This paper investigates a widespread but understudied phenomenon in EU decision-making: the de facto agreement of legislative dossiers in informal "trilogues" and their subsequent adoption at first reading under co-decision. Since their formal introduction in 1999, such "early agreements" have become ever more frequent, and 43% of all legislative acts passed until 2007 were "fast-tracked". Against this backdrop, our paper addresses three questions: (i) what is the extent of fast-track legislation in EU decision-making? (ii) how are early agreements reached? (iii) why and when does fast-track legislation occur? First and empirically, we draw on in-depth interviews and a primary data-set to discuss the extent and conduct of informal politics under co-decision; we introduce the actors involved and the negotiation mechanisms established, and give an overview of early agreements from 1999-2008, categorised according to policy-area and legislative period. Second and theoretically, we develop an explanatory framework built on arguments from transaction cost theory and institutional isomorphism. We argue that delegation to trilogues and early agreements are more likely a) where dossiers are negotiated post-2004 enlargement and following the frequent use of co-decision (aggregate level), and b) where dossiers are technical and non-salient (issue-type), and regulatory rather than distributive or constituent (policy-area).
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