January 18, 2016
Nobody has ever explained why the Member States, in ratifying the Lisbon Treaty, replaced an effective comitology system with an unmanageable one. If we cannot change it, we have to master it – or accept losing our influence.
Only one winner and many losers
There are small losers and big losers. The small losers are the Member States. While they have lost the advantage of comitology committees for delegated acts, they maintain it for implementing acts. Moreover, they remain very active in trilogues, ensuring that their interests are upheld. The icing on the cake is that they are benefiting from the growing significance of the European Council. Composed of the Heads of State and Government, it now acts as a kind of tutor for the Commission, turning the traditional Commission-Parliament-Council of Ministers triangle into an ‘institutional square’ now containing the European Council alongside these three players.
The big loser is the European Parliament
The Parliament does not master the Lisbon Treaty procedures and it often takes a nonchalant approach to trilogues. MEPs have no power over implementing acts and a rather virtual veto right over delegated acts, since it requires a difficult majority threshold within very short time periods. The Parliament has become the weak link in the chain. Either due to lack of will or lack of competence, it is not making full use of the considerable powers it possesses.
Another category of losers: lobbyists
Gone are the times when a ‘good lobbyist’ was first and foremost an expert on the relevant le. Today, a ‘good lobbyist’ has three facets: in addition to the technical knowledge, they must equally be a legal expert and a communicator. Used to simple decision-making processes, they have to and their way through the post-Lisbon procedures with a com- pass, like an explorer in a rainforest, all while capable of summarizing the most complex issues in a few words. As a result, lobbyists have – with limited exceptions – lost a lot of their past influence.
The big winner is the European Commission
Already endowed with considerable powers – in particular the power of initiative combining technical with procedural expertise, the Commission rules over the post-Lisbon EU . . . but paradoxically with disappointing results: too bureaucratic, too technical and too arrogant, it sees the tree but not the forest. It adopts more and more technical regulations, but fails to deliver on political issues. What is astonishing is that its increase in power often goes hand in hand with a decrease in its will to listen – another handicap for lobbyists!
Towards a revolution in lobbying techniques and structures:
The post-Lisbon Europe with its ‘institutional square’, its low-pro le Parliament and its complex, opaque and ad hoc procedures are profoundly transforming lobbying techniques. The margins of influence are not necessarily reduced, but they require more sophisticated tools, more subtle methods and a greater need for action.
- The opaque nature of trilogies and delegated acts demands an in-depth re-adjustment of monitoring systems and how they are pooled. If everyone operates their own monitoring system they will end up with incomplete monitoring, unable – due to lack of resources – to obtain non-public information on trilogues or delegated acts.
- Another major change, already highlighted, is that the technical analysis of a file has to be accompanied by a procedural analysis. But the skills are not the same: it is there- fore necessary to rebalance staff currently too focused on the technical (the ‘what?’) and not enough on the decision-making process (the ‘how to?’).
- Anticipation and proactivity were always important; today they are more important than ever, since it is at the level of primary legislation (the basic legislative act) where the scope and adoption processes for each delegated and implementing act are decided. If you do not address secondary legislation during the adoption phase of the primary legislation, failure will be the outcome.
- Prioritizing les, using the right lobbying structure for each issue, concentrating resources, the ability to exert ‘pressure’: these are becoming the ‘must-haves’ of our profession, which is now a mixture of analysis, action and communication.
There is a fire in the lobbyists’ house, but nobody seems to care!
This article could have been written 5 years ago when the Treaty of Lisbon first entered into force. We have written a lot . . . but with little result, as our colleagues prefer to stay in their comfort zone, doing ‘business as usual’.
The recent Volkswagen emissions affair has given rise to a flood of tweets about comitology which, taken at face value, are surprising. At another level, they are amusing since they demonstrate the inability of their authors to understand how the EU decision-making process works.
However, all lobbying – and every methodology – is based on a given institutional system. If the system changes, then lobbying techniques have to be adapted. This is logical. But this is not the case in Brussels where most of the many lobbying structures (there are 3,000 of them!) continue to work on the basis of an institutional model and balance of power that no longer exists.
This state of affairs is destined to evolve, by will or by force. By will would be much better.
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