EU Parliament attempts to win new powers

A long-standing institutional squabble over call-back rights to so-called ‘comitology’ decisions has been reignited by Parliament, which wants to be put on an equal footing with EU ministers on the issue.

A handful of MEPs led by Richard Corbett (UK, PES) are to be selected by the European Parliament’s constitutional affairs committee to try and negotiate a right to oversee – and where necessary, call-back – decisions taken by thousands of so-called ‘comitology committees’.

For many years, the Parliament has been fighting to win parity with the EU Council of Ministers on the issue. At the moment, when member state experts disagree with a Commission proposal made in comitology, they have the possibility – under specific circumstances – to refer the issue back to the Council. The Council then decides if it wishes to call back the executive powers it delegated to the Commission and take the decision itself.

The matter was pretty uncontroversial in the 1960s when the Parliament had virtually no power. But as it gradually obtained co-decision power with the Council, it grew increasingly frustrated.

Small improvements were made in 1999 in keeping the Parliament better informed of comitolgoy decisions, but the key improvement was expected to come with the approval of the new EU Constitution. 

Now that the Constitution has been shelved for at least two years, the Parliament is embarking on the task of wining full parity with the Council. 

'Comitology committees' were first set up during the 1960s, at the beginnings of European economic integration. They draw together experts from the member states who advise the Commission when it takes decisions delegated to it by the EU Council of Ministers as part of its executive powers. EU executive power is shared between the Commission and the Council.

Comitology committees usually deal with highly specialised issues of an administrative nature. They advise the Commission on issues such as technical updates to existing legislation and therefore typically have a very low political profile.

Their sole interest lies in the speed at which their decisions can be taken, as they bypass the normal EU decision-making procedure which on average lasts two to three years. But this is precisely where the controversy begins. When the EU has to take emergency decisions, the normal democratic process is being circumvented. By way of example, the decision to ban British beef during the 1990s was taken by a comitology committee.

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