Most legislation in the European Union is decided by the three different legs of the European stool working together: the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.

Let’s take the Nature Restoration Law as an example.

Firstly, the European Commission drafts a proposal. It is then considered by the relevant committee of the European Parliament – in this case, the Environment Committee.

A rapporteur – an MEP selected by agreement – acts as the advocate for the proposals, adding amendments that reflect the political perspective of themselves and the political grouping they come from.

A shadow rapporteur, usually from an opposing political grouping to the rapporteur, proposes further amendments. These are voted on at committee level and then in a full plenary session of the entire European Parliament.

In tandem with all this, the council of relevant ministers from the 27 member states are also meeting and discussing the Commission’s proposals.

In the case of the Nature Restoration Law, it is the environment ministers of each member state. In Ireland’s case, that’s Minister for Environment Eamon Ryan. The Council of Ministers comes up with its own counter-proposals.

For instance, last summer, we saw the environment ministerial council agree to lower targets for rewetting than the Commission’s nature restoration proposal envisaged.

The parliament eventually voted for those lower targets and the ministers’ support ensured co-decision.

Complicating factor

A further complicating factor for farming is that many issues straddle a few committees and ministerial portfolios. The Nature Restoration Law involved Minister of State with responsibility for nature, heritage and electoral reform Malcolm Noonan in the Department of Housing as the lead negotiator for Ireland. It also involved Charlie McConalogue as Minister for Agriculture.

While it was Minister McConalogue and his agriculture ministerial counterparts who did the heavy lifting on the rewetting targets, it will be Minister Noonan and Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien’s responsibility to deliver the legislation at national level.

The heritage portfolio sits within the overall Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

This co-decision system means that national governments, who have to buy in and deliver national legislation in line with European laws, have an active part in the delivery of those laws. So, the system is working, right?

Not entirely. We can see the level of unrest that exists, not just among protesting farmers earlier this year, but among large sections of society, with large elements of the broad thrust of EU policy and how it impacts on the daily lives of the 448m citizens of the 27 member states.

This means a large proportion of the European Commission’s time is spent drafting legislation.

The European Commission has some executive functions, primarily in managing the EU’s multi-billion budget.

However, the actual spending is mostly done by the government departments within the member states. This means a large proportion of the European Commission’s time is spent drafting legislation and overseeing how effectively the various member states are implementing that legislation.

In essence, the European Commission is an enormous machine designed to create legislative proposals, anchor negotiations and horse-trading within and between the ministerial council and the parliament, and then acts as a watchdog over, for example, how vigorously Ireland’s Department of Agriculture monitored the eligibility of clumps of scrubland in Irish fields for direct payments in the last CAP.

Technocrats and bureaucrats

There are about 32,000 people working in the European Commission, a vast army of technocrats and bureaucrats and lawyers and accountants and experts of every hue. This is a well-resourced, sleek machine that churns out an Amazon rainforest of paper in a couple of dozen languages on any and every issue.

It is farmers, more than anyone else in society, that feels this the most, because farmers are the ones who are most affected on a daily basis by the legislative legacy of the Commission.