Parliament strengthens its control over the Commission

The European Parliament has taken another major step towards increasing its powers, obtaining the right to revoke decisions taken by the Commission to implement legislation

The European Parliament adopted, on 6 July 2006, by large majority, the compromise reached in June with the Commission and the Council on the so-called comitology reform. 

Although implementing powers often boil down to the day-to-day management of technical details, they can also touch upon highly sensitive political issues relating to the health, environment and safety, as in the case of the approval of GMOs or the implementation of the REACH Directive. 

Call-back right: Up till now, only a committee of national officials, and not the Parliament, had the right to revoke the Commission’s implementing measures. Furthermore, a decision blocked by the committee was referred back to Council alone with no Parliamentary involvement. Under the new scrutiny procedure, Parliament will be able to block any implementing measures under co-decision legislation. This will however require an absolute majority of MEPs, i.e. more than 366 of the 732 members of parliament will have to vote in favour of the call-back for it to be passed, regardless of how many MEPs are present for the vote.

Sunset clause: At present, MEPs have the right to limit the Commission’s implementing powers by setting maximum periods, known as ‘sunset clauses,’ for it to adopt the necessary rules for applying new laws in Member States. Under the new agreement, MEPs will only be able to confer powers on the Commission for an indefinite period, except in exceptional circumstances. 

Information right: The new rules are meant to improve the transmission of information from the Commission to Parliament. Currently, documents are delivered in one to three languages. The Commission has now agreed to set up a detailed information system on all comitology committees’ activities in all Parliaments’ official languages. 

Following the positive vote in the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the European Parliament in June 2006, State Secretary Hans Winkler of the Austrian Presidency, said that the new agreement was “about increasing democratic accountability in the Union” and that it was necessary in view of correcting “the imbalances between the institutions”. 

Richard Corbett, Socialist MEP and rapporteur on this issue, said the compromise represents a "huge breakthrough in parliamentary control over EU legislation” and “improves "accountability and transparency of the whole Community system”. 

According to Joseph Daul, of the EPP-ED, the new comitology decision puts “the European Parliament and the Council on an equal footing”. 

Danish eurosceptic MEP Jens-Peter Bonde believes the threshold set by the text for blocking Brussels’ rule-making is much to high as it means it will always be necessary to have “an agreement between the social democrats and the christian democrats … which will be very hard to achieve”. He said the removal of the EP’s right to request sunset clauses in EU laws was a “disaster” as this was “the only way to get rid of bureaucratic legislation”. 

“Comitology” emerged in the 1960s when the Council recognised that it lacked the resources to make all the necessary implementation rules and decided to delegate implementing powers to the Commission. 

However, the Council did not want to delegate such powers to the Commission without keeping some legislative control. This was done via the creation of committees – composed of experts from each Member State – which work with the Commission on the technicalities necessary for the application of EU law. 

In most cases, the Commission can adopt implementing measures only if it gets the thumbs up from the relevant committee and, in the absence of this approval, the proposed measure is referred back to the Council (see Euractiv LinksDossier on Comitology). 

The 1999 Comitology Decision brought minor improvements in terms of greater transparency, with Parliament receiving full information on all comitology decisions. 

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