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The Informal Politics of Co-Decision: Trilogues and Early Agreements in the EU's Legislative Procedure

  • Start date: 25 August 2009
  • End date: 24 May 2012

This project investigates a widespread yet under-studied trend in European politics: the shift of legislative decision-making from public inclusive to informal secluded arenas. Between 1999 and mid-2007 alone, 43 per cent of EU legislation was pre-agreed informally between the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers and adopted at first reading, with the legislative procedure ("co-decision") abridged or "fast-tracked" accordingly.

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 as well as rank-and-file parliamentarians. Against this backdrop, the project pursues three goals.

  1. Understand the extent and conduct of informal politics, it surveys and categorises all co-decision files from 1999 to mid-2009 and charts how the formal rules of co-decision are applied in the political praxis.
  2. Explain why fast-track legislation occurs, it derives hypotheses from rational choice and sociological institutionalism and submits them to two tests: a multivariate regression analysis of all surveyed acts and comparative case studies, based on in-depth interviews and qualitative document analysis.
  3. Evaluate the democratic consequences of fast-track legislation, it evaluates these empirical results against standards of legitimate decision-making.

Given the general trend towards informal and accelerated decision-making in domestic and global politics, the findings are relevant for scholars of Comparative Politics and International Relations; they also address a question of key strategic and normative importance for the Brussels policy-community.