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Comitology in the European Union refers to a process by which EU law is modified or adjusted and takes place within "comitology committees" chaired by the European Commission. The official term for the process is committee procedure. Comitology committees are part of the EU's broader system of committees that assist in the making, adoption, and implementation of EU laws. The system described in this article no longer exists. It has been substantially amended through Artt. 290 and 291 TFEU and, subsequently, Regulation (EU) 182/2011.
All legislatures have a system of delegating detailed implementing measures to the executive. At EU level too, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union can confer such powers on the Commission. However, the Commission must act in conjunction with committees of representatives of member states who often have the power to block the Commission and refer the matter to the Council.
It is the confusing number of committees that gave rise to the term “comitology”. A report from the British House of Lords said, “There is no definitive list of comitology committees, their functions, activities and membership”; however, since the European Commission started to maintain a list, it states that “A list of ‘comitology’ committees [...] is published as an Annex to the Annual reports on the work of these Committees [...] as well as in the Register of Comitology.” Moreover, the strongest criticism pertained to the fact that the elected European Parliament (EP) had no right to block implementing measures: only the comitology committees could do so, and if they did, the proposal was referred to Council alone, even when the initial delegation of powers was through an act adopted jointly by both Parliament and Council under the co-decision procedure. Parliament argued that the system lacked transparency and democratic control.
After years of complaint by Parliament, a significant reform placing Parliament and Council on an equal footing was reached in June 2006 and ratified by the Council and by the Parliament (Corbett Report) in July of that year.
The EP negotiators, Joseph Daul MEP (chair of the Conference of Committee Chairs) and Richard Corbett MEP (rapporteur of the Constitutional Affairs Committee), bargained with the Council for several months, following the initiative taken, at Corbett's behest, by the then UK Council presidency (under a UK Labour government—Corbett is a Labour MEP) in the autumn of 2005, to re-open the subject and seek an agreed solution with the Parliament.
The agreement finally negotiated by Corbett and Daul, with the 2006 Austrian Council Presidency gave the European Parliament a right to block individual Commission/comitology decisions, where the nature of the decision is quasi-legislative and where the original legislation was adopted by Parliament and Council under the EU's co-decision procedure.
The system gives Parliament and Council a period (normally of three months) to examine proposals that have been through a comitology committee. If Parliament objects to a proposal, the Commission cannot enact it. Instead, the Commission can either make a new proposal, taking account of the reasons for the objection (in which case the clock is re-set and Parliament can again block), or it can propose new legislation to Parliament and Council under the legislative co-decision procedure.
The new system (called Regulatory Procedure with Scrutiny) applies whenever Council and Parliament, under co-decision on the basic legislation, choose to confer powers on the Commission to adopt implementing measures of general scope that can be described as "quasi-legislative" in nature (delegated legislation). It does not apply to administrative or purely executive decisions. The system does not apply when the original legislation is not co-decision legislation. Then, the old comitology procedures (see below) can still apply.
The Parliament had also pressed for more transparency in the comitology system. Already in 1999, it secured the Council's agreement in a Council of the European Union decision June 28, 1999 on procedures for the exercise of implementing powers conferred on the Commission (1999/468/EC ; OJ L 184/23 of 17.7.1999) ("the Comitology Decision") that references of the documents transmitted be made available to the public (Article 7 paragraph 5).
The Commission was, therefore, obliged to create a register of Comitology documents and a web-based repository to the register which enables the user to get direct access to certain documents which also contains a link for requesting the document, if it is not made public in the repository (in accordance with the rules of the Regulation No. 1049/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2001 (OJ L 145/43 of 31.5.2001)).
The register in general contains the following types of documents:
- agendas of committee meetings,
- draft implementing measures,
- summary records of committee meetings,
- voting results of opinions delivered by a committee.
A new regulation on comitology was adopted, in force since 1 March 2011 (See the Regulation No 182/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down the rules and general principles concerning mechanisms for control by Member States of the Commission's exercise of implementing powers)
Types of committee
There are four categories of committee: Advisory, Management, Regulatory and, under the new procedure agreed in 2006, Regulatory with Scrutiny. Advisory committees give opinions which the Commission must take account of, but it retains the power of decision. Management committees can block a proposed Commission measure by a qualified majority. A Regulatory committee needs a qualified majority to approve a proposed Commission measure. Measures not adopted are referred to the Council for a decision (or Council and Parliament under the new Regulatory committee with Scrutiny, where opposition from either will block the proposed measure).
As noted above, the European Parliament has long had a problem with the lack of transparency of comitology committees, stemming mainly from the fact that Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are excluded from the comitology process. A broader concern has been voiced about the public accountability of comitology. As sites of European governance which produce a vast amount of binding legislation, comitology's opaque mode of operation, unclear membership, and closed debate style has been the subject of criticism from both academics and practitioners.
- Hardacre, Alan and Kaeding, Michael (2011) Delegated and Implementing Acts: The New Worlds of Comitology - Implications for European and National Public Administrations. EIPAscope 01/2011. EIPAScope, 2011 (1). pp. 29-32. ISSN 1025-6253
- European Court of Auditors: Misused English terminology in EU publications
- Rhinard, Mark (2002) 'The Democratic Legitimacy of the European Union Committee System' Governance 15(2): 185-210.
- Europa Glossary: Comitology
- House of Lords (1999-02-02) Select Committee on European Communities Third Report
- Comitology Register
- Consolidated Version of Comitology Decision 1999/468/EC taking into consideration Decision 2006/512/EC of 17 July 2006
- Web-based access to the Comitology register
- Acquis on Comitology
- More background
- Detailed Bibliography on Comitology
- EEA EFTA on Comitology
- Papers at the University of Pittsburgh
- A short, to-the-point summary table on comitology procedures on Online EU Tests