Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Comitology 2.0 & meat glue: The first time - updated

Update: According to the comment by Anonymous, the present decision is was still based on the old comitology decision, not the new one as one can read in the ALDE press release linked below.

So we still need to wait for the new powers of the EP to become effective...

According to a press release of ALDE, the European Parliament has, for the first time, used its new Comitology powers against the Commission.

I have covered comitology and its reform in a number of recent posts. And because the EP's Environment & Health Committee (ENVI) is clever, it used the very nice issue of meat glue to make everyone aware of the fact that this reform actually happened.

Meat glue is like the Comitology itself: It is an additive you don't notice but it keeps together pieces of stuff that would otherwise fall apart. It's details are very technical and can only be understood by very few experts.

Åsa Westlund (S&D group), the MEP responsible for the coordination of this decision as the rapporteur, showed positive surprise in her blog about the support and the majority she received in the Committee for her draft resolution which concerned this quite technical draft Commission directive.

While neither in the draft Directive nor in the EP resolution there is any hint to the Comitology procedure, the ALDE press release mentioned above gives an indication that this was still the case:
This is the first time since the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty that the European Parliament has opposed implementing a so-called technical measure under the comitology procedure (delegated act) of the European Commission and the Member States.
The term "delegated act" is a hint to Article 290 TFEU (Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union), where in paragraph 1 we can read that
"A legislative act may delegate to the Commission the power to adopt non-legislative acts of general application to supplement or amend certain non-essential elements of the legislative act."
This means that the Commission can be given powers to decide upon certain details of EU regulation, e.g. via Council Directives, on its own. However, in paragraph 2b of Article 290 it is specified that
"the delegated act may enter into force only if no objection has been expressed by the European Parliament or the Council within a period set by the legislative act"
which seems to be the case with the "Meat Glue Directive": The Commission wanted to regulate "technical aspects" of an existing act where it had been given delegated powers and the European Parliament expresses its objection.

This power was given to the European Parliament by the Lisbon Treaty.

However, it is still unclear to me how the procedure will look like after the formal objection in the plenary of the European Parliament because the detailed regulation on Article 290 TFEU is not yet in place.

But no matter how this procedure will be, we seem to have witnessed yet another "first time" moment in the use of new legislative powers by the European Parliament after the Lisbon reform.

(Thanks to an unnamed EU official for making me aware of this story.)

Picture: © roboppy / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Peter said...

Hi Julien,

Thanks for the interesting post - makes me think more about what actually goes into my lunch.

Article 290 doesn't require a regulation to be implemented (only Article 291 on implementing acts requires one), but it does need the exercise of delegated powers to be 'conditioned'. The Commission in its Communication on implementing Article 290 sets out a 'model delegation', which both the EP and the Council seem to like.

So I think the question is: can the Parliament use its Article 290 right of opposition however it chooses until all legislation has been adapted to Article 290?

Anonymous said...

Hi Julien, I fear the ALDE press release has led you up a blind alley. Yes, the ENVI committee has voted a resolution (which must still receive an absolute majority in plenary before 30 May) which would block the adoption of the Commission's proposed directive. But, Parliament will be blocking the measure under the old comitology rules (Council Decision 1999/468/EC, as amended, specifically Article 5a (1-5)).

Article 290 TFEU (delegated acts) can only apply to acts which have been adopted with a specific delegation by EP/Council to the Commission in their text (or old acts which have been modified to include this). As the act in question has not been so modified, the old procedures apply.

The EP's general position on the implementation of Article 290 will be formalised with the vote next week on the report by Jozsef Szajer. Parliament is particularly keen to differentiate the new concept of delegated acts from old comitology (regulatory procedure with scrutiny), not least in downgrading the role played by member states' experts in the old system.

Incidentally, the proposed measure covers dozens of food additives, not just this beef glue. Parliament has just two months to decide whether it should block it or not (even if it had a few weeks advance notice). It's a difficult job to establish what the changes might mean to human health in time to engage in proper (or any) debate.

Julien Frisch said...

Thanks @anonymous for the clarification.

So we'll have to wait for the first "new" comitology decision... :-)

martinned said...

It's a difficult job to establish what the changes might mean to human health in time to engage in proper (or any) debate.

...and that is exactly why the Council and the Commission were always hesitant to give the EP a larger role under the old Comitology Decision. Finally, they went along, assuming (correctly, so far) that the EP would never really get around to using its power in the procedure for a Regulatory Committee with Scrutiny.

(Remember, the EP was offering to give up on the use of sunshine clauses in return.)