The European Union (EU) is considering legislation that would regulate the importation of conflict minerals into the EU. The European Commission announced its proposed regulation on March 5, 2014. The draft regulation contains proposals for a voluntary self-certification process for importers of conflict minerals (tin, tantalum, and tungsten and gold) into the EU from anywhere in the world.

Legislative Process

The EU legislative process is complex and involves three main players: the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the European Council. The European Commission proposes legislation. The European Parliament and the Council (made up of the member states) must agree on and adopt the legislation before it can become law.

The Parliament and the Council may each propose amendments to the draft regulation and must reach consensus on the final proposal (in a process called “codecision”). The Parliament takes the lead in this process and assigns the matter to a committee for consideration. The Committee on International Trade (INTA) has taken on the role as the lead Parliament committee for the conflict minerals draft regulation. On September 3, 2014, the INTA committee appointed Iuliu Winkler, a Romanian member of Parliament (MEP) from the Christian Democrat parliamentary group, as Rapporteur. The INTA committee will invite views of other parties, such as NGOs, industry trade associations and civil society groups. All interested parties are allowed to make their views known to MEPs. Any MEP may propose an amendment to the draft regulation, and the INTA committee will vote on all the amendments and produce its draft regulation.

The Parliament’s Committee on Development (DEVE) will draft an “opinion” on the draft regulation, which takes the form of amendments and a short explanation (or “justification”). The members of the committee will vote on it and they will then submit it to the INTA committee, who will accept it as an annex to their draft without voting on it as long as it falls within the exclusive competence of DEVE. The INTA committee must then vote on their own draft and accept or reject the amendments put forward for it.

This draft regulation will then be voted on by the Parliament as a whole in the Plenary session. To be approved, the draft must be adopted by a simple majority of the Parliament (i.e., a majority of members voting on the position). The Council will then either accept the draft of the Parliament or amend it further.

It is important to note that given the nature of this codecision process, the final regulation may bear little resemblance to the draft regulation originally proposed by the Commission. Parliament has the right to propose and accept any amendments to the regulation that they choose. Because the Parliament is a political body, many interest groups lobby MEPs to propose amendments to the proposed regulation. Because of the various parties that have the right to propose amendments, the final regulation could be dramatically different from the draft regulation.

The INTA committee hosted a public hearing on the issue on December 4, 2014. At that hearing, interested parties were invited address the committee with their concerns and opinions about the proposed regulation. The INTA committee is currently considering the draft regulation.

Next Steps

The next steps for the draft regulation will be the votes in the parliamentary committees. The vote in the DEVE committee is currently scheduled for February 2015. The DEVE opinion will be annexed to the INTA draft and the INTA committee will then vote to finalize the draft regulation, that vote is scheduled for March 2015. Following these votes, the draft regulation will be voted on by the Parliament in its entirety in a Plenary session.

The draft regulation will then be sent to the Council, where the member states will vote to accept or amend the proposal of the Parliament. Should the Council propose its own amendment to the draft regulation, the revised proposal would be sent back to the Parliament for it to consider and propose any additional amendments and vote on it, all within a time limit of three months.

It is not clear when the conflict minerals regulation will be finalized. If the voting in the Parliament goes quickly and the Council is able to reach consensus without sending the proposal back to the Parliament, the regulation could be finalized by the end of 2015. However, because this is a controversial proposal, we believe that there will be some debate and disagreement in the Parliament and Council and their committees. If that does occur, the process could continue into next year.

In our next post, we will discuss the views of certain of the stakeholders and the outlook for next steps in the process.