News > EM Germany President Dr. Rainer Wend – Euro-political statement: Trilogues

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Bridging EU decision making

EM Germany President Dr. Rainer Wend – Euro-political statement: Trilogues

Today Europe struggles with ever greater challenges. The multiple external crises it faces are clear to all and must be dealt with as a matter of priority. At the same time however the EU’s immune system is weakening. As such we must not lose sight of Europe’s internal dynamics.

You have to give the European Commission this much: it never misses an opportunity to assure the public that EU legislative processes will be handled correctly in future. Thus first Vice-President Frans Timmermans asserted at the recent June EM Germany event in Berlin that transparency, comprehensibility and open access are especially needed in times of crisis and scepticism.

The concept of “better regulation” which Timmermans emphasises doesn’t come from nowhere. It has its origins in pre-crisis times: with a London harshly critical of Brussels and a lost European referendum in his own country, the Dutch Timmermans became the ideal person to clean up the “Eurocracy”. He does it ably, yet any new political culture also holds dangers. Absurd laws are not just dreamed up by Brussels bureaucrats. Politicians and interest groups of every stripe -even national governments- also implement them. Now the Member States must play their part. Those who have listened closely to Edmund Stoiber in recent years know that the slashing of pointless EU bureaucracy is currently being impeded on the national level.

Moreover the better regulation agenda seems remarkably bureaucratic and sterile in times of crisis. The technocratic rhetoric on governance doesn’t quite jibe with a “more democratic EU”. Committees of experts are good, but parliamentary representativeness is better.

Unfortunately even the European Parliament itself has been heading towards technocratic governance for some years. It has -unnecessarily- transformed the so-called “trilogue” into a norm of the legislative process. At the same time it acts in a grossly negligent manner: giving the impression on its comprehensive websites that the standard legislative processes as taught in school and university predominate at EU level. It even maintains that trilogues are only used for especially important, urgent issues. Can 90% of legislation really be urgent? Especially given that the trilogue process is no faster than the alternative.

In answer to my question in June (unlike an earlier interview in January) Timmermans ascribed responsibility for this to Parliament. He mustn’t be allowed to make it that easy for himself however – the European Parliament is on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand it has the responsibility for parliamentary co-decision on most EU legislation, an important democratic mandate. On the other hand it has few administrative and technical resources to fall back on, unlike the Commission and the Council which additionally benefit from national ministerial expertise. Alongside some vanity from (often only temporarily) powerful politicians, this is the real reason why Parliament engages in the trilogue deal with the Ministerial Council and the Commission.

European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has done the right thing and – in line with previous EM Germany demands – opened an EU “health check” on trilogues. In her letters to the presidents of the institutions involved in trilogues she recently even added a possible infringement of EU treaties to the discussion.

EM Germany wants a strong parliamentary democracy in the EU as only this will improve Europe’s fitness through competition. However the use of performance enhancing trilogues is not without its dangers. For risks and side-effects ask your elected representatives… The biggest pro-European network in Germany cannot turn a blind eye to the frequency of such cases of performance enhancement at the moment. After the Ombudsman’s investigation an intervention is required. Otherwise the EU will degenerate into an efficient but intransparent legislative machine which will ultimately only play into the hands of populist scaremongerers.

What we need is more parliamentary democracy and transparent competition. Precisely because of the current crises.

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