The earlier one starts lobbying a legislative measure, the more chance one has to influence it significantly. Even more true is the fact that initiating the idea of a legislative measure is even more likely to be a productive way of obtaining the wished result, subject to continuous monitoring and interaction with all three institutions all along the legislative process, to keep one’s issues alive and do damage control on all the collateral issues that are likely to creep in and at best neutralise your issue, at worst turn it around against you.
Ideas can be spotted and/or induced in multiple documents or interventions, some of which we have tried to list on this website.
They can come from three sources:
Policy Strategy and Work Programme
The Commission’s work programme and strategic vision is planned and reported in different documents, namely:
- 5-year plan: Upon entering into office the Commission establishes its five-year strategic objectives, which is used as guidance over the duration of its term of office. This plan can be influenced notably by introducing certain issues during the interview and screening Commissioners undergo in the European Parliament before being appointed.
- Commission Annual Policy Strategy: this strategy is outlined during an orientation debate held amongst the College of Commissioners, the result of which is communicated to the services by the Secretary-General, that then draft subsequent proposals. The end-result sets out not only the political priorities for the year to come but also forms the basis of the draft budget in terms of allocation of financial and human resources. The Annual Policy Strategy, once adopted by the Commissioners, is then presented by the President to the European Parliament and the Council, with each Commissioner explaining the issues related to their portfolio to the relevant Parliament Committees and Council configurations. The outcome of this structured dialogue is used to prepare the Commission work programme for the following year. The Commission work programme translates policy strategy into a concrete action plan and a set of deliverables.
- Directorate-General Annual Management Plan: based on the Commission’s plan, each DG then develops its annual management plan, which sets out how it plans their activities and how they contribute to the priorities set by the Commission, including the allocation of human and financial resources to the activities and the detailed description of clear, specific, measurable and verifiable objectives for each activity as well as indicators for the monitoring and reporting on the progress made and the impact of the activities to the EU citizens.
- Monthly forward programming document, which is issued by the Commission as a day-to-day ‘agenda planning’ system in order to provide reliable programming of initiatives foreseen for adoption, updated every month and sent to other EU institutions in order to help them organise their own activities.
The result of all these plans is monitored and analysed in two documents issued at the end of each year by the Commission:
- After the close of the year, the Commission presents the synthesis of management achievements, which summarises how they delivered on their Annual Plan and is based on the assurances and reservations expressed by the Directors-General in their annual activity reports.
- The annual activity report is, in terms of results, the ‘mirror’ of the annual management plan. The annual activity report is also each Director-General’s management report to the Commission, concerning the performance of his/her duties.
Normally, prior to proposing any form of legislation, the Commission does a round of consultations to get input from all concerned stakeholders. These Consultations are usually posted on the individual DG websites, and centralized at http://ec.europa.eu/yourvoice/consultations/index_en.htm
However, the Commission can also issue Communications as a precursor of a proposal, under two forms, namely:
- Green Papers, which are a form of consultations that try to stimulate the debate on a particular issue.
- White Papers, which often are the follow-up of a Green Paper, and set out concrete proposals for action by the Community in a specific area. When favourably received by the Council, these White Papers can then be turned into a proper EU action programme.
The European Commission tends to consult more and more so-called “Expert Groups” both when preparing and prior to implementing European laws and more generally policies. These groups are consultative entities made up of national and/or private sector experts (e.g. national officials, scientists, academics, but also representatives of trade associations, companies, consumer groups, NGOs, civil society organisations, etc.) set up by the Commission and can be permanent or temporary. They are set up either by a Commission Decision or other legal act (formal groups) or, more often, simply by a Commission service with the agreement of the Secretariat General (informal groups).
Their advice can intervene at different stages of the policy process:
- Development phase: experts group can either identify an area requiring the Commission’s intervention or provide advice regarding the drafting of a legislative proposal, including as regards the impact assessment.
- Implementing phase: the expert groups can also assist the Commission when it drafts implementing measures, prior to their submission to a Comitology committee.
- Monitoring and evaluation phase: the expert groups also provide opinion to the Commission when it evaluates both the implementing acts and the enforcement by relevant national authorities.
Some of the areas in which these groups intervene include the setting of targets for air quality, authorising cosmetic products, establishing automobile safety standards, determining sustainable fish catches, developing strategies to tackle unemployment or public health concerns, or designing European research programmes.
Statistics show that since 2000, the total number of Expert Group has increased by more than 40%, the total number of Expert Group members exceeding 50.000. Moreover, less than half of these Groups do not include non-governmental representatives (i.e. they are solely made up of government experts and national officials), with specifically high representation of industry in the Groups that cover the fields of enterprise, agriculture and research.
In other words, membership to an Expert Group is a very important move in most sectors for any company wishing to have its views communicated at all stages of the policy process!
The Commission website has an online register listing all the Expert Groups at http://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regexpert/
There are many other places to spot what the Commission might be thinking about, including Hearings, Workshops, Conferences, Seminars and, often a valuable source if you can track it on the specific Directorate-Generals’ website, the list of tenders for studies by external consultants.
The Council issues documents that can indicate its policy inclinations as well as set general guidelines.
Priorities of the Presidency
Every six months, the rotating Presidency of the Council issues its “Priorities” for its tenure. This is complemented since recently with the 18-months plan the three successive Presidencies must agree on to ensure the consistency and coherence of the Council Work Programme.
European Council Conclusions
The European Council’s role is defined as “giving the European Union the necessary impetus for the Union’s development and defining EU general political guidelines, in particular in the field of Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)”.
The European Council is not a formal law-making body as such but the European Union’s leading decision-making body, sensitive issues being discussed and settled at European Council meetings.
The agreements made by Heads of State and Government are reached by consensus, not by voting. They are made public in the form of “Presidency Conclusions” that define political guidelines for EU Institutions and sometimes indicate stages and procedures for their implementation by the different European institutions.
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Most of the European Parliament powers at this stage are moral. However, the initiatives it can take should not be ignored as they can be the starting point or help channel a specific issue in a certain direction.
Resolutions of the European Parliament on Annual Strategy
The European Commission must present its Annual Policy Strategy to the European Parliament which in turn issues a Resolution commenting on this proposal. This document highlights where the Parliament wants the focus to be put by the Commission and also in which areas it might disagree with the proposed plan.
Though there are diverging views on the actual impact of Parliamentary questions on the other institutions, they do have the merit of forcing the Commission or the Council to provide an answer that is “on the record”.
The Parliament can use three types of questions:
- Questions for oral answer with debate: these questions can be tabled by a committee, a political group or 40 Members. The Conference of Presidents decides whether and in what order questions are placed on the agenda and the questions must be communicated to the Council or the Commission at least one week before the sitting.
- Oral questions for Question Time: MEPs can put only one question to the Council and the Commission at a given part-session, and these questions must be submitted in writing to the President of the Parliament.The procedure differs slightly depending on the questioned institution:
- with the Council, questions are called in the chronological order in which they have been tabled;
- with the Commission, question time is divided in 3 parts, namely (1) topical political matters; (2) questions to the specific Commissioners designated for the part-session and (3) other questions.
- Written questions: questions for written answer may be put by any MEP to the Council or Commission, but must be transferred to these institutions by the President of the Parliament. The deadline for Commission or Council to respond is six weeks for non-priority questions and three weeks for priority questions, MEPs being allowed to table only one priority question per month, the President being final judge.
The list of Parliamentary Questions can be found at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/QP-WEB/home.jsp?&language=EN
MEPs can also table a written declaration, which basically is a short statement (not more than 200 words) on any policy area that falls within the scope of activities of the European Union. This declaration is included in a specific register, every MEP being allowed to add his or her signature to the declaration. If after three months, the absolute majority of MEPs have not signed up to the declaration, it lapses. If however such an absolute majority has been reached, the declaration is notified at plenary (including the names of the signatories), included in the minutes, and communicated to the relevant institutions. It is basically a pressure tool used by MEPs to force the other institutions into action or express their discontent.
In the areas where the treaties give the European Parliament the right of initiative, its committees may draw up a report on a subject within its remit and present a motion for a resolution to Parliament. They must request authorisation from the Conference of Presidents before drawing up a report.
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