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EU problems that really matter: Delegated acts


The anti-Lisbon campaigners should have mentioned delegated acts…

You may wonder: What is the most important, the most pressing, and thus the most recurring problem in EU policy-making for EU member states? The financial and economic crises? The European agriculture? High-speed internet for disconnected regions? Not really.

In fact, the most recurring problem is “delegated acts“, a special legal instrument introduced by the Lisbon Treaty. A very important instrument:

“Almost all delegations are of the opinion that the proposed regulation contains too many cases of delegated acts.” (source, page 1)

The quote above is from a recent Council discussion about EU data protection. As you can see, those delegated acts are a major problem for member states, who fight with the European Commission about who gets what kind of legislative competencies and who doesn’t. And it’s happening in almost all policy areas as these recent examples show:

• Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform

“The … outstanding issues on marketing standards are the extension of the Commission power to extend specific marketing standards to all agricultural sectors and products by delegated acts” (source, p. 11)

• Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) reform

“Recitals and definitions will be further examined at a later stage, as well as text in brackets and the correct choice of the implementation procedure (delegated act/implementing act).” (source, p. 1)

• Cross-border health threats

Articles on delegated acts erased by member states (source, p. 24, 32-33)

• Connecting Europe Facility* (infrastructure)

“Nevertheless, some Member States are still reluctant to empower the Commission to adopt delegated acts, even if its power is circumscribed.” (source, p. 5)

• Major accident hazards involving dangerous substances

“The key issues were […], as well as the use of delegated acts.” (source, p. 2)

As you can see, our ministers, high-level diplomats, Commission, Council and Parliament officials and politicians as well as hundreds of government lawyers are spending their (taxpayer-financed) time discussing those “delegated acts”, over and over again. So they must be really important for the future of Europe.

These delegated acts are indeed a question about how much power the European Commission should get, so it is not a totally irrelevant matter. However, the problem is that the only reason especially member states have to discuss this issue today is because they did not know what they were doing when adopting the Lisbon Treaty some years ago.

Because of their past incompetence, officials and politicians today waste lots of meetings talking about their (in)competencies, instead discussing policy substance. And they do so over and over again. To save Europe, I suppose.

Hence, the next time, when you hear Commission President Barroso say “In a changing world, we want the EU to become a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy” (source), please think of those delegated acts – because they are the problems that really matter in the EU!

Picture by infomatique (flickr) | CC BY-SA

7 Responses to EU problems that really matter: Delegated acts

  1. avatar Ralf Grahn says:

    Clearly EU democracy, sufficient powers and effective decisions are too much to ask for from our government representatives, so they have to discuss something else.

  2. avatar eurosearch says:

    sorry but your post is misleading. Delegated acts were not introduced with Lisbon, they were just renamed – see here for example
    their use might be increasing, but partly because there is more legislation in force to be updated. Delegated acrs are never adopted when there is no existing EU legislqation in the area already.
    And the Commission is scrunitized by the Council and the EP when adopting delegated legsislation (for a brief info how see again here
    The process is in fact quite similar to the way a national government operates – mundane, operational, day-to-day decisions are taken by a minister/cabinet and only the important staff goes to the legislature.

  3. avatar Martin Holterman says:

    I agree that the Member States got more than they realised in Lisbon (cf. my blog post from January), I’m just not so sure that I see what the problem is. Are you concerned that time is being wasted in Brussels? (That hardly seems like a new development.) Or do you just not like such delegated lawmaking from a democratic legitimacy or national sovereignty point of view?

  4. avatar Ron says:


    Thanks for the clarification. From what I understood, the delegated acts in accordance with the Lisbon Treaty seemed to have a new quality. But maybe that’s a misunderstanding from my side.

    @both: I did not intend to criticise delegated acts as such. I just have the impression that they seem to be more and more a political issue that makes it up to the highest political levels, that are disputed issues in Council’s general approaches or trialogues. It could be that I just tend to see this more often because of the new name, but my impression remains that this type of issue comes up more frequently today, independent of policies – basically as a fight over competencies between Council/member states and Commission.

  5. avatar Martin Holterman says:

    @Ron: For sure the issue has become more important under the Lisbon Treaty, and is therefore discussed more at higher levels. But why is that bad?

  6. avatar Ron says:

    @Martin In my view, it is bad because it replaces policy discussions with competence discussions. I’d prefer if EU politics would focus more on the former. Making delegated acts a recurring topic in political negotiations will not solve any substantive problems. If you ask me. 😉

  7. Pingback: Implementing Powers | Martin Holterman

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