Health claims beyond EFSA and the Commission: enter the European Parliament
17 April 2011
**Comment piece by Nathalie Wood, Food Regulation and Policy Manager, EAS
Last month’s near-death of the DHA claim “contributes to the normal visual developments of infants up to 12 months of age” shows that Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are not hesitating to use their powers of veto.
The claim was raised on the 6 April, when MEPs challenged the European Commission’s (Commission) decision to allow its use, and put to the vote a resolution to veto the Commission’s approval of the claim.
The vote, however, failed to gain the majority needed to enforce the veto, and the claim has narrowly avoided being kicked out of the European Union (EU) market.
As the dispute over the DHA claim played itself out, fears grew across the food sector for the implications of a successful European Parliament veto. MEPs were clearly showing their political clout; but what were, and are, the real chances of MEPs reaching the majority needed to block a Commission proposal for law?
To answer this question it is important to understand the context within which EU laws are implemented. As is the case in national law making procedures, the EU has a procedure in place to allow for the adoption of legal measures (known as implementing measures) to help with the implementation of a specific piece of legislation. This procedure is in place because not all aspects of the legislation can be decided upon and enforced at the time of its adoption. The procedure whereby the implementing measure is adopted is called the ‘comitology procedure’.
Within the comitology procedure, is a ‘regulatory procedure with scrutiny’, which enables MEPs to block a Commission draft proposal for implementing measures, if it can be shown that:
•The Commission has exceeded the implementing powers provided for in the legislation in question;
•The draft proposal is not compatible with the aim or the content of the basic instrument;
•The draft proposal does not respect the principles of subsidiarity or proportionality.
These are the only grounds under which the European Parliament can block a draft measure, and the decision to block must, within a three month deadline, be adopted by a qualified majority. In other words half of the total number of the MEPs, plus 1, must back a decision to block the said proposal.