November 16, 2013

7 Minutes

Comitology, EU lobbying

Influencing EU decision making

Hi, my name is Andras Baneth and I am the co-founder and Director of the European Training Academy.

Today, I’m going to speak about very interesting issue that is on the mind of professionals, government relations professionals, public affairs experts dealing with European affairs, which is: “when can I have the biggest impact in influencing EU decision making”?

If you have a very specific issue that concerns the approval of a chemical substance or your issue concerns getting certain funds for the region that you are representing, where is the place where you can focus your attention and when should you do that in order to have the highest impact, the highest level of influence in making your voice heard?

The answer to this question, it seems, is rather simple, but as with all things in life, this is far more complicated in practice. Giving you the framework and this high level overview on the matter, here is the following way to do that.

Having a certain draft which is prepared, as a main rule, by the European Commission, having that or knowing about it early enough in the procedure provides you with the highest level of influence when something is really an in-house draft or more just the thinking or high-level idea on a given matter.

That’s when you can exert the highest level of influence because it could be anything and everything and it could go to all sorts of directions. For instance, the European Commission has recently decided to regulate the online gambling industry, and in this field, the Commission has launched wide ranging public consultations. It has issued a green paper which is a high level, rather abstract document on the overall thinking on the need to regulate this field.

Now, at this stage, they have no specific legislative proposal. There is probably nothing yet on the table, so following the discussions and making your voice heard in basically any industry that you are in where the European Commission is considering new laws, that’s the point when you can really make the most impact.

The more a given proposal advances in-house, the less influence there is. Once the College of Commissioners, the 27 or soon 28 European Commissioners had the topic on their agenda, well, at that point the level of influence is really much lower than at earlier stages when only one Directorate General or one so-called ‘Desk Officer’ was dealing with that topic.

Certainly, in many cases it’s not obvious to know that a given proposal is already drafted, but this can be seen in speeches of European Commissioners, in annual policy planning of the European Commission which are all public documents and through different consultations and informal context to know that something is being drafted by the Commission.

Once the proposal has left the Berlaymont, the headquarter building of the European Commissioners, that is the stage when it enters the ‘ordinary procedure’ or the European Parliament or the Member States, in the Council of Ministers, need to agree on the amendments and eventually adopt the proposal.

At this stage, the level of influence goes up a little bit… not as high as in the early drafting phase but it does go up to a reasonable extent because Members of the Parliament can propose changes to the draft. You can convince Members of the Parliament to table an amendment because the Commission didn’t think of a specific consideration you have, the proposal in the current form may have a negative impact on jobs, negative impact on your industry, or on your country that you are representing. So this stage, the Parliament and Members of Parliament can exert a certain level of influence.

The same goes for the Council of Ministers but there the story is more fragmented, given the sheer number of Member States and the so-called ‘qualified majority voting’ rule. So there it’s not enough to convince one, two or even five member states but your arguments need to be convincing enough for a large number that they can achieve a qualified majority in the Council of Ministers.

Looking at the level of influence, to sum it up, it’s highest when the draft is in its very early stages, at the consultation phase, which makes a very good case for early warning, early monitoring and it’s another argument for having a very strong presence in Brussels or a good understanding of EU decision making.

Then the influence decreases, but then it has a second life, so to say, when the proposal enters the decision making in the Parliament and the Council. Once the Parliament and the Council have adopted it, the level of influence really goes to minimum, if not zero, because that is the final legislation that Member States need to act upon they need to transpose into their own systems.

One addition to this is the so-called “Comitology system” (which offically no longer exists in the “Comitology” sense). These are regulatory matters, regulatory decision making through so-called implementing acts and delegated acts. This is the translation of a high level Commission document, high level directive or regulation into the technical details.

This means, for instance, when I look at food additives, there is a regulation on food additives but the specific materials, the specific substances that are authorized in the drinks we drink and in the foodstuffs, baby food or any other, the specific ingredients that are authorized on European level are not decided by the regulation, these are decided through the so-called “Comitology” or “regulatory procedures” and since this is a procedure that gives more life to a given proposal, you can again exert a certain level of influence and there as well though the scope is obviously much more limited.

This is Andras Baneth from the European Training Academy. Thanks very much for watching us.

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