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Agreement in stages – how a decision is reached


Family picture of the EU Development Ministers. Copyright: Auswärtiges Amt / Tim M. HoesmannThe German government is involved in all phases of policy-making within the European Union. Bin­ding de­cisions are prepared, taken, im­ple­mented and monitored by the Community institutions working with national administrations. During the preparatory phase, the Commission is the most important contact. At the stage of concrete preparations for and adoption of a decision this role is passed on to the Council working groups, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. When decisions made in Brussels are to be implemented, the national administrations work with the Commission through a number of different committees.

Berlin–Brussels – and back

The working groups of the Council, of which there are now about 200, are the crucial machinery of the Council. Major parts of the decisions of the Council are de facto taken at this level. In the working groups, which generally meet once a week, the representatives of member states meet. At this level the proposals of the Commission are discussed for the first time in the circle of all member states. The working group meetings are currently chaired by the representative of the member state which holds the EU presidency. Under the provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon, a representative of the European External Action Service will in future chair Council working groups dealing with external relations.

The interests of Germany are represented by the responsible ministry or by members of the Permanent Representation to the European Union in Brussels. They may act only on the instructions of the German government. Within the German government, BMZ is responsible for three working groups. The working group on development deals with the general development cooperation of the EU, while the ACP working group discusses cooperation with the African, Caribbean and Pacific states. BMZ is also responsible for the working group on food aid.

The Committee of Permanent Representatives is the next highest body after the Council working groups. It is responsible for preparing the work of the Council. The member states are represented on the Committee by their ambassadors or their deputies. The Committee of Permanent Representatives examines all dossiers elaborated and discussed in the Council working groups that are to be dealt with in any of the configurations of the Council of Ministers.

The process of law-making does not end with a decision of the Council and the European Parliament, because a great many EU programmes do not take the form of a legislative text. Before any planned measure is implemented, the Commission must submit the draft to what is known as the comitology committees. These bodies serve to advise and support the Commission, but also allow member states to monitor the activities of the Commission.

The committees are composed of representatives of the member states at working level. Meetings are chaired by the Commission. There are several hundred comitology committees. This is where consultations are held and decisions taken on the concrete programmes financed by the Commission. The committees are also a forum for coordinating the development cooperation of the member states and the Commission. Committees relevant to development cooperation include the committees dealing with the developing countries of Asia and Latin America (DCI Committee), the Mediterranean region (ENPI Committee) and the European Development Fund (EDF Committee). Also relevant to development cooperation are the supraregional committees for implementing the EU Instrument for Stability (in case of crises or disasters), and the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights.

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