May 28, 2003

More on the Draft Constitution

Chris Bertram discusses the draft EU constitution further, and notes that the European Parliament will be one of the big winners if the member states accept the relevant clauses of the proposed text. The number of policy areas covered by the codecision procedure, in which the Parliament plays an important part, will double. Now even though this is something that I’ve done a lot of work on, it’s doubtless fairly dull to many of Gallowglass’s readers, so I’ll be brief.

The convention’s text, is everything that the Parliament could possibly have hoped for. Not only does it massively expand the scope of the codecision process, but it prevents the Council from sneakily taking back control of the legislative process, through what is called “delegated legislation” or “comitology.” The story is as follows. A lot of legislation in the European Union isn’t decided through formal channels of debate etc; it happens through a set of committees, in which the Commission proposes measures, that are then accepted or declined by the member states through a variety of “comitology” procedures of oversight and control. The upshot is that a lot of the day to day decisions are made by the Commission, reporting to the Council, in a rather shadowy and mysterious process of back room decision making. Traditionally, this “delegated legislation” procedure only used to be applied to unimportant and technical matters, but as the power of the Parliament has increased, the Council has increasingly started to use comitology to handle more important matters, in order to do an end-run around the Parliament, and Parliamentary scrutiny. Naturally, the Parliament has been quite upset by this, and at one stage threatened to block the legislative process until the Council gave it some role in comitology, and thus some influence.

The draft text, if it’s accepted, will make it far harder for the Council to do this in the future. It has two key clauses. First, it says that a delegation “cannot cover the essential elements of an area. These will be reserved for the law or framework law.” This would mean that the Council wouldn’t be able to take important parts of policy setting out of codecision, and into the process of delegated regulation any more. Second, it says that both Council and Parliament would be able to revoke delegation. This would mean that Parliament and Council would be treated as effective co-equals in the comitology process; something that Parliament has been struggling to achieve for over forty years.

The big loser from the text, as it stands, is the European Commission. Although the Commission will gain a role in policy areas from which it has been excluded, its overall authority will diminish. If the text is accepted, influence over the legislative process will ebb away from the Commission, and towards Council and Parliament. The Commission has been pushing for a “framework” approach to legislation, in which the Parliament and Council would only set the very broad outlines of legislative acts, and leave the detail to the Commission’s implementation procedures. The draft text unequivocally rejects this in favour of a dispensation in which Council and Parliament retain strong control over what happens and when in the legislative process.

Posted by Henry at May 28, 2003 11:22 AM | TrackBack

It’s been a long time since I looked at the EU’s institutions, so a lot of this is escaping me. What interests me is how this effects the member states? Does giving more power to the Council at the expense of the Commission make the EU more or less centralized?

Posted by: James Joyner at May 28, 2003 11:56 AM

My best guess is that it wouldn’t make the EU any less centralized; it would instead transfer the locus of power from one centralized actor to another. People who want more emphasis on national sovereignty in the EU very frequently push for more power to be given to the Council, which represents the member states. However, the Council itself is an incredibly secretive body, which acts more and more on the basis of qualified majority voting (i.e. no national veto), and presents major political decisions as faits accomplis to parliaments and opposition parties back home. Where there is a push towards decentralization in the draft text, is the proposal that national level parliaments get more of a say.

Posted by: faHenry at May 28, 2003 12:08 PM

They really need to sort out what the Council is for. In part it’s an upper house to the Parliament like the German Bundesrat and in part it’s an executive council where European governments get to decide the good stuff before flying home to denounce Eurocentrism to their national parliaments.

The governments, of course, are almost equally enthusiastic about concentrating all powers in the Council and denouncing the Council’s decisions when they don’t get their way.

Posted by: Alan at May 28, 2003 01:00 PM

Since blogging a Financial Times story this morning which claims that the political scisms that emerged in Europe in the run-up to the Iraq war were orchestrated by Mike Gonzalez, a Wall Street Jounal editor, and Bruce Jackson, a sort of freelance US envoy, I’ve been wondering what was in it for these guys.

Now I think I see: If European politics can be caused to be acrimonious enough, then this constitution will not be adopted.

I look at Gonzalez’s most recent column (5/21) in the WSJ, Eye on Europe, and here’s what he’s on about:

“The constitution, for its part, is allowing the [Tories]’s deep euroskeptics to make a cogent case for leaving the EU and accepting associate membership. This argument is made most eloquently by the man the Tories chose to be their main representative at the constitutional convention, David Heathcoat-Amory. Through him the Tories are finding their voice.”


Posted by: Kathryn Cramer at May 28, 2003 04:48 PM

“it’s doubtless fairly dull to many of Gallowglass’s readers, so I’ll be brief.”

Do you really think so? I don’t think that would be more true than forvany other issue you write about. The reason I bring it up is I think there’s an attitude in the media and elsewhere that the EU isn’t “sexy” and noone is interested, and that that attitude is quite harmful, and a self-forfilling prophecy.

Posted by: David Weman at May 28, 2003 04:52 PM

I think these issues isn’t getting anything like the attention they deserve, and especially that there’s not a lot of in-depth or particulary engaging writing coverage of the EU, and I think the blogosphere could have make a real positive difference here, but for whatever reason, there’s almost no blogs with that focus, a lot less than say, South Asian politics or whatever, despite there being alost a billion people very directly influenced by the EU in their daily lives (though they ay not know it.)

It’s a pet peeve of mine, it’s what’s driving me in writing my blog.

Posted by: David Weman at May 28, 2003 04:53 PM

It’s progress to be sure, but with so much power still so vested within the Council (and additional powers vested in terms of CFSP and the nomination of the EU president) I’m still worried this caves to national interests far too much to ensure an effective Union. It’s also a firecracker waiting to explode in the laps of the small European states. My full analysis is here:

Posted by: agent z at May 29, 2003 06:44 PM
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