Presidency, and the Commission as an influential moderator have become primary lobby targets throughout the entire policy cycle.

What is more compelling is that significant access to EU decision-making is given to European associations. Not only are EU institutions faced with a shortage in time and personnel, they also receive a lot more meeting requests because of increased lobby activity in Brussels. Domestic interest groups that were traditionally active within national arenas have extended their interest representation at EU-level. Therefore, European associations are able to offer both the technical expertise and European interest which decision-makers need to take informed decisions. This surely adds to the democratic legitimacy of the EU Institutions even when placed against the backroom deals referenced above.

The above represents the view of the author and not necessarily that of Grayling.

Grayling Team

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