20 Jun 2022

The European Council and Council of the EU

What lessons from Covid-19 decision-making?

Paul Culley / Derk Oldenburg / Sophie Vanhoonacker

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The eruption of the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic took the EU institutions and Member States by surprise. This Policy Insight maps how the European Council and Council of the EU adapted to the unprecedented challenges to their working methods. It looks at the procedures, technology and human resources used in the period between March 2020 and June 2021, when these institutions began to return to ‘business as usual’.

It then examines what we can learn from this period of improvised, pragmatic solutions to maintain policy- and lawmaking. It explores to what extent these solutions could play a part in improved decision-making and governance beyond the crisis.

The mapping exercise shows that the initial discussions were animated, and sometimes divisive, but led to an incremental process of adaptation. Different players showed a high degree of flexibility and political will to find pragmatic solutions. This allowed the two institutions to move relatively rapidly to an online mode and ensured continuity of the decision-making machinery.

This positive achievement, however, came at a price. The solutions often compromised the quality of established governance practices. The crisis legislative process weakened transparency, accountability and stakeholder consultation, particularly in the Council.

In interviewing key players and analysing data on meetings and legislative output, we focus on how the main elements of governance evolved during the period – efficiency, transparency, stakeholder consultation and accountability. Drawing from both positive and negative lessons, we offer recommendations in terms of procedures, working methods, technological issues and human resources.