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Comitology for beginners

Posted by Richard Monday, December 04, 2006

They really have got themselves into a mess. Having taken on board the authorisation of GM crops as an exclusive competence, the EU commission is now in the hot seat, having to make highly unpopular decisions about whether to approve applications for commercial growing.

But decisions, at the end of a long drawn-out process are actually made in the first instance by a regulatory committee made up of officials drawn from the member states, under what is called the "commitology" procedure. Presented with an application, they must vote by qualified majority voting and, if the approve and application is then "rubber stamped" by the Council.

But, presented with its first decision since 1998, this one to approve the growing of a genetically modified potato by BASF, they have ducked the issue and failed to approve the application. This, in the community jargon, is now treated as a "non-decision" and the application must go to the Council for them to make a decision.

However, because this has been through the commitology system, the voting basis is reversed. The application is deemed approved unless the Council has a qualified majority against the approving the product or if, within three months, it fails to make a decision at all. At that point, the decision reverts to the commission, and it issues the approval.

That, in an increasingly number of ways, is actually how our government works – with unelected officials in Brussels making important decisions in our name. How outrageous this all is. If it weren't for our membership of the EU, it would be our own unelected officials in Whitehall making those decisions.

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