Danish EU Presidency to investigate role of officials

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The Danish Foreign Ministry is to investigate the role played by Danish civil servants in amending proposed EU measures in direct negotiations with the MEP rapporteurs in the European Parliament. According to "euobserver" (27.9.02, www.euobserver.com) under the so-called "fast-track" procedure talks are held between officials and MEP rapporteurs to try and ensure the parliament agrees measures quickly at the 1st reading stage. These secret talks take place outside the formal committee proceedings and are therefore kept from the members of the committee, MEPs as a whole, the public and national parliaments.

The issue has arisen because Denmark holds the EU Presidency on behalf of the Council of the European Union (the 15 EU governments) so its officials (based at its Brussels permanent delegation) together with officials from the General Secretariat of the Council and the Commission hold "trilogue" meetings with MEP rapporteurs responsible for drafting reports for the parliament's committees. The Danish Foreign Ministry is to carry out an inquiry into this procedure by January 2003.

The issue first arose during the secret "trilogue" meetings during the adoption of the Regulation on access to EU documents last year after a report by EP's the three Vice-Presidents said that the procedure should only be used for "fast-tracking" of "technical and politically non-controversial" measures (see below)


Statewatch News online, March 2001

In January 2001 the three Vice-Presidents, Renzo Imbeni, James Provan and Ingo Friedrich, responsible for the "co-decision procedure" issued a report which warned of the dangers for the parliament of informal agreements to resolve differences with the Council without proper parliamentary control.

There are two procedures involving the European Parliament's role of new measures put forward by the Council or the European Commission. The first is "consultation" where the parliament has to be consulted and its views may or may not be taken into account. The second is "co-decision" where the parliament, the Council and the Commission all have to agree on a new measure. "Co-decision" applies on most measures put forward by the Commission (except those on immigration and asylum under Title IV TEC which is still under "consultation").

The procedure for "co-decision" is set out in Article 251 of the Treaty establishing the European Communities (TEC). A proposal is put forward by the Commission and the European Parliament adopts a first reading position (by putting forward amendments to the Commission proposal). The Council (the 15 EU governments) can then either agree with the parliament (in which case the measure can be adopted quickly) or adopts its own "common position". If the latter happens the Commission tells the parliament of its reaction to the Council's common position and the parliament can then agree with the Council or propose further amendments within three months (second reading position). Within three further months the Council can either agree with the parliament's amendments or reject all or some of them in which case a "Conciliation Committee" is formed with representatives of the three institutions - this committee has six weeks to agree a final text or the measure fails.

Under the Amsterdam Treaty (and later under the Treaty of Nice) the number of issues covered by "co-decision" was extended. The report by the Vice-Presidents of the parliament opens by noting that the "character" of the co-decision procedure "is undergoing very rapid change" with an important "change in the behaviour of the Council". In the past, the report says, the Council "tended to pay limited attention to the parliament, keeping it at arm's length", now:

"all parts of the Council - Presidency, Coreper and Secretariat - have adopted a conscious strategy of developing contacts<

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