EU Law

Once a legal instrument has been adopted at EU level, the “transposition” (implementation into national law) and adoption of implementation measures usually occur at national level.

However, some implementing measures can be triggered at EU level, especially in the framework of:

Comitology

Comitology (or “committee procedure”) is a procedure that allows the European Commission to be assisted by a “Comitology” committee when using its implementing powers. Comitology committees are set up by a legal act, that authorises their creation, defines the content and extent of implementing powers the Commission can use with the assistance of the committee and which of the three Comitology procedures should be applied.

The consultation or advisory procedure:

Comitology committees give their opinion to the Commission on issues that are not politically controversial, but the Commission can disregard these opinions.

The management procedure:

This procedure is used mostly for measures relating to the management of the common agricultural and fisheries policies and the main Community programmes. If the Commission does not follow the Committee’s opinion under this procedure, the Council must be referred to and can adopt a different decision by qualified majority, within a timeframe that must be defined in the Decision that set up the specific Comitology procedure.

The regulatory procedure:

This procedure intervenes for the adoption of measures of general scope designed to apply essential provisions of basic instruments, or if specified, to adapt, delete or amend certain non-essential provisions of that basic instrument. If the Commission does not follow the Committee’s opinion under this procedure, the Council must be referred to and the Parliament must be informed. The council has three months to approve or adopt a different decision by qualified majority or do nothing, obliging the Commission to present an amended proposal or re-submit the same proposal.

The regulatory procedure “with scrutiny” introduced in 2006 and which is similar to the regulatory procedure but gives the Council and the European Parliament the right to examine the draft measure and block it if they consider it is inappropriate or extends beyond the powers given to the Comitology committee.

Comitology Committees comprise a representative of the European Commission who chairs it and representatives of the governments of each Member State. Though only advisory, they can have some influence as, in some cases where the Comitology Committee disagrees with the Commission on a draft implementing measure, the latter can be submitted to the Council for a final decision. Such referrals have for example occurred 17 times in 2004 in 3 areas, namely environment, health and consumer protection and taxation and customs union.

Comitology Committees exist in almost every sector, the Commission having listed a total of 247 such Committees on February 2008 (http://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regcomitology/include/comitology_committees_EN.pdf). Their meetings are convened by the European Commission and usually take place several times a year, usually in Brussels. Some of the documents circulated within these Committees are accessible through the following search form: http://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regcomitology/recherche.cfm?CL=en

The European Parliament plays a role in the Comitology procedure as it has a general “right of scrutiny” for draft implementing measures that flow from a legislative act adopted under the co-decision procedure. In other words, the Commission cannot adopt such an implementation measure without informing the European Parliament and giving them one month to object to the measure. In certain cases, this right is actually formalised under the “regulatory procedure with scrutiny”, created in 2006, which actually allows the European Parliament (acting by absolute majority) or the Council (acting by qualified majority) to oppose an implementing measure proposed by the Commission under Comitology.

The dedicated website from the Commission on Comitology can be accessed at http://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regcomitology/registre.cfm?CL=EN

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Agencies

Agencies are created by a legislative instrument and are usually set up to respond to a variety of needs, namely:

  • The desire by some Member States to introduces some geographical dispersal and decentralisation of the Community’s activities;
  • The need to give a higher profile to their tasks, as these are identified with the agencies themselves;
  • The need to develop legal, scientific or technical know-how in certain well-defined fields;
  • The need to integrate different interest groups and thus to facilitate the dialogue at a European or international level.

The EU’s agencies all have their own legal personality and are set up by an act of secondary legislation, are grouped into 4 different categories:

1. Community agencies, which address specific issues under the EU’s “First Pillar”. Their list can be found at http://europa.eu/agencies/community_agencies/index_en.htm

2. Common Foreign and Security Policy agencies, which cover specific issues under the EU’s “Second Pillar”, i.e. the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). Their list and a link to their websites can be found athttp://europa.eu/agencies/security_agencies/index_en.htm

3. Police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters agencies, which help EU Member States co-operate in the fight against organised international crime. This co-operation in criminal matters is the “third pillar” of the EU. Their list and a link to their websites can be found at http://europa.eu/agencies/pol_agencies/index_en.htm

4. Executive agencies, which are set up for a fixed period and must be located at the seat of the European Commission (Brussels and Luxembourg). They are entrusted with certain tasks relating to the management of one or more Community programmes. Their list and a link to their websites can be found at http://europa.eu/agencies/executive_agencies/index_en.htm

Although the agencies are very different, both in terms of size and purpose, as a general rule, they have a common basic structure and similar ways of operating, namely they function under the authority of an administrative / management board and are headed by an executive director, nominated by the administrative / management board or by the Council of Ministers.

More specifically, the following common characteristics can be pointed out:

  • An Administrative or Management Board, whose membership is laid down by the regulation establishing the agency. Agency boards always include representatives from the Member States and one or several Commission representatives, and may also include members appointed by the European Parliament or representatives of the social partners.
  • An Executive Director, who is the agency’s legal representative. The distribution of powers between the administrative / management board and the executive director is laid down by the regulation setting up the agency and may be spelled out in its rules of procedure.
  • One or more Technical or Scientific Committee(s), made up of experts specialising in the relevant field can be set up to assist the board (case of budgetary committees) and the executive director by drafting opinions on (technical) questions put to them or by acting as information relays.

Most of the agencies are financed from a Community subsidy set aside for the purpose in the general budget of the European Union.

However, five agencies are partially or entirely self-financed (the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products; the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market; the Community Plant Variety Office; the European Aviation Safety Agency, all of which are able to charge fees, and the Translation Centre for the Bodies of the European Union).
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