Recent trends in EU policy-making

Based on the updated version of the EUPOL dataset, which includes information up to and including 2011, I had a look at the European Commission’s recent policy-making activities (the underlying numbers, a few more graphs, and the do-files generating them can be found here). In general, the data point to a substantial increase in the number of documents submitted by the Commission last year as compared to 2010. With respect to non-binding policy documents, the increase is mainly due to the larger number of working papers submitted (up from 64 to 107), while the number of communications (up from 141 to 145) and reports (down from 165 to 159) remained largely stable (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Number of non-binding policy documents by type of file (1976-2011)

With respect to legislative proposals, proposals for all types of acts have increased considerably in relative terms: the number of proposals for decisions almost doubled (up from 9 to 16), the number of directives increased by more than half (up from 30 to 46), and the number of regulations by about two thirds (up from 77 to 128). In absolute terms, the increase in the number of proposals for regulations was clearly by far the highest (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Number of legislative proposals by type of file (1976-2011)

Not surprisingly, given the extension of the applicability of the codecision procedure to almost all policy areas by the Lisbon treaty, the overwhelming majority of legislative proposals in 2011 was processed through this procedure (now officially called the 'ordinary legislative procedure'). The number of codecision files increased from 108 in 2010 to 168 in 2011 and the number of consultation files increased from 8 to 22. Despite this growth, the latter number is still much lower than the 2009 number of consultation files of 98. However, the number of consultation files pre- and post-Lisbon might not be directly comparable. Over the last three years, PreLex indicates an increasing number of proposals that are submitted under a new ‘inter-institutional non-legislative procedure’ (more than 500 proposals already). According to a Kosmopolito blog post, this ‘NLE’ category covers all procedures that involve the EP but do not fall under the ordinary or special legislative procedures (i.e. the old assent and consultation procedures). Since no explicit distinction between legislative and non-legislative acts existed before the Lisbon treaty came into force, I would not be surprised if some of the files now classified as being decided through the non-legislative procedure used to be classifed as being decided through the consultation procedure. Any comments or insights shedding some light on this question would be very welcome.

Number of legislative proposals by type of procedure (1976-2011)

Figure 3: Number of legislative proposals by type of procedure (1976-2011)

All in all, the number of legislative proposals introduced by the Commission seems to have rebounded from all-time lows in 2009 and 2010. The relative inactivity in terms of legislative proposals might have had something to do with the uncertainty surrounding the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty and/or subsequent adjustments to the new rule book. It will be interesting to see whether the strong increase in 2011 marks the start of a more ambitious legislative programme for the remaining term of the second Barroso Commission.