Four steps to successfully propose an amendment
Amendments are key to influence EU law. They are legal texts that revise, add, improve or delete draft legislation proposed by the Commission. It is the most straight forward way for an MEP to shape European policy. Only MEPs can table amendments.
The first key factor for success to get your amendment on the table therefore is to carefully select the MEP(s) that may be willing to accept your amendment. This first step is possibly the most difficult part as it implies understanding the major themes of the legislative period, the political parties, the different MEPs’ preferences, the mood of the moment, the interinstitutional relations, and last but not least the draft legislation and its aims. It also implies understanding who are the key MEPs on a dossier (such as the rapporteur, and shadow rapporteurs), who wants input, who are the other MEPs willing to profile themselves. Who is ready to accept an amendment? Who wants to table it? Tabling an amendment requires involvement of many parties in the European parliament, such as the advisors of the MEP, the advisors of their political party or fraction, interest groups, lobbyists, other EU institutions, … Therefore, to select the MEP(s) able and willing to amend requires many calls and cross-checks, and carefully pondering of different interests.
Secondly, it is important to summarize the overall aim of the changes included in the amendment. What does the amendment want to achieve? How does it fit into other interests influencing the outcome of an initiative? After all, you want to give the concerned MEP the best ammunition there is. And you want the amendment to survive the complete co-legislative process, including the trilogue and the plenary vote. “Negotiations between the MEPs on the drafting of amendments is at the core of the parliamentary life”, British liberal Andrew Duff is saying.
Thirdly, be ready for a “sales-pitch”: what is in it for the MEP? Why would he or she accept your amendment out of the undoubtedly many parties trying to influence the co-legislator? How does the amendment support the MEPs’ preferences? There is a justification needed for every amendment but that is not enough to have a successful internal political debate. You want the MEP who is tabling an amendment that you support, your sponsor, to be your champion throughout the process. You want to be there for him or her, also when negotiations require a slightly different amendment.
Lastly, as the process can take months, sometimes years, proposing an amendment is not a “send and pray” exercise: to select the right MEP, to explain the rationale, to convince the MEP to propose the amendment is not enough to guarantee success. Amendments can change in the process during the negotiations within the EP, or in the trilogue for example in the light of other amendments being tabled. Continuous monitoring of the “life of the amendment” is essential, as well as continuous support to the MEP(s) and to his or her team. Only after the plenary vote you can be sure the amendment your MEP sponsored is accepted. As Sharon Bowles, chair of the Economic and Monetary Affairs committee during the previous parliamentary term used to say: “Nothing is agreed until all is agreed”.
By Lieve Lowet