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Damien O'Reilly
EU Affairs and Communication Manager, ICOS

Letter from Brussels - November 2023

It is over 30 years since the Maastricht Treaty was implemented. Central to it was the introduction of the legislative procedure giving the European Parliament and the European Council equal power as joint co-legislators. Co-decision meant that the laws proposed by the EU Commission are hammered out, amended, and adopted by the MEPs and ministers. It was further enhanced thanks to another treaty that we are very familiar with in Ireland. The Lisbon Treaty renamed the co-decision procedure as the 'ordinary legislative procedure' and increased the number of policy areas to which this procedure applies, thus enhancing the Parliament’s powers.
As we hurtle towards a bumper year of significant elections (EU, local, US and possibly UK and Ireland, among others), it is worth re-emphasising the significance of these treaty milestones.

Next June, we will go to the polls to elect members of the European Parliament.  Of all the elections we vote in, most people would probably consider the European elections as the least significant. ‘Gravy train’ is a phrase commonly used to describe anybody getting a role in Brussels, be it as an elected representative or an EU institution appointee. Yet, what people may not realise is that 80 per cent of domestic laws have their genesis here in Brussels. And, MEPs play a huge role.
The draft laws are proposed or ‘cooked up’ by the EU Commission before Member States’ governments via their respective ministers, and the Parliament’s 705 (going up to 716 in 2024) MEPs put the proposals under the microscope. The Council of Ministers makes amendments and takes a position, before relevant committees in the building, literally around the corner, debate, amend and present their position. There are a total of 27 committees focussed on different aspects of what consumes our daily lives.
So, for instance, there is a committee on agriculture and a committee on environment. When you are elected you seek out the committee that best represents your interest or that of your constituents and you try to make an impact. That is where much of the careful stitching together of large proposals happens before getting the final nod in the broader plenary and subsequent signing into law. The EU might not be perfect but that should not deflect from the significant role that those we elect play in making decisions that affect what we do daily, and that is no more apparent than on the farm.
Take the Nitrates Directive, for example. There is a lot of anger in relation to the cutting of the nitrates derogation from 250kg/N/ha to 220kg /N/ha. For what it’s worth, it is a nothing story in Brussels since Ireland is one of only two and a half countries where it applies. Nevertheless, the aim now is to hold onto the 220kg limit. For that to happen, the Commission needs to be convinced that the environment and biodiversity will not be impacted. They are only interested in science. Economic impact means zilch. Proving that water quality is improving is all they want to see. The overarching EU Green Deal is here to stay even with next summer’s changing of the guard. The bottom line for Irish farmers to meet that head on is simple, improving water quality. That will make life easier for MEPs and ministers when it comes to EU law making.