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Democrat November-December 2007 (105)

How the EU Operates


Committee of Permanent Representatives

The real decision makers and negation of parliamentary democracy

The Committee of Permanent Representatives from Member States is one of the most powerful EU institutions even though its function is hardly known and  consists of Ambassadors to the EU or their deputies.  COREPER takes two forms I and II and oversees the work of some 250 committees and working parties of civil servants which hold thousands of meetings each year. COREPER is chaired by the current Member State holding the Council Presidency.

COREPER was formed in 1958 to prepare the business of the Council of Ministers including the European Council or Summit. The decisions of COREPER reach ‘down’ into national parliaments and national legislation. In a nutshell COREPER meets in secret and presents the various Councils of Ministers with two lists of business on their agenda.

COREPER is hidden but is the most important EU institution making key decisions

   The ‘A’ list is where the permanent representatives have agreed proposals and these go through ‘on the nod’ by the Council. It should be noted that Ministers do not see the text of proposals on this ‘A’ list although if they so decide they may remove them from the list.

  The ‘B’ list consists of one fifth of all proposals where COREPER could not come to an agreement and these go forward to the Ministers. However, even here only highly contentious items are marked for discussion. If the Council could not agree on the latter the matter will most likely be sent back to COREPER and failing agreement there will go forward to the next European Council. Decisions are taken by the voting system which includes Qualified Majority Voting where larger member States dominate.

Agriculture is dealt with separately from COREPER and prepared by the Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA). Other special committees include the Political and Security Committee (PSC), deal with the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and Employment Committee. They are all supposed to operate with due regard to COREPER’s prerogatives.

   Council of Ministers meetings and EU Summits are presented as though part of a ‘democratic’ process where in fact all the decisions have previously been taken lower down by COREPER and other committees. The first item agenda for a Council meeting consists of a ‘communique’ issued after the meeting. This is because decisions on the rest of the agenda have already been taken by COREPER. Civil servants at COREPER meetings have to keep to a strict short time to put across a point. If they are out of the room for one or two essential reasons they miss their opportunity.

In 1990 the House of Commons agreed a procedure laying down that ‘no minister of the Crown should give agreement in the Council of Ministers to any proposal for European Community legislation which is still subject to scrutiny’. In most cases MPs do not have available the relevant texts and so have no influence whatever over decisions taken by the Councils.

   As if this was not bad enough, officials of each member State transpose each Directive and other legislation into the form appropriate for their national law making. Officials have added extra and damaging stipulations not found in the original directive. Their wording became the law.

All this will become worse if the EU Constitution is ratified (as it was in 2009 and put in place on 1 December).

See two flow charts of 'who elects whom' and 'who has the power'