Ordinary Legislative Procedure: Trilogue
Trilogues are held between representatives from the three main institutions in the OLP: the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. Trilogues facilitate the negotiations between the co-legislators early in the legislative procedure. These trilogues often lead to a provisional agreement at a first or (early) second reading in the OLP. This has had the effect that increasingly EU legislative acts are adopted in a first or a second reading of the ordinary legislative procedure.
For example: 97% of all OLP legislative proposals were adopted either at first (75%) or early second (22%) reading in the period 2014-2016.
Although the trilogue process is not regulated by primary legislation, it was formalised by the three institutions in a joint declaration in 2007.
Actors in the trilogue
The three institutions involved in the OLP are represented by different teams in the interinstitutional negotiations (trilogues). Each institution sends a delegation and has its own role. The position of chair is appointed to the host of the talks and the location of the meetings rotate between Parliament, Commission and Council.
The European Commission
Usually, a Head of Unit or Director from the lead Directorate-General negotiates for the Commission. If the proposal is politically sensitive, however, the Commission can be represented by the responsible Director-General or Commissioner. The Commission functions as a broker and facilitator in the negotiation process.
The Council of Ministers
The Presidency usually represents the Council through a Chair of Coreper I or II. For politically sensitive proposals, however, it can also be the relevant Minister that conducts the trilogue negotiations. Due to the large number of interinstitutional negotiations, the Council is sometimes represented by Chairs of working parties. Because the trilogue negotiations often begin before even the Parliament has taken its formal position (in the form of a first reading), the Council instead begins negotiates on the basis of a general approach. This political agreement then functions as the negotiation mandate of the Council.
The European Parliament
The Parliament is represented by the (Vice-)Chair(s) of the leading parliamentary committee(s). He or she also presides over the negotiating team and is the chair of the trilogue meetings that take place at the Parliament. The (Vice-)Chair is in charge of the procedural aspects of the negotiations.
The Parliament is also represented by the rapporteur, he or she leads the substantive negotiations on behalf of the Parliament. Furthermore, shadow rapporteurs also take part in the negotiations. As stated above, if the Parliament has not adopted a first reading in plenary, the relevant committee can decide (by a qualified majority vote) to enter negotiations led by their own report. The plenary has to endorse this decision.
The four column document
The four column document is the main working tool during the trilogue negotiations. As the name suggests, the document consists of four columns. The first three columns reflect the position of the three institutions on a certain matter. The fourth column is reserved for the compromised text.
If the interinstitutional negotiations are successful, the negotiation teams of the Parliament and the Council produce a common text; a provisional agreement. This agreement will then be submitted to both co-legislators before it can be adopted, thereby following the appropriate legislative voting procedures as described in the Theory Module “OLP: Formal procedure”.