Brussels insider blasts EU ‘black box’

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Decision-making under the EU's reformed comitology system represents a 'black box' in EU transparency, prominent consultant Daniel Guégen told EURACTIV Czech Republic in an interview, asserting that power in Brussels "is shifting from the political level to the bureaucratic level". 

For years, decisions on implementing parts of EU legislation have been taken behind closed doors by Commission officials in conjunction with national experts. They met in hundreds of specialised committees under a procedure referred to as 'comitology'.

The Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force last December, replaces the old comitology with a new system of 'delegated acts', placing the European Parliament on an equal footing with the Council in making those decisions.

Under Lisbon, the Commission outlines the technical requirements of EU law provided that they do not change 'core' legislation decided by MEPs and the member states. But the precise details of how the procedure will work must still be finalised by a plenary vote.     

"You can divide powers into visible ones represented by the co-decision procedure, where the Parliament and the Council are the clear winners of the Lisbon Treaty, and invisible execution powers, where the role of the Commission has increased," explained Guégen, CEO of Brussels-based consultancy CLAN Public Affairs and author of a new book entitled 'Comitology: Hijacking European power?'

Under the co-decision procedure, Guégen claimed, decision-making is "very transparent". "You are informed about the draft proposed by the [European] Commission and the [European] Parliament's discussions and amendments, and you have a good idea of what is discussed at the Council," he said.

"But when you go to comitology, you enter a black box," the PA boss said, complaining that details of who sits on the committees are not made public.

Guégen asserts that the comitology procedure threatens the institutional balance between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council. "Laws adopted under co-decision between Parliament and Council only represent 50 acts every year, whilst 2,500 acts are adopted every year under comitology," he said.

"This means that 98% of acts and regulations adopted by the EU are de facto controlled by the European Commission," he said. "This is not good news for lobbyists or for citizens due to a lack of democratic control."

New member states must speak up

In 2007 Guégen criticised Central and Eastern EU member states for their shyness and passivity in pushing for reform on issues that concern them, accusing them of poor communication.

Asserting that not much had changed since then, he said "some new member states' representatives still consider their countries as second category member states," despite progress made in "languages, knowledge of lobbying and the decision-making process".

"New member states have a lot to say and represent a big group with huge coalition potential. They have no reason to be shy and stay in the shadows," the PA boss said.

Turning his attention to lobbying, Guégen said the influence of business groups in Brussels is declining and the power of civil society groups like NGOs, trade unions and consumer organisations is rising.

He cited weak communication and "awfully boring position papers" from the business community, the relatively low-profile of business associations and a tendency for business to be represented by diplomats as the main reasons for this.

"On the contrary, NGOs are well-organised, excellent at communication and very well accepted by the Commission, because they push for more regulation," the Frenchman said. 

Lobby register under fire

Guégen criticised the voluntary lobby register launched by the European Commission in 2008. "I was against the register at the very beginning and I've not changed my mind," he said, citing difficulties with precisely defining "lobbying" and the EU executive's failure to listen to the industry in drawing up regulation.

"Private companies tend to minimise their budgets on lobbying, while consultants […] maximise it to make it appear as big as possible – as a marketing tool," the PA boss explained.

Defending the role of lobbyists in Brussels policymaking, Guégen said "our profession is very technical, very sophisticated and useful to the decision-making process, because lobby structures act as a counter-power to the European institutions".

To read the interview in full, please click here.  

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