Sometimes it pays to stay at home. Normally when the temperature is -19C and the wind is blowing a bone-chilling gale that’s exactly what I do. Stay home.
Some circumstances dictate that such normalities are broken and that was the case yesterday for a dear friend’s birthday. The gentleman in question has business interests in Odessa (where he lives permanently) and Germany although he is Armenian by birth. He is no oligarch but I would be quite happy if my combined net worth was only one “0″ less than his.
Needless to say, numerous “business types” and lowly local politicians were also present whilst large amounts of food and far too much vodka and cognac was imbibed as the evening progressed. All very pleasant indeed.
There is never a good time to be asked “So how does the EU work then?” given most Europeans have no idea how the EU works. If there is a particularly bad time it is when alcohol has been consumed as it is complex enough when stone-cold sober.
The easy answer is “Well it doesn’t. It simply muddles through”. However in such company, such an answer does not satisfy the listening audience.
I shall now recite the answer given and await you good people to correct any erroneous statement I made in order to make the necessary corrections at the next gathering.
Firstly it is important to identify the key entities within the EU. The European Commission which initiates EU legislation and is the executive branch, the EU parliament comprised of MEPs and the European Council which is a collation of sovereign State ministers.
All three bodies must agree any new EU legislation. At this point the gates of hell are opened and a very slow spit-roast of any proposed legislation begins.
Why is it so slow? Let’s turn the key in the gates of hell and tiptoe into
Babylon Brussels and find out!
When any new legislation is proposed the EU Commission sends it to the EU parliament and the EU Council in the necessary 22 different languages used within the EU. Immediately there is an obviously delay when even the most simple and shortest of legislative drafts must be translated into so many different languages prior to is even leaving the European Commission.
Now once any legislative proposals reach the EU parliament, it is then assigned to a specific committee for scrutiny and debate. Amongst those on any relevant committee within the EU parliament, one member is given the task of authoring a report on the proposal when conclusions have been reached.
That seems simple until you consider that bureaucracy is the name of the EU game, and thus is any legislative proposal contains more than one specific proposal, then an equal amount of committee members will be appointed to author a report on each specific proposal within any legislative suggestion. In effect for complex legislative proposals there may be six or more committee members authoring reports on specific parts of the overall proposal.
Yes indeed, momentum is being lost already. But that is not all. Should any proposal overlap in the areas of other EU parliamentary committees, the chair of the one committee can ask those committees for their input also. Not to mentions NGOs, academics, business and other interested or affected parties in any proposal.
Are your eyes rolling yet?
Of course the “red amendment pen” is already in the hand of the committee member(s) responsible for authoring any report on the proposal when taking into account suggestions not only from the committee but also the NGOs, academics, business and other interested parties.
Eventually, the draft report(s) are completed and put to the committee for further debate, possibly further amendment, voted upon.
It is then submitted to the European parliament to be voted upon and possibly yet further amended.
When this circus eventually ends, you have the official EU parliament position on the legislation over which they will then do battle with the European Commission and European Council.
But wait! What about the EU Council of national ministers?
Well, they also are looking at the legislative proposal sent to them by the European Commission. It is comprised of 27 (soon 28) members, a national representative for each Member State unsurprisingly. Depending upon the subject of the legislation, depends on who sits on the council. Finance Ministers for finance, Justice Ministers for justice etc.
Obviously these are busy people scattered across Europe with many domestic issues to look after and not all sat in Brussels like the EU parliament committees. It can take numerous meetings and many months for them to meet often enough to debate and finally agree their position on any proposed legislation (with suitable amendments of course).
So what happens then?
Well then the EU parliament and the EU Council battle it out and eventually (possibly/maybe) will come to a compromise at which point an agreed joint position is drafted and sent back to the European parliament and European Council to be yet again voted on and agreed (hopefully – or the process goes around again).
When the compromise text passes in both the EU parliament and EU Council and is signed off by suitable representatives, it is returned to the European Commission who originally send out something resembling “X” and will now receive something resembling “Z” and duly publish it.
Thus new EU legislation is born (a year or more after it was first sent for debate in many cases).
I realise that now you have all gone searching for any suitable weapon (sharp, blunt or firearm) prior to social media interaction and the inevitable gathering and march with torches burning, towards this centre of bureaucratic obfuscation in an effort to beat some administrative speed into the process. If you are still awake and with me so far that is.
That, as far as it goes, was my basic explanation of how the EU works (as far as legal matters are concerned).
When asked about EU foreign policy, well my answer was “What EU foreign policy? It muddles through somehow.” Fortunately that seemed to be accepted….or this would be a very long post!