ESRC Project on The Informal Politics of Co-Decision
This project investigates a widespread yet understudied trend in European Union politics: the shift of legislative decision-making from public inclusive to restricted secluded arenas, and the resulting “informalisation” of the political process. Informalisation is particularly prominent in the EU’s co-decision procedure, where a growing proportion of legislative acts is pre-agreed informally between the two co-legislators—the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers—and is subsequently adopted at first reading. The legislative procedure is abridged or “fast-tracked” accordingly. Since the possibility of fast-track legislation was introduced in 1999, “early agreements” have become ever more frequent, accounting for 72% of all legislative acts passed under co-decision in the Sixth European Parliament. This development is puzzling: while co-decision was introduced to make EU decision-making more inclusive, accountable and transparent, the procedure has instead increased informalisation and seclusion from the electorate and from rank-and-file parliamentarians.
Against this backdrop, the project asks three questions:
- What is the extent and conduct of informal politics under co-decision?
- What are the reasons for fast-track legislation?
- What are the democratic consequences for EU decision-making?
To answer these questions the project combines the following research steps.
- First, to review the extent of informal politics, the project surveys and categorises all co-decision procedures from mid-1999 until mid-2009; to understand the process of informal decision-making, it relies on in-depth interviews with key decision-makers and the qualitative analysis of primary documents from the EU’s legislative process.
- Second, to explain why fast-track legislation occurs, the project derives competing hypotheses from rational choice and sociological institutionalism, and submits them to two empirical tests: (i) a binary logistic regression analysis of all 797 co-decision procedures surveyed, and (ii) qualitative comparative case studies of selected legislative procedures.
- Third, to evaluate the democratic consequences of fast-track legislation, the project assesses its empirical results against standards of legitimate decision-making, and investigates the repercussions of fast-track legislation for power shifts and institutional reform within the European Parliament.
The research mainly contributes to the study of EU legislative politics and to the literature on informal governance. However, given the more general trend towards informal and accelerated decision-making in domestic and global politics, the findings may be of interest for a wider group of scholars in Comparative Politics and International Relations. The project also addresses questions of strategic importance for the Brussels policy-community, and its findings can directly feed into the current debate among Euro-parliamentarians, Commission officials and civil society about the benefits and democratic costs of fast-track legislation.
- Dr Christine Reh, University College London (Principal Investigator)
- Professor Adrienne Héritier, European University Institute (Overseas Collaborator)
- Edoardo Bressanelli, PhD Researcher, European University Institute (Research Assistant)
- Christel Koop, PhD Researcher, European University Institute (Research Assistant)
- Dr Nicola Chelotti, LSE (Research Assistant)
Papers to Download
- “The Informal Politics of Legislation: Explaining Secluded Decision-Making in the European Union” (with Adrienne Héritier, Edoardo Bressanelli and Christel Koop). In: Comparative Political Studies 2013, forthcoming. Available OnlineFirst at: http://cps.sagepub.com/content/early/recent
- “How to Negotiate under Co-Decision in the EU: Reforming Trilogues and First-Reading Agreements” (with Lukas Obholzer). CEPS Policy Brief No 270, May 2012. Available online at http://www.ceps.be/book/how-negotiate-under-co-decision-eu-reforming-trilogues-and-first-reading-agreements
- Adrienne Heritier and Christine Reh."Codecision and Its Discontents: Intra-Organisation Politics and Institutional Reform in the European Parliament". Paper prepared for the EUSA Biannual Meeting, Boston, 3-5 March 2011. (PDF)
- Christine Reh. “The Informal Politics of Co-Decision: Towards a Normative Assessment”. Paper prepared for the UACES Conference on Exchanging Ideas on Europe, Edinburgh, 1-3 September 2008. (PDF)