Daniel Gueguen

Inundated with delegated acts, should Parliament hire more or simply reorganise?

In the same week when the European Parliament’s SecretaryGeneral, Klaus Welle, called for staff reinforcements to deal with the growing number of delegated acts, Richard Corbett – one of the
fathers of the 2006 comitology reform – recommended that all MEPs faced with the current lack of new legislative proposals should take an interest in secondary legislation.

It was a surprise to hear Parliament’s highest civil servant declaring “we are not ready,” since the Lisbon Treaty – which introduced delegated acts – has been in force for more than five years.

The astonishment at the number of delegated acts is also a surprise. It is true that the Commission, the main beneficiary of these acts which it both proposes AND adopts, has always underestimated their volume. Talking about only a few dozen delegated acts per year would not worry legislators or stakeholders as much as my prediction of 500 delegated acts per year.

 

Parliament: Buzzing beehive with less and less honey

The current legislative inactivity is a fact, even if the EP is not responsible for it. Whenever a proposal comes, it is agreed at first reading via trilogues that, while undoubtedly useful, tend to lead to an increase in secondary legislation.

This is the explanation for Corbett’s advice. However, to get more interested in secondary legislation, one has to understand it – and here lies the problem.

The system is perverse: the EP can hardly get more involved in implementing acts which are the responsibility of the Commission and the member states. As for delegated acts, the EP prefers them in principle but spends little time on the legal “details”.

The mantra of MEPs is: delegated acts = good, implementing acts = bad. This blackandwhite attitude prevents genuine debates on secondary legislation, and the same goes for member states
whose mantra is the exact opposite: delegated acts = bad, implementing acts = good.

All this leads to a kind of ‘legislation light, or ‘skeleton legislation’ – minimalist laws with an inflated amount of delegated and implementing acts.

 

With secondary legislation on the rise, Parliament and Council need to get trained

The colegislators no longer master the EU legislative and regulatory process. This sentence might shock some. Of course, Coreper I does not lack experts in comitology and delegated acts, but what about ministers and politicians? In the EP, there are one or two MEPs who are clued in to the new procedures, along with some assistants, advisors and administrators…but this is insufficient.

With around 10,000 people already employed in the EP, hiring more would be pointless. Raising awareness and training (individually or collectively) each committee and political group is an urgent priority; the contrary would involve admitting that the EU is moving down a bureaucratic road that is bad.

 

Commission has to be part of the solution, not the problem

Firmly in favour of delegated acts, the Commission must carry a heavy responsibility for the current situation. It is the only one that understands the technical content of files and the subtleties of the decision making process. We cannot fault it for this.

But the Commission deals with secondary legislation on a casebycase basis without any uniformity, leaving a wide margin of discretion to every directorategeneral. It proposes consultations that vary in nature and confers a discretionary power on individual officials that the legal nature of the legislative process should forbid. Uniformity is a priority.

Ultimately, trust has to be restored: the Commission has to work for the general interest, the Council has to reverse a worrying slide towards national interests and Parliament must realise that in order to fulfil its service to the citizen, mastering all the legislative tools is essential.

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