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What are the Trilogues for the future of the Common Agricultural Policy?

Updated: Mar 2, 2021

European institutions are currently negotiating the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). At the moment, the legislation that will set the rules for the future CAP is entering the trilogue stage of its shaping and approval process. To help you navigate through what this means, and why it is important for the future of the CAP, we feature this short explanation on the trilogues drafted by our member CONAPI.

The ordinary legislative procedure establishes that the Parliament is co-legislator with the Council and the ordinary legislative procedure has three stages or readings.

Figure 1. Proposal and first reading process according to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

First reading

The procedure is initiated when the European Commission submits a legislative proposal to the Council and the European Parliament. The Commission simultaneously submits the proposal to the national parliaments and, in some cases, to the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee for examination.

Legislative proposals are adopted by the College of Commissioners by written procedure (without discussing the text) or by oral procedure (with debate). If a vote is required, the Commission decides by simple majority.

According to the provisions of the Treaties, the Commission is the institution which usually has the power to propose the adoption of Union acts. Although the Commission normally holds the power of initiative autonomously, there are cases in which the exercise of this power is prompted by an external request to the Commission: it can be determined by a request made by the European Parliament, the Council, or by one million citizens of the Union (e.g. the ongoing European Citizens Initiative campaign Save Bees and Farmers).

The parliament formulates its position on the text, in which it may or may not propose amendments, and sends it to the Council. If the Council accepts the proposed amendments, the act is adopted without further formalities. If, on the other hand, it does not approve the position of the European Parliament, the Council adopts its position at first reading and transmits it to the European Parliament.

Second reading

If within three months of such communication the European Parliament:

● approves the position of the Council or has not ruled, the act in question is considered adopted;

● rejects the position of the Council, by a majority of its component members, the proposed act is considered not adopted;

● proposes amendments to the position of the Council, by a majority of its component members, the text thus amended is communicated to the Council and the Commission which formulates an opinion on these amendments. At this point, within three months of the text thus amended, the Council, acting by qualified majority, can:

  1. Approve all the amendments and the act in question is considered adopted;

  2. Not approve all the amendments and the President of the Council, in agreement with the President of the European Parliament, convenes a special body within six weeks: the Conciliation Committee.

Conciliation phase

The Conciliation Committee is made up of an equal number of members of Parliament and representatives of the Council. It must agree on a draft that is acceptable to both institutions, within a period of six weeks from the meeting.

If, within a period of six weeks from the convocation, the Conciliation Committee does not approve a joint project, the act in question is considered not adopted; if, on the other hand, within six weeks, the Conciliation Committee approves a joint text, it is forwarded to Parliament and the Council for a third reading.

Third reading

Both the Parliament and the Council have to react within six weeks, starting from the date the joint text is approved.

  • The European Parliament examines the joint text and can decide:

a) to reject it or not to rule on it: the proposal is not adopted and the procedure ends;

b) to approve the project: if the Council aligns itself, the legislative act is adopted.

Parliament approves the joint text by a simple majority of the votes cast.

  • The Council examines the joint text and may:

a) reject it or not pronounce on it. Then, the proposal does not enter into force and the procedure ends;

b) approve the project, and if Parliament does the same, the legislative act is adopted.

The Council approves the joint text by a qualified majority.

The Trilogue

The Trilogue is a type of meeting used in the legislative procedure of the European Union (EU) which involves representatives of the Parliament (EP), the Council and the Commission. The aim is to ensure that the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, with the mediation of the Commission, reach an agreement more quickly within the ordinary legislative procedure. The term "formal trialogue" is sometimes found referring to the meetings of the conciliation commission, held between the second and third reading. But the expressions "trilogue" or "informal trialogue" are more widely used to indicate a meeting held in an "informal framework" that can be held at any stage of the ordinary legislative procedure, already before the first reading and up to the moment of the formal conciliation procedure. Any agreements reached in informal trilogues must in any case be approved through the formal procedures specific to each of the three institutions. The trilogues were "formalized" in 2007 without however being regulated by primary legislation.

The practice of reaching agreements through trilogues to speed up the EU's decision-making process has undergone a development linked to the evolution of the European integration process and parallel to the evolution of the EP's role as co-legislator. During the 2009-2014 legislature, the period in which the Lisbon Treaty entered into force and the codecision procedure became the ordinary legislative procedure, which sees the EP and the Council of the EU as co-legislators, 85% of the legislative acts appear to have been approved already during the first reading, while 13% of the acts passed to the second reading and only 2% reached the conciliation procedure. This trend was accompanied by the growth in the number of trilogues (over 1500 in the same period) which are recognized as being effective in speeding up the legislative procedure.

The main working tool used in the trilogues is the four-column document. It is a separate worksheet in four sections in each of which the positions of the three EU institutions are marked. The first column shows the position of the Commission, the second with that of the EP, the third and fourth sections present, respectively, the position of the Council of the EU and the compromise text reached during the trilogue. But while the first two positions are public, the other two columns often have textual elements not yet adopted, while the column that reports the outcome of the negotiation between the parties remains inaccessible to the public.

The trilogues were criticized for the lack of transparency of the negotiations and the lack of democracy both with regard to the limited number of representatives of the EU institutions involved and the working methods used [1].

The European Ombudsman, the EU body that deals with the maladministration of EU institutions and bodies, launched an investigation in 2015 to establish the need for a reform of the trialogue, outlining possible proposals to achieve greater transparency.

[1] BeeLife. 2020. NGOs Request Transparency on CAP Dialogues.

[2] European Ombudsman. 2018. European Ombudsman strategic inquiry on the transparency of trilogues: follow-up and first results.


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