EU Parliament agrees major overhaul of committee and law-making functions
The European Parliament has agreed a wide-ranging package of reforms of its internal rules covering the legislative process, budgetary functions, and plenary activities, a senior parliamentary official confirmed to Euractiv on Thursday (7 December).
The reforms were proposed and sketched out by a working group involving MEPs and the Parliament’s administration. In a meeting on Wednesday, political group leaders and the president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, adopted the whole package.
The reforms involve the legislative process, scrutiny activities, budgetary functions, and the so-called ‘discharge powers’ – a procedure of assessment on how the EU institutions and agencies have carried out their tasks of implementing the EU budget – as well as the functioning of the Parliament’s plenary and the relations with external partners.
Scope of reforms
The reforms seek to reduce bureaucracy and time-wasting in the Parliament’s daily work, as well as to limit the conflict of competences between the parliamentary committees, which lie at the heart of the assembly’s work.
Parliament is also hoping to have a stronger voice when it comes to negotiating with EU ministers in the Council as a co-legislator.
“Members noted how the fragmentation of responsibilities and legislative competence, as well as cumbersome and resource-intensive procedures inside Parliament, unnecessarily complicate the handling of legislative files, impeding the actual legislative work and sometimes even weakening Parliament’s negotiating position vis-à-vis Council and Commission,” states a document seen by Euractiv, which explains the main points of the reform.
After the European Commission – the only EU institution that can initiate legislation – publishes a new legislative proposal, the Parliament and the Council adopt their position on the file and afterwards, they negotiate a common position in meetings known as trilogues.
The reform will also centralise the Parliament’s powers around fewer MEPs, as well as grant more procedural powers to the Parliament administration, multiple sources from the Parliament’s political groups told Euractiv on condition of anonymity.
The legislative process
The committees form the core of the European Parliament’s power in legislative processes, with the MEPs appointed as committee chairs or rapporteurs on individual files typically playing a key role in drafting and negotiating laws.
The committees are also at the centre of this overall reform, which will radically change the way MEPs do legislative work.
It confirmed the possibility of creating ad-hoc committees with legislative powers “as a last resource” for particular legislation cases.
Currently, the Parliament has ‘temporary special committees’ for specific topics, which only manage reports, resolutions, and other procedures initiated by MEPs – and not legislative procedures.
LEAK: EU Parliament mulls creating new ‘ad hoc’ committees with lawmaking powers
The European Parliament is considering introducing ‘ad hoc’ committees with legislative powers for “legislative proposals falling within the competence of more than three committees”, according to a document seen by EURACTIV.
The procedure of joint committees will be “simplified” with a maximum involvement of three committees. There will be one chair (alternating) for each meeting, one rapporteur, and one shadow rapporteur per committee involved.
It is also confirmed that opinions – which are non-legally-binding assessments on a specific piece of legislation – will not be allowed by default, but will be accepted when the member is highly knowledgeable on the matter.
The proposal also envisages the possibility of “grouping” standing committees by “policy areas in committee clusters”, which are non-permanent formations with no legislative powers that aim to facilitate cooperation between committees.
The clusters, which would be defined at the start of each legislative term, will not be permanent formations but “activated on a need-only basis”, the document explains.
The Parliament will also “streamline scrutiny and implementation of political priorities”, asking for more “structured” and “high quality” data from the European Commission, in particular regarding forthcoming legislative initiatives, or negotiations of international agreements.
A “special scrutiny hearing” process will also be introduced to focus on “issues of major political importance/requiring more in-depth knowledge”.
The European Parliament will “establish a default mode of cooperation between legislative committees and the committee on budgets” when performing its “budgetary functions”, the document confirms.
A different procedure for discharges is foreseen in the reform. The main focus will be put on the discharge procedure of the European Commission, while agencies, without particular problems in their budget implementation, will vote on a sole discharge procedure.
The internal budget of the European Parliament will be discussed at the committee level and a procedure of discharge in the plenary will not be foreseen anymore. If any concerns regarding the implementation of the Parliament’s budget, MEPs can vote on a resolution commenting on it.
The reforms will enter into force at the start of the next legislative mandate next July.
Meanwhile, the Parliament is continuing discussions on how to solve conflicts of competences between committees, as well as proposals to create bigger committees, halving its current number with another set of reforms.
EU lawmakers have the ambition to conclude these reforms before next June’s European elections.
LEAK: European Parliament gets ready to shake up internal committee structure
The European Parliament secretariat has prepared a ‘reflection paper’ – exclusively seen by Euractiv – addressed to political groups with concrete examples on how to reshape the Parliament’s committees in the next legislative mandate.
Luca Bertuzzi contributed to the reporting.