The significance of Rule 70 for CAP reform negotiations

To understand the possible timing of the CAP reform negotiations it is crucial to understand the new decision-making process under the Lisbon Treaty involving both the Parliament and the Council. In a recent post, I set out my understanding of the process, based on the assumption shared by most commentators (for example, see this Brussels briefing) that the Parliament would vote in plenary on its position on CAP reform in March, thus making a first reading agreement impossible.

I now think another scenario is more likely, namely, that COMAGRI will appoint its formal trilogue negotiating team at its next meeting in a week’s time based on the mandate arising from the voting on the compromise amendments. The Parliament in plenary may decide to approve this mandate in February, but it may not actually vote on the CAP reform regulations until a new set of amendments emerge from the trilogue process, assuming this is successful. This vote would probably take place in June, thus making a first reading agreement potentially possible.

The functioning of the trilogue process is set out in Rule 70 of the Parliament’s Rules of Procedure on inter-institutional negotiations in legislative procedures which was revised by the Parliament in November last year.

The COMAGRI draft agenda for its meeting next week, for each of the four main draft regulations, contains the item “Adoption of amendments and decision on the opening of, and mandate for, interinstitutional negotiations pursuant to Rule 70(2) and Rule 70 a.” Rule 70 sets out the procedures to be followed for negotiations with the Council and Commission when the amendments are adopted. Rule 70a governs the opening of negotiations if COMAGRI does not succeed in adopting its compromise amendments next week.

Rule 70 of the Parliament’s Rules of Procedure

Rule 70 reads in abbreviated form:

1. Negotiations with the other institutions aimed at reaching an agreement in the course of a legislative procedure shall be conducted having regard to the Code of Conduct laid down by the Conference of Presidents.
2. Such negotiations shall not be entered into prior to the adoption by the committee responsible …. of a decision on the opening of negotiations. That decision shall determine the mandate and the composition of the negotiating team… The mandate shall consist of a report adopted in committee and tabled for later consideration by Parliament….
3. The negotiating team shall be led by the rapporteur and presided over by the Chair of the committee responsible or by a Vice-Chair designated by the Chair. It shall comprise at least the shadow rapporteurs from each political group.

There is some confusion over the role of the Parliament plenary in approving a committee’s mandate. The Rule states that the report of the committee shall be ‘tabled for later consideration by Parliament’ but does not specifically state what action Parliament should take.

The explanatory statement of the rapporteur’s report amending Rule 70 makes clear that this was a controversial topic in the deliberations of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs which drafted the rule change. The full involvement of the Parliament in approving the mandate for trilogue negotiations arguably gives more weight to the Parliament’s position and improves democratic legitimacy. On the other hand, a full and automatic involvement risks making the procedure too heavy and would counteract the efficiency and speed that are the advantages of a first reading agreement.

The rapporteur’s recommendation was to ensure ‘that in exceptional and politically important cases the plenary can have a full debate, amendment and voting procedure on the negotiating mandate. Triggering such a procedure would require heavy-weight intervention: the conference of Presidents or at least two political groups representing one third of the house’s component Members (italics in the original).’ However, this exceptional procedure did not make it into the final revised text of Rule 70.

Paolo de Castro has called for a strong plenary vote in Parliament as a way of strengthening the hand of the COMAGRI negotiators with the Council. So it is likely that Parliament will vote on the COMAGRI resolution, possibly as early as its February session. However, even if this happens, it will be a vote to approve the negotiating mandate in the trilogue process, not a vote on the legislative resolutions themselves.

The amended Rule 70 goes on to describe the conduct of the trilogue process. Discussions should take place on the basis of formal documents setting out the positions of the institutions. After each trilogue the negotiating team should report back to the committee responsible, and documents reflecting the outcome of the last trilogue should be made available to the committee. The committee responsible can update its mandate in the light of the progress of the negotiations.

Finally, if the negotiations lead to a compromise, the agreed text shall be submitted to the committee responsible for consideration. If approved by the committee, the agreed text is then tabled for consideration by Parliament in appropriate form, including compromise amendments.

Potential scheduling of CAP reform vote

This process suggests a rather different scheduling of the inter-institutional decision-making process than the one where Parliament votes on the legislative resolutions in March. Under the Rule 70 procedure, the COMAGRI negotiating team is appointed and ready for trilogue by February at the latest. However, the Council must also give the Irish Presidency its negotiating mandate for the trilogue process by agreeing its general approach. Let us assume that this happens at the March Agricultural Council meeting. The negotiators would then have 2½ months to reach a compromise which could form the basis of a first reading agreement in the Parliament.

However, this timetable for agreement by June remains very tight and reaching agreement will require both sides to make compromises on remaining differences of opinion in a very short space of time.

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