How does the EP decide which committee is responsible for a legislative file? Why was the Data Act or Chips Act allocated to the ITRE committee? What are the next steps? As requested by many, my new EP blog post will explain the opaque steps before MEPs can finally start to work.
After its adoption by the College of Commissioners and its successive public presentation by the European Commission, the proposal is - according to the ordinary legislative procedure - transmitted to the European Parliament and the Council in order for the co-legislators to make a co-decision. What follows in the European Parliament can be categorized into three procedural steps:
[STEP 1] The Referral Unit in DG Presidency checks the legislative proposal mainly on the basis of the European Parliament's ANNEX VI in the 'Rules of Procedures' and makes a referral to a lead committee but also appoint opinion giving committees. This decision is then announced in plenary.
[STEP 2] After the announcement in plenary, other committees have 4 weeks to challenge the referral. If the referral is challenged, the negotiations in the Conference of Committee Chairs (CCC) begin. This political body consists of all 20 chairs and is currently led by MEP Bernd Lange (S&D).
The committees interested in the file are now trying to either secure their lead or to increase their involvement. The CCC Chair and the CCC secretariat are thereby trying to encourage an agreement. However, if there is no consensus among the committees, the CCC Chair can write a CCC recommendation on his own.
This CCC recommendation determines either that (a) referral stays like it is, (b) other committees are involved according to Rule 56 (normal opinion), 57 (associated), 58 (joint committee procedure) of 'Rules of Procedure' or (c) lead committee loses its lead to another committee.
[STEP 3] The CCC recommendation is then put on the agenda of the Conference of Presidents (COP), which consists of all leaders of the political groups as well as a representative of non-attached MEPs. The COP is chaired by the Parliament of the European Parliament, which is currently Roberta Metsola (EPP).
Normally, CCC recommendations are automatically approved by COP as a 'Decision without Debate' when the draft agenda is adopted at the beginning of the COP meeting. However, there are also legislative files where the CCC recommendations are discussed and massively changed by the Presidents.
You find that already complicated? Well, there is more...legislative files are frequently allocated based on political deals that are totally at odds with ANNEX VI of the 'Rules of Procedures' as well as the procedural steps outlined in this blog post so far.
Example AI Act: CCC proposal with Rule 58 IMCO/JURI was adopted as 'Decision without Debate' when COP approved its draft meeting agenda on 25 November 2021 in Strasbourg. Then - after the COP session - the file was reopened and changed in written procedure to a Rule 58 IMCO/LIBE.
Example European Health Data Space (EHDS): Referral Unit has referred this file to the LIBE committee. Yet, when taking a closer look, everything except the legal base is screaming ENVI committee, which is the competent committee for e-health as well as the correct addressee for most of the 72 Articles in the EHDS file.
Both examples indicate that the current system is broke. Like in many cases before, it is in the end 'politics', not the 'Rules of Procedures' that decide which committee gets a legislative file. A disastrous situation for a democracy: it is time for massive internal reforms. Have a look at my recent European View article, in which I outlined some ideas on how to improve the status quo.
The good news is that more and more people are becoming aware of the deficits caused by competence struggles. The former EP-president David Sassoli started focus groups on internal reforms and also the new EP-president Roberta Metsola is working hard to change the status quo. In this CONTEXTE article, you can find a good overview where the discussions in the European Parliament currently are and what ideas are being discussed.
In my humble opinion, two steps are crucial: (1) introduce ad-hoc committees with legislative powers for horizontal topics and (2) redraft ANNEX VI so that the respective committee competences are crystal-clear. We can no longer afford to have an European Parliament that doesn't follow its own rules.