Comitology (or ‘committee procedure’) refers to the procedures under which the European Commission executes its implementing powers delegated to it by the legislative branch (i.e. the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union) with the assistance of so called ‘comitology committees’ consisting of Member State representatives. This delegation of power is now based on Article 290TFEU.
Comitology committees emerged in the 1960s when the Council realised that it lacked the resources to make all necessary implementation rules and decided to delegate implementing powers to the Commission. Today, most EU regulation is not enacted as legislation by the European Council or the European Parliament but as implementation measures under the executive duties of the Commission.
A first comitology decision rationalising the committee structure and establishing the rules and principles was adopted in 1987. It was revised in 1999 (Council Decision 99/468 laying down the procedure for the Exercise of Implementing Powers Conferred on the Commission). In order to keep some legislative control over the implementation procedures, it was decided that the Council can force the Commission to adopt implementation measures only after a comitology process. Thus, comitology enables the Member States to influence decision-making even when powers have been delegated to the Commission.
Three types of committees are provided for under the Council Decision 99/468: these have varying levels of legislative control over the Commission and follow different procedures. The type of committee assigned normally depends on the policy area being regulated.
- Advisory committees: The Commission submits a draft of the proposed measure to the Committee and the Committee delivers its opinion. The Commission is not bound by this opinion, but shall take the ‘utmost account’ of it and has to inform the committee on the manner in which its opinion has been taken into account. This procedure is used when policy matters considered are not very sensitive politically.
- Management committees: Their responsibility is to oversee management measures, especially those affecting agricultural policy, fisheries, and main Community projects. In the case of management committees, if the measures adopted by the Commission are not consistent with the committee’s opinion, the Commission has to communicate them to the Council which can overrule the Commission’s proposal.
- Regulatory committees: These committees follow similar rules to the management committees, the main difference being that if finally the Council does not take a decision on issues being referred back to it by committees because of disagreement over a certain measure planned by the Commission, the Commission may adopt this measure provided that the Council does not object with a qualified majority. This procedure is used for measures relating to protection of health or safety and measures amending non-essential provisions of the basic legislative instruments.
The 1999 Comitology decision brought some improvements concerning the transparency of the work of the committees, e.g. by introducing an online register of all comitology documents that are transmitted to the European Parliament.
Despite the 1999 Comitology decision, comitology procedures have since been a matter of dispute amongst the different European bodies. While the Council was satisfied with the situation defined by the 1999 Comitology decision, the Commission held the position that its own decision-making role and its discretion in executive powers should be widened and therefore the role of the comitology committees restricted (see e.g. the 2001 White paper on European Governance or the 2002 Communication on Institutional Architecture). The Parliament wanted to restrict the delegation of implementation measures to the Commission (and the committees) to purely routine measures: the role of the Parliament as co-legislator in procedures of legislative oversight should be strengthened and, consequently, the competences of both the Commission and the committees be restricted.
Despite these different interests, a compromise between the Parliament, the Council and the Commission was reached on a future comitology reform in June 2006. The most relevant issues of the compromise are:
Call-back right: Under the new scrutiny procedure, for the first time Parliament will be able to block any implementing measures under the co-decision procedure with an absolute majority of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).
Sunset Clauses: At present, MEPs have the right to limit the Commission’s implementing powers by setting maximum periods (i.e. ‘sunset clauses) for it to adopt the necessary rules for applying new laws in the Member States. Under the new compromise, MEPs will only be able to confer powers on the Commission for an indefinite period, except in exceptional circumstances.
Information rights: In order to ensure an improved flow of information from Commission to Parliament, it was agreed to implement a detailed information system on all comitology committees’ activities.
See also: Coreper.