19th May 2022

MEPs get new watchdog role on commission's daily work

The European Parliament is set on Thursday (6 July) to approve a major institutional deal granting MEPs the right to block European Commission measures implementing existing EU laws - such as the approval of GMOs on the EU market.

The deal concerns the commission's so-called implementing powers, which the parliament and member states sometimes grant to the commission when they agree on a new EU law.

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Brussels' implementing powers often involve the day-to-day management of technical issues, such as financial services rules or waste management, but also highly sensitive political topics like the approval of GMOs on the EU's internal market.

Currently, only member states - and not MEPs - can revoke the commission's implementing decisions, through hundreds of specialised committees composed of national experts which can block Brussels' moves, known in EU jargon as "comitology."

Under the 13 June agreement - signed between MEPs, national governments and the commission - the parliament will for the first time have the right to block Brussels' implementation measures, for example when it believes the commission is exceeding its competencies.

Richard Corbett, UK Labour MEP and one of the negotiators clinching the June deal, said the compromise represents a "huge breakthrough in parliamentary control over EU legislation."

Irish centre-right MEP Brian Crowley said the agreement "reflects the maturity of the parliament as a proper legislator."

Sunset for the parliament?

The parliament is set on Thursday to approve the deal by a large majority, with Danish eurosceptic MEP Jens-Peter Bonde being one of the few MEPs who will abstain from the vote.

Mr Bonde argues the text represents an "improvement" but sets far too high a threshold of an absolute majority of MEPs necessary to block Brussel's rule-making.

"This means you will always need an agreement between the social democrats and the christian democrats [the two largest groups in the parliament] which will be very hard to achieve," said Mr Bonde.

The Danish MEP also called it a "disaster" that the parliament itself made an important concession in the deal, agreeing to refrain from demanding so-called "sunset clauses" in future EU laws.

Currently, MEPs have the right to set maximum periods to implementing powers granted to the commission, referred to as sunset clauses.

But in the June agreement, the commission and member states secured after tough negotiations that MEPs can only grant powers to the commission for an indefinite period.

According to Mr Bonde, the sunset clauses had provided "the only way to get rid of bureaucratic legislation" as they mean automatic expiry of commission regulating powers.

Efficiency concerns

But Mr Corbett defended the compromise saying "we've now got a much better deal as we can block each and every decision."

The June text, approved by the commission and endorsed by EU leaders, came about despite strong reservations from member states in particular.

Governments were keen to preserve the current "comitology" monopoly on commission scrutiny, while the commission backed most of the parliament's wishes to "inject more democracy."

Member states concerns focused on likely implementation delays when MEPs would be allowed to wrangle over details for months. But Mr Corbett said EU capitals eventually understood the new deal brings efficiency gains rather than losses.

"The council [member states' decision-making body] also knows that the parliament will be more relaxed about delegating implementing powers in the first place, if we are given the right to object," the MEP stated.

He explained that the alternative to implementing measures is the drafting of a completely new EU law, which can take years rather than months.

Hard ball

On top of this, member states like Germany were also concerned over "cherry picking" from the shelved EU constitution, which proposes similar reforms.

But the parliament during the negotiations played hard ball, using its EU budget powers to get member states to back down.

MEPs from last year onwards only released cash for member states' "comitology" circus on a last-minute month-by-month basis, implicitly threatening to stop funding.

"Budget pressures probably also helped in convincing the council," said Mr Corbett.

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