EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Member states and interest groups stand to lose considerable power to the European Commission under new rules surrounding the implementation of EU legislation, experts on the subject say.
The rules, which come into force on Tuesday (1 March), are designed to overhaul decision-making in the 300-odd EU committees that vote on the detailed implementation of EU laws - a procedure known as 'comitology'.
Through ratification of the EU's Lisbon Treaty, member states handed greater control over hundreds of daily decisions such as food labeling and trade-protection measures to the commission, Daniel Guéguen, a leading public affairs consultant, told EUobserver.
"The reason why the new system will be worse is its increasing complexity. The commission gets more power to the detriment of member states and lobbyists," said Mr Guéguen, the author of a recent book on the subject.
Asked whether the move amounted to an intentional power-grab by the commission, Mr Guéguen said: "There is no doubt. It's not official but in practice yes. They are the only people who have the time to understand the complexity of the issues. The European Parliament may think it is getting more power but in practice it will not."
After nine months of protracted negotiations with the commission and member states, MEPs finally approved a regulation governing the new 'implementing powers' last December, as defined by the Lisbon Treaty.
The procedure is widely practised across the globe, with national legislature's frequently delegating much of the day-to-day implementation decisions to a country's executive branch. At the EU level, powers have been handed to the commission in a wide-ranging list of areas, on condition that it consults with committees of national experts before decisions are taken.
Under former EU treaties, a simple majority of member state experts could block a commission proposal on technical issues such as milk quotas or the approval of certain chemical substances. They could also elect to transfer controversial decisions such as those related to GMOs to the level of EU ministers.
Under the Lisbon Treaty and last December's regulation however, a harder-to-achieve qualified majority is now needed, while the ability to push politically sensitive decisions up to council of ministers level has also been restricted.
An EU official who is well versed on the subject confirmed that the new comitology rules would work very much in the commission's favour. "The commission is in control of the agenda and can push its own interests. It can now adopt its own proposals unless there is a qualified majority of member state experts against it," said the source on condition of anonymity.
National governments have recently been scrambling to claw back some of the lost powers, mostly in vain, added the contact. "Member states woke up way too late. This is what happens when you negotiate a new treaty at 3am."
Supporters of the new rules say they will help to further streamline EU decision-making and hand the European Parliament a greater say. But a number of states including Germany and the UK have recently shown considerable unease about the new mechanism, concerned that their ability to influence important trade decisions will be reduced.
The commission argues that bringing trade under the new comitology rules will reduce the ability of sectoral groups to lobby against the wider public interest, and also prevent member states from politicising particular issues such as tariffs on shoe imports.
And contrary to the views of Mr Guéguen, the Belgian EU presidency last December hailed the MEP agreement on a regulation governing comitology as an important step towards simplifying the EU procedure, frequently said to be lacking transparency.