Decision-Making in the European Union Before and After Lisbon – Policy Implications

Click on each person’s name to view their extended biography page.

June 5, 2012 @ Leiden University.


Wim Van Aken
University of Liège

Victoria Arias
Council of the European Union

Christine Arnold
Maastricht University

Vlad Badea
Leiden University

Marjolaine Blondeau
European Social Observatory

Pieter Bouwen
European Commission

Anje Bultena
European Parliament

Adam William Chalmers
Leiden University

Elena-Gabriela Chira
Research Executive Agency
Marie Curie International Fellowships

Thomas Christiansen
(Not attending, but policy brief)
Maastricht University

Michelle Cini
(Not attending, but policy brief)
University of Bristol

Marlies Dachler
University of Victoria

Adriaan Dierx
European Commission

Desmond Dinan
(Not attending, but policy brief)
George Mason University

Youri Devuyst
Free University, Brussels and European Commission

Mathias Dobbels
Maastricht University

Nora Dorrenbacher
Leiden University

Ivan F. Dumka
European Social Observatory

Fabio Franchino
(Not attending, but policy brief)
University of Milan

Demetra Hadjiyiannis
Leiden University

Marthe Harkema
Leiden University

Valerie Hayaert
Canterbury Christ Church University

Madeleine O. Hosli
Leiden University

Paul Ivan
Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS)

Xi Jin
Leiden University

Stephan Keukeleire
University of Leuven

Sandra Kramer
European Commission

Amie Kreppel
University of Florida



Maria Marotta
Council of the European Union

Camilla Mariotto
University of Milan

Benedicta Marzinotto
Bruegel, Brussels

Niels Morsink
University of Antwerp

Alvaro Oliveira
European Commission

Oyvind Opland
European Commission

Steven Overheul
Leiden University

Wen Pan
Leiden University

Constantin Chira-Pascanut
European Commission

Sigfrido Ramirez Perez
Université Catholique de Louvain

Běla Plechanovová
Charles University Prague

Robert Pochmarski
European Commission

Pritti Rana
Leiden University

Marie-Andrée Roy
European Social Observatory

Mikko Salo
European Commission

Carla Santos
Council of the European Union

Magdalena Sapala
Free University, Brussels

Harm Schepel
University of Kent at Brussels

Pierpaolo Settembri
European Commission

Laura Sorrentino
European Social Observatory

Corina Stratulat
European Policy Centre, Brussels

Robert Thomson
Trinity College Dublin

Arnaud Thysen
European Business Summit, Brussels

Bart Vanhercke
European Social Observatory

Amy Verdun
University of Victoria

Andreas Warntjen
(Not attending, but policy brief)
University of Twente

Steffi Weil
Free University, Brussels

Policy Briefs

Special Interests and Integration:
Changes in Patterns of Lobbying Since Lisbon

Adam William Chalmers (Leiden University, The Netherlands)

Lobbying at the European level is nothing new. In fact, the EU has itself long acknowledged the important role that interest groups play in the EU decision-making process. The European Economic and Social Committee, for instance, established in 1957, formalized EU consultation with employers, workers, and other various interests. The 1986 Single European Act institutionalized a form of “social dialogue” or consultation between the Commission and designated European social partners representing business interests and workers’ unions. And the Commission, starting with the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam, has been legally mandated to “consult widely (…) with representative associations and civil society” during the policy-making process. Interest groups are an important and highly institutionalized aspect of the EU decision-making process. But how have changes brought about by the Lisbon Treaty affected the way interest groups lobby in the EU? My central argument is that the EU, post-Lisbon, is facing an unprecedented period of increased and intensified interest group lobbying activity. This is the result of (1) changes made to the EU decision-making process (including the extension of Qualified Majority Voting and the increase in the European Parliament’s executive powers), and (2) the emergence of a new point of access for interest group influence via the newly minted European Citizens’ Initiative. The challenge the EU faces, I argue, is not to curtail interest group involvement in the EU decision-making process, but rather to ensure that the lobbying process is fair, impartial and, most importantly, transparent. Current EU mechanisms, however, appear to fall short of these tasks.

The Making of Lisbon and Its Aftermath

Amy Verdun (University of Victoria, BC, Canada)

The Laeken 2001 European Council agreed to a set up a Convention to examine the Future of Europe (Presidency Conclusions 14-15 December 2001). The European Union (EU) had become too cumbersome – too bureaucratic. It lacked efficiency, effectiveness and democratic accountability and it was too far removed from the citizens who could no longer understand what the EU was all about. Also, it lacked capacity to deal with the globalised world. If it were to enlarge so as to include many of the former communist countries, Cyprus and Malta and perhaps more countries in the future, it needed reform. With all this in mind it was decided to review the EU’s institutional rules. The group would examine how to deal with the problems that were seen as the leftovers of the Nice Treaty (Duff 2001).

The result is well known (see for example CEPS, Egmond, EPC 2007; Laursen 2008). After extensive deliberation the Convention, with its 105 delegates, representing mostly national parliaments and governments of EU member states and candidate countries, as well as representatives of EU institutions, led by former French President Valéry Giscard D’Estaing created of the final text: “A Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe”. Though signed by all Heads of States and Governments in Rome on 29 October 2004 the text was however rejected in two referendums in 2005, in France and the Netherlands. There followed a reflection period of two years, even if some member states still continued with referendums and the ratification process so as to gauge the support for the document that had been created. Eventually it led to the acceptance of a watered-down version of institutional changes captured in the “reform treaty” – now known as the “Lisbon Treaty” (it was signed in Lisbon on 13 December 2007). This treaty too required approval in popular referendums in various member states and a final signature by some heads of state (Poland and Czech Republic). Although it was often trying, eventually Lisbon Treaty had been ratified. It entered into force in December 2009.

This policy brief seeks to examine the institutional rules and the decision-making process in the EU before and after the Lisbon Treaty. Its purpose is to examine what were the challenges that the EU responded to that ultimately led to the Lisbon Treaty? What institutional changes were made? What has been the outcome of these changes, and have they led to the desired results? How can we make sense of these results from a theoretical perspective? European integration theories typically focus their attention on intergovernmental bargaining, the underlying interests at stake, the functional drive underlying the integration process, and the role of experts. By looking through these theoretical lenses we will assess what can be learnt about the process of institutional change in the EU during this period and what might lie ahead.

The Elusive Quest for Continuity? Legislative Decision-Making
and the Council Presidency Before and After Lisbon

Andreas Warntjen (University of Twente, The Netherlands)

One of the major innovations in the institutional set-up of the European Union enacted by the Lisbon Treaty was the establishment of an elected Presidency to head the European Council. This office was set up to ensure the coherence and continuity of the Council’s work. Indeed, for decades observers have lamented the lack of an office ensuring the continuity of the Council’s work, not least in the legislative field. The reform of the Council and the question of a longer term of the Council Presidency was also an important topic in the Convention on the Future of Europe, which laid the groundwork for the Lisbon Treaty. The result was, however, a hybrid. While the Presidency of the European Council was extended, the Presidency at the ministerial and working group level continues to rotate every six months between member states (with the exception of foreign policy). This change is unlikely to markedly increase the continuity of the Council’s legislative activities.

Since its founding in the 1950s, the European Union1 has faced an increasingly complex legislative environment. The scope of its competences has increased drastically, its membership has risen nearly fivefold and the set-up of its legislative decision-making procedures has become more sophisticated. In light of the near-doubling of its membership in 2004, the Union embarked on a major overhaul of its institutions. Tony Blair aptly summarized a common feeling before enlargement: “…we cannot do business like this in the future” (cited in Norman 2005: 16). Throughout the history of the Union, the Council of Ministers has been the crucial linchpin through which all legislation has to pass to be enacted. Consequently, all discussion on institutional reform included changes to the workings of the Council.

National Actors in Post-Lisbon EU:
Should We Expect a Change of National Strategies?

Běla Plechanovová (Charles University Prague, Czech Republic)

The Treaty of Lisbon has introduced institutional changes that changed the balance both among the institutions and the member states within the institutions. The application of some of these changes had to be delayed because of their extreme political sensitivity. Either from the beginning of the Treaty, as was the case of the decision-making rule in the Council applicable from 2014 with three more years available to recall the rule of Nice, or due to the opposition during the ratification process, such as the case of the reduction of the number of Commissioners below the number of member states as a consequence of the Irish “no” in 2008 referendum, postponed also to 2014. Trying to assess what are the effects of the Treaty of Lisbon in practice, i.e. in everyday legislative decision-making of the EU institutions, may seem premature undertaking then. Still, some of the changes had already taken place, namely introduction of the ordinary legislative procedure, i.e., the co-decision of the European Parliament and the qualified majority voting in the Council, into a number of new policy areas. Also, we may assume that the actors and the institutions as collective bodies may have already adjusted their behavior in preparation for the moment when the entire new institutional set-up is going to be in place.

The policy brief aims to assess whether these particular institutional changes, which already affected the member states’ position in the EU, have influenced the behavior of the actors in the inter-institutional relations of the legislative process. It analysis the legislative process of all the co-decision files which were submitted by Barroso I and Barroso II Commissions during 2004 to mid-2011 period and reviews the level of resistance these files met in the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. The focus is on the national and political identity of the key actors of the process; the Commissioner primary responsible for the legislation, the rapporteur of the committee of the European Parliament and the presidency of the EU Council represented by the Prime Minister of the presiding member state. Does the national and/or political identity of these actors influence the level of resistance of the legislative institutions? Which patterns emerge and do we capture any signs of change after the Treaty of Lisbon is with us? The variation of the level of resistance is studied in relation to the constellation of the national and political identity of these actors. The results show that we perceive a difference between the periods before and after Lisbon, both in the content of the legislation and in the level of resistance it meets in the EU institutions. While in the period preceding the application of the Treaty of Lisbon we saw a clear, long term patterns of relations among the actors from particular groups of member states – be them the North-South (Mattila 2004) or North-South-East (Naurin 2008), payers-receivers (Zimmer, Schneider, and Dobbins 2005), Old-New (Thomson 2011) or core-periphery (Plechanovova 2011) patterns, in the most recent period a new pattern, where the party political relations play more significant role even in the interinstitutional dealings seems to be emerging.

Public Opinion and EU Institutions

Christine Arnold (Maastricht University, The Netherlands)

Trust in political institutions is instrumental to the functioning of representative democracies. It confers legitimacy to democratic governments and enables them to implement their policies without hindrance. At a time when Europe is facing the consequences of the global financial and economic crisis and the challenges of the institutional reforms provided by the Lisbon Treaty, we ask what drives the public trust (or mistrust) in the institutions of the EU and particularly how much does the national context account for this. Our statistical research, based on surveys and aggregate data from 2005 to 2010 comprising information regarding the European Parliament, the Commission, the Council, the European Court of Justice and the European Central Bank, leads to the conclusion that country-level corruption as well as other individual-level predictors (i.e. education, occupation, interest in politics, welfare, gender, age etc.) are key elements in shaping the trust in the EU institutions. In light of these findings, we believe that reducing the perceived distance between the regular citizen and the Union is a primary solution to increasing and strengthening support for the EU and its bodies.

The Post-Lisbon European Council Presidency:
A Valuable Innovation

Desmond Dinan (George Mason University, US)

In a recent blog about the eurozone crisis, Clyde Prestowitz, an influential American think-tanker, commented that Hermann Van Rompuy, the European Council President, “is little known and little regarded” (Prestowitz, 2012). Prestowitz, who considers himself an unconventional thinker, was spouting conventional wisdom. Without doubt, Van Rompuy is little known in the United States and has low name recognition among most Europeans. But in EU political and policy circles, Van Rompuy is well known and highly regarded. As the first elected President of the European Council, which brings together the political heads of the member states as well as the Commission President, Van Rompuy has shaped this new, post-Lisbon Treaty position in an impressive way. His political background and personal qualities have equipped Van Rompuy with the right skill set for a difficult and demanding job. It almost seems as if the new presidency was invented with Van Rompuy in mind.

In fact, the job was initially conceived with Tony Blair in mind, specifically by Blair himself. In 2002-2003, during the Convention on the Future of Europe, Blair, who was then Prime Minister of the UK, pushed the idea of an elected President of the European Council to replace the long-standing system whereby the presidency rotated among the leaders of the member states, every six months. An extension of the rotating presidency of the Council of Ministers, the rotating presidency of the European Council was unquestionably in need of reform. The performance of particular presidents varied greatly; meetings of the European Council were often poorly prepared and followed through; and there was insufficient continuity from one presidency to another. Replacing the national rotation with a standing president seemed like a good idea.

Explaining Negotiations in the Conciliation Committee

Fabio Franchino and Camilla Mariotto (University of Milan, Italy)

The codecision procedure was introduced with the Treaty of Maastricht in 1993 and later amended by the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999. With the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon in December 2009, it was renamed the ordinary legislative procedure, according to Article 294 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The conciliation committee is the last chance for the European Parliament and the Council to solve disagreements arisen throughout the legislative process. If the Council does not approve the amendments of the parliamentary second reading, the presidents of the Council and of the Parliament convene a meeting of the conciliation committee to resolve the remaining differences between the two institutions. In other words, conciliation is necessary when the Council has failed to approve the amendments inserted by the Parliament after reading its common position. The conciliation committee is composed of members of the Council and Parliament in equal number. Unlike the Council delegation, which is essentially the Council, the Parliament’s rules of procedure prescribes the composition of its delegation to reflect the whole assembly by political groups (Rasmussen 2005; Rasmussen 2008). The parliamentary delegation must include the chair committee and the rapporteur of the dossier at hand as well as one of the three vice-presidents responsible for Conciliation, playing also the role of delegation chair. The Council delegation, on the contrary, is chaired by the minister holding the presidency. The objective of conciliation is to produce, within six weeks, a joint text supported by a qualified majority of Council delegates and an absolute majority of parliamentary delegates. The Commission takes part to the conciliation negotiations without a right to vote. If agreement is found on a joint text, this document is then voted upon within six weeks, under closed rule and by qualified and simple majority in the Council and Parliament respectively.

This procedure has changed over time. Before the Treaty of Amsterdam, the definitive adoption was a Council prerogative: the Council could make a final take-it-or-leave-it offer to the Parliament, which had to muster an absolute majority to halt irrefutably the proposed measure. This last procedural step strengthened, at least in principle, the negotiating hand of the Council (Garrett and Tsebelis 1996), but the adoption of a rule of procedure, stating that the parliamentary leadership would table a motion to reject in such circumstance, has presumably limited the Council’s potential gains (Hix 2002; Kasack 2004).

The Treaty of Lisbon: Towards a More Coherent EU?
A Study of EU Voting in the UN General Assembly

Xi Jin and Madeleine O. Hosli (Leiden University, The Netherlands)

One of the fundamental reasons for which the Lisbon Treaty came into existence concerned the need to bring more coherence to the external representation of the EU. Two years after its implementation, we ask whether the treaty has satisfied this expectation and, to this aim, we take a look at the voting outcomes in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The statistical analysis of the EU Member States’ voting behaviour based on the UNGA roll-call data from 1993 to 2011 points out, on one hand, that there is no substantial increase in the voting cohesion of the EU since the enforcement of the treaty and, on the other hand, that there is no sufficient proof to affirm the EU stands more united than other regional organizations within the UNGA. Although this investigation could be labelled as “premature” with regard to drawing firm conclusions on the effects of the Lisbon Treaty, it nevertheless contributes to identifying current and future possible trends in the performance of the EU as a player on the international arena, notably in global organizations such as the UN. In light of our findings, we see the strengthening of the roles of the EEAS and the High Representative of the Union, the attaining of an enhanced status at the UN and the full consensus of the EU Member States within the UN framework as effective means to further consolidate the coherence of the European reaction to world-wide issues.

Delegated and Implementing Powers After Lisbon:
Old Wine in New Bottles?

Mathias Dobbels (Maastricht University, The Netherlands)

The European Union’s system of delegated powers, traditionally known as “comitology”, underwent significant changes after the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009. Some academic articles and contributions have focused on the changes brought about at the treaty level and in terms of legislative reform. The aim of this policy brief is to look at the implementation and on-going practice by focusing on the key elements of reform and by analyzing the roles played by the three institutions involved in this process (European Parliament, European Commission and Council). By contrasting the new system with the situation before Lisbon, this contribution argues that inter-institutional relations with regard to delegated powers remain dynamic, and that an assessment of the “winners” and “losers” in this area requires analysis of the way in which the formal constitutional provisions in the treaties are being implemented and exercised in practice.

The Lisbon Treaty introduced two new articles, 290 and 291 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), as the treaty base for the new system of conferring delegated and implementing powers to the Commission. A distinction was made between delegated (art. 290 TFEU) and implementing acts (art. 291 TFEU). Under the first category of acts the Council and the European Parliament only have ex post control rights and can either object the act as proposed by the Commission within a given time limit or revoke the delegated powers. The system concerning implementing acts resembles to a large extent the old comitology procedures: a committee composed of Member State representatives exercises control over the implementing powers conferred on the Commission. The new system reduces the number of procedures from five to two and includes trade defense measures, which – under the pre-Lisbon system – were subject to regulations containing a lower voting threshold to prevent such measures from being adopted. The reform also did away with referral to the Council of Ministers for controversial cases. Instead, there is now an appeal committee composed of Member State representatives which is presided by the Commission and which will handle the controversial cases that do not get approval at committee level. By looking at the practical implementation of the two treaty articles through the key elements of reform (the new instrument of delegated acts, the inclusion of trade defense measures and the creation of the appeal committee) a more complete and nuanced assessment will be made on the changes brought about by the Lisbon reforms.

The Limits of Inter-Institutional Co-operation: Defining (Common)
Rules of Conduct for EU Officials, Office-Holders and Legislators

Michelle Cini (University of Bristol, UK)

Since the early years of the European Community, a mix of cooperation and conflict has characterized the EU’s inter-institutional relations. It was often argued, for example, that the European Parliament (or Assembly) and the European Commission were allies in the project to “build Europe”. By the 1980s, however, things had changed. As both the European Commission under Jacques Delors’ leadership, and the European Parliament, its members having been directly elected since 1979, became more assertive, the relationship between the two institutions began to take on a rather different character.

Yet by the 2000s, further changes in the inter-institutional relationship had been identified. There appeared to be a greater willingness to cooperate on matter that had previously been deemed issues central to the autonomy of the individual institutions. Christiansen identifies a similar pattern of “coherent governance” (Christiansen, 2001), arguing that this is a function of the growing interconnectedness of EU policy processes and the strengthening of a ‘supra-institutional’ allegiance among EU officials.” (Christiansen, 2001: 747). Alternatively it may be this change is more a reflection of a new era of maturity and confidence. Even so, this shift should not be overstated. There is some evidence that inter-organisational conflict over informal rules – for example over the White Paper on Governance, an example, which fits well with the focus of this paper – was still rife in the early 2000s (Bouwen, 2007).

Assessing and Addressing the European Union’s Democratic Deficit

Robert Thomson (Trinity College Dublin, Ireland)

This policy brief summarizes some of the key findings from my book, Resolving Controversy in the European Union (Cambridge University Press, 2011), that are relevant to the EU’s democratic deficit. The policy brief also draws out some policy implications of these findings. The research on which the book and this policy brief are based examines the inputs, processes and outputs of the decision-making process on 125 controversial legislative proposals from the past decade. It also draws on insights from over 350 interviews with policymakers in Brussels. Since this research focuses on the legislative decision-making process at the EU-level, I do not pretend to give a comprehensive assessment of the democratic deficit here. Nonetheless, the research is highly relevant to four of the main charges that have been prominent in discussions regarding the democratic deficit.

While there are different versions of the argument that the EU has a democratic deficit (e.g. Habermas 2008; Hix 2008; Weiler et al. 1995), there are four recurring charges. These concern citizens’ relationship with the EU, the decision-making process itself and the outcomes of the decision-making process.