How an internal procedural change could change codecision

Politicians, journalists, and members of EU institutions, political scientists, citizens and lobbyists: a small, but important, change happened on November 20th 2012!  Few seem to have paid attention to it, despite its far-reaching consequences, but the European Parliament adopted a report that changes the Rule of procedure 70 on “trilogues”. The new rule will already enter into force at the next European Parliament plenary session on 10th December.

Trilogues are meetings that are held between the Commission, Council and Parliament during first and second readings in codecision. If you have not heard of them, it could be because they are held behind closed-doors and it is very hard to be informed about what happens in those meetings. Yet, it is the negotiation forum in which consensus is built between the Parliament and the Council.

Since 2010 there have been debates about making trilogue participants from the Parliament more accountable, at least to their fellow members, in light of the growing number of legislation adopted at first reading.

78% of legislative proposals have been adopted in first-reading since the beginning of the legislature in 2009 (figures for 2009-2011). In simple terms, this means that once a Parliamentary committee adopts a report and gives the rapporteur a mandate to negotiate with the Council and European Commission, the rapporteur did not have to formally inform anybody of what was going on until trilogues were concluded and he/she put the report to a vote in the plenary.

First-reading agreements became the rule, rather than the exception and made it necessary, according the Parliament, to bring in some transparency to the process. The new rules change a few things:

  • The rapporteur must be given a clear mandate, usually including a report adopted by the committee responsible and a negotiating team.
  • The rapporteur must formally share documents with the negotiating team BEFORE trilogues – it wasn’t always the case before!
  • The rapporteur must formally report to the committee responsible on the progress of negotiations after each trilogue.
  • The rapporteur must formally share the negotiation document with the committee– the typical trilogue document with the four columns for each institutions position.
  • The Committee responsible must approve the deal by a vote, once the negotiations finalised.
  • Then finally the text can be tabled for a vote in the European Parliament plenary.

By making information on trilogues more widely available, the new rule will slow down first-reading agreements. That’s the word out in the small community of EU Institutions nerds (count me as one!). I discussed this casually last week with a few people from the European Parliament and noticed that the main concern was that smaller political groups, or MEPs defending a minority position within their own group, would use the reporting obligation to obstruct negotiations and start cabals in committee.

Will it be that much of a progress for democratic accountability? I’m not so sure.

The rapporteur’s reporting in committee is likely to be done in camera, which means not publicly, and the negotiation documents are unlikely to be published on the European Parliament website. So overall, the new rule will probably provide more procedural legitimacy to first-reading agreements, but will it do much for democratic accountability?


If you want to know more about the new rule 70 on trilogues, email [email protected]


Public Affairs 2.0 » You don’t know you’re born. When I were a lad…
September 16, 2013 | 11:00 PM

[…] will have the effect that they say it does. Negotiations behind closed doors at first reading, albeit with better scrutiny post recent rule changes, still do not allow as much opportunity for actors to comment or indeed MEPs and Council to debate […]

Martin Holterman
December 07, 2012 | 9:26 AM

I would be very reluctant about making the four-columns document public. Keeping it confidential allows both sides to tentatively trade concessions, knowing that some things can be taken back if negotiations break down. If the four-columns document is public, any concession made will be all-but politically irrevocable.

Julian Dufoulon
December 07, 2012 | 10:40 AM

Clearly, making the four-columns document public would change the nature of trilogues, I agree that more public scrutiny would most likely make trade-offs more difficult for the reason you mention. But that's not the only way the new rule 70 could change trilogues, and make them less efficient to reach interinstitutional agreements (especially first reading agreements). Rapporteurs will not always be excited about having to share information, which is arguably the most important currency. Previously they had control about information-sharing on the basis of a simple rule "only to people who are useful in reaching my desired outcome". With the new rules the entire committee must be involved (or at least the group coordinators and the chair), which should push the rapporteur to dedicate more efforts to building consensus within the committee. So overall, even without sharing the four-column document to the public, the new Rule 70 will make first reading agreements more difficult to reach in theory. But in my view it is not necessarily bad news for democratic accountability, if the consequence is that more deals are reached at second reading.

December 05, 2012 | 8:19 PM

RT @fleishmanEU: How an internal procedural change could change codecision