European Democracy

Behind Closed Doors

See Jean-Claude, we're both president! Source: DPA
See Jean-Claude, we're both president!
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    To get around the E.U.’s unwieldy political architecture, the European Parliament, European Council and European Commission get together to speed up lawmaking – sacrificing transparency for efficiency.

  • Facts


    • Some 80 percent of all European legislation is now pushed through using the streamlined method known as the triologue.
    • The European Parliament is the European Union’s only democratically elected institution.
    • The European Commission is the European Union’s executive arm and the European Council represents the interests of the bloc’s 28 national governments.
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European Union institutions face many complaints. They are called too bureaucratic, too stodgy. But they are rarely seen as too fast – haste is a new criticism for Brussels. But the E.U. legislative process has been made so fast in the past few years that some fear the effect on European democracy. There is too much going on between the institutions and too many deals out of public view, critics say.

These secret talks are made possible because of an informal process involving the European Parliament, the European Council, which represents E.U. member state governments, and the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm. This so-called triologue was originally used only in emergency cases. Now, however, some 80 percent of all European legislation is pushed through using the streamlined method.

“No system that calls itself democratic should have to accept that,” Tom Bunyan, director of the British civil rights group Statewatch, said. “The triologue proceedings have to either be made transparent or eliminated,” said Sven Giegold, a member of the European Parliament for the Green party.

To understand what makes the procedure so attractive and problematic at the same time, one has to look at the E.U. legislative process as it is taught to schoolchildren.

The European Commission has the right to propose legislation. The European Parliament, the bloc’s only democratically elected body, and the European Council receive the draft legislation at the same time. Both institutions then discuss the proposal and decide on whether to accept it. If the Council and Parliament can’t come to an agreement, which is often the case, then a second round of negotiation is needed and the E.U. Commission has to work again on draft legislation. Only when the second round fails to bring a resolution, should the three-party talks then start.

The advantage of this multilayered system is the following: the decision-making process is transparent and plausible. The institutions have to come to a result openly. If there is an interested journalist, lobbyist or citizen, they now know which institutions represent what position.

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