Comitology in brief

What is comitology?

Comitology refers to a set of procedures through which EU countries control how the European Commission implements EU law.

Broadly speaking, before it can implement an EU legal act, the Commission must consult, for the detailed implementing measures it proposes, a committee where every EU country is represented.

The committee provides an opinion on the Commission's proposed measures. These opinions can be more or less binding on the Commission, depending on the particular procedure specified in the legal act being implemented.

See also:

When does comitology apply?

Under the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union External Link, primary responsibility for implementing EU law lies with EU countries. However, where uniform conditions for implementation are needed, the EU act in question will confer implementing powers on the Commission – or, exceptionally, the EU Council.

Comitology applies when the Commission has been granted implementing powers by a particular EU legal act which has also provided for the Commission to be assisted by a committee.
In practice, implementing measures, under which the Commission implements the fine details of the EU acts concerned (individual financing decisions, decisions to place certain products on the market, etc.) vary in terms of frequency (many need to be performed regularly, e.g. to quickly respond to changes in a specific market) and political/economic/financial importance.

Comitology is not compulsory for all EU legal acts - some are implemented by the Commission without having to go through a committee (for example, allocating certain minor grants).

How does comitology work?

The comitology regulation External Link lays down 2 different procedures to be used for the adoption of implementing measures by the Commission:

  • examination procedure – used especially for (i) measures with general scope and (ii) measures with a potentially important impact (e.g. in taxation or EU agricultural policy)
  • advisory procedure – generally used for all other implementing measures.

Both procedures require an opinion to be issued by a committee of representatives from every EU country (chaired by the Commission).

The Commission proposes certain measures to implement the legal act in question and the committee issues its opinion, generally by vote.

The impact of the committee's opinion on the Commission varies by procedure:

  • examination procedure
    • qualified majority External Link in favour of the Commission's proposed measure (positive opinion)? The Commission is bound to go through with this measure.
    • qualified majority against (negative opinion)? The Commission cannot carry out the measure it proposed.
    • no qualified majority for or against (absence of opinion)? The Commission can choose either to carry out the proposed implementing measure or submit a new version of it to the committee, taking into account the views expressed in the committee.
  • advisory procedure – the Commission is free to decide whether or not to carry out the proposed measure, but must "take the utmost account" of the committee's opinion before deciding.

Each committee decides its operating procedures, based on standard committee rules of procedure External Link.

Role of the appeal committee

If the Commission is prevented from carrying out its proposed implementing measure (especially where the committee voted against it), it can refer the case to the appeal committee.

The appeal committee functions like the other comitology committees (made up of EU countries' representatives, chaired by the Commission, same voting rules).

It is not a permanent body, but rather a procedural tool which gives EU countries the opportunity to have a second discussion at a higher level of representation.

If the appeal committee rules against the Commission's proposed action, the Commission must abide by this decision.

Appeal committee rules of procedure External Link

Controls by EU Council and Parliament

In addition to control by national governments through the committees, the Commission's implementing powers are also subject to supplementary checks by the European Parliament External Link and EU Council External Link, which have a:

right of information – all proposed Commission action discussed in the committees is simultaneously disclosed to Parliament and Council.

right of scrutiny – where the Commission action relates to a legal act passed by co-decision External Link, Parliament and/or Council are entitled to indicate that the action would exceed the Commission's implementing powers.
The Commission is then obliged to review its proposed action in the light of this input and decide whether to maintain, amend or withdraw it.

Regulatory procedure with scrutiny (RPS)

This is a defunct comitology procedure that operated between 2006 and 2009 for "quasi-legislative measures".

It can no longer be used in new legislation but appears in more than 300 existing legal acts and will temporarily continue to apply in these acts until they are formally amended.

This procedure empowers the European Parliament and EU Council to block a measure proposed by the Commission if it:

  • exceeds the Commission's implementing powers,
  • is not compatible with the aim or content of the legal act, or
  • exceeds the EU's powers or remit (see subsidiarity External Link and proportionality External Link).

This block takes the form of a right of veto by either institution, usually up to 3 months after the committee has approved the proposed Commission measure.

If the committees fails to issue a positive opinion on the proposed measure, the Council can intervene to either block it or adopt it itself, unless the Parliament opposes it.

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