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date: 06 December 2019

Summary and Keywords

The ordinary legislative procedure (OLP), previously known as co-decision, has marked a significant milestone in the development of the European Union (EU) and transformed the way its institutions interact. What was initially seen as a cumbersome decision-making procedure subject to considerable criticism ended up being quite successful. The workings of the OLP have gradually developed, including both informal and formal rule changes to ensure a smoother functioning of the procedure. While the EU Council is still seen as the strongest body in the interinstitutional balance, the European Parliament (EP) is a co-legislator in most policy areas. After introducing the option to conclude legislation at first reading, so-called early agreements have become the norm in the OLP. The increase in early agreements by means of trilogues has speeded up decision-making but has not come without costs. Concerns have been raised about the transparency of trilogues and the accountability of the actors involved. Not surprisingly, these concerns have led to a shift in the research of the OLP from an emphasis on the powers of the different EU institutions to early agreements and their consequences for democratic legitimacy. Our careful review of the EU institutions’ own rules and practices governing trilogue negotiations shows that the rules and procedures for the conduct of negotiations have been adapted significantly over time. While there is a continued need for the EU to keep enforcing openness in its procedures, OLP interinstitutional bargaining does not operate in a rule-free environment. Yet most democratic scrutiny has been directed at the internal decision-making processes in the EP rather than at maximizing openness on the Council side or with respect to input from interest groups in the negotiation processes.

Keywords: accountability, bicameralism, co-decision, decision-making, early agreement, European Union, European Union politics, ordinary legislative procedure, transparency, trilogues

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