Trilogue negotiations serve as pivotal interinstitutional discussions among the Commission, Council, and Parliament within the EU legislative framework. Although not explicitly mentioned in EU treaties, they have evolved into a critical element of the legislative process, offering organized interest a significant opportunity for engagement. However, for many organizations, the dynamics of these negotiations remain opaque.

EU interest representation is often perceived as viable until the start of trilogue negotiations, after which an informal, closed-door process determines the course of action. It is true that the informal nature of the trilogues and the fast pace of events towards the end of the negotiation process pose major challenges for the representation of interests at EU level. However, this in no way means that political access is cut off. It is just crucial to know where those access points lie and how best to utilise them.

In the ordinary legislative procedure, the Parliament and the Council must agree on a joint text based on the Commission’s legislative proposal. These negotiations occur through informal trilogue meetings, where it is primarily the Parliament and Council who negotiate, with the Commission acting as a mediator to facilitate agreement.

The Parliament’s negotiating team is led by the rapporteur, who conducts the negotiations on behalf of the Parliament. He or she is supported by a team of shadow rapporteurs who represent the positions of their political groups, as well as referees. The Council’s negotiating team is led by the rotating presidency, first in the responsible Council working groups, then in the Committee of Permanent Representatives (Coreper) II or I – depending on the topic under discussion.

A fundamental tool in this process is the “4-column” working document, which juxtaposes Parliament and Council positions with the original Commission proposal, leaving space for compromise solutions in the fourth column. Only upon completion of this column for all articles can a provisional legislative text be finalized and subjected to formal approval by the co-legislators.

Throughout negotiations, delegations seek compromises, report back, and request further instructions, aiming to refine the dossier at both political and working levels. The purpose of several rounds of trilogues is that, after the political negotiations, the dossier is revised again at working level in order to make changes involving additional expertise.

This iterative process presents a unique opportunity for external stakeholders to influence decisions late in the legislative cycle.

The sheer size of delegations and those involved in drafting positions and refining them at working level is both a source of information and access to decision-makers. Organisations can expand the scope of action of co-legislators through additional expertise on the disputed topics and give them a competitive advantage. The ability to use this interaction is a challenge for interest representation on the one hand but enables external stakeholders to voice their concerns late in the legislative process on the other.

The more disputed the dossier, the greater usually the scope for action for the interests involved. Nevertheless, the bigger gap usually consists of an information advantage versus deficit: personal contacts in Brussels and a forward-looking understanding based on professional monitoring, process and stakeholder tracking are crucial.

The key for organizations and businesses is therefore not only to understand the processes, but also to be supported at an early stage with strategic expertise, a well-maintained network and the use of tools, which ultimately help to shape the legislative process.


Annex: The procedure behind the inter-institutional negotiations

Source: Own creation based on the OLP Handbook.