The room on the upper floors of the European Parliament building in Brussels is getting filled up and the atmosphere is growing tense. It's about to start. I enter the hall and shake hands with those present. We all know it's not going to be easy, and we make jokes that we should have also brought sleeping bags with. At least we have supplies of chocolate and energy drinks.
Our task is no smaller than to come up with a plan that will make Europe a digital champion. Moreover, our continent should be able to do it relatively quickly, by 2030.
What is a trilogue?
At 7 pm, the room falls silent. We're getting started. The full negotiating teams of the three key EU institutions – the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union – are sat at a long oval table and are looking at each other. I lead the European Parliament team and it is my responsibility to ‘bring it home’ – which means, secure the best possible result from today's negotiations. Negotiators from the European Commission and the Council of the EU, which consists of 27 member states, have the same task. As it happens, the Czech Republic is currently presiding over the Council of the EU for six months, so I’m greeting Czech diplomats, who are sat just across the table, with a nod.
The ‘trilogue’, which is EU jargon for this tripartite negotiation between the EU institutions, is about careful preparation and complex technical negotiations that precede it. Equally important is strategy and negotiation tactics during the meeting. This will be confirmed several times tonight.
Discussing and rewriting
As soon as all the negotiators have presented their points of departure, we start going through the draft of 2030 Policy Programme: Path to the Digital Decade in detail, line by line. This may take several hours. The text may not be the longest or the most complicated one, but we are still sweating over it. Time and again, we suspend our discussion on the wording of the key clauses to consult the next steps with advisors and lawyers in private, and then try to find an agreement in an informal way. The author of the proposal for the Digital Decade, the European Commission, is constantly rewriting the clauses, be it in response to the proposals from the Council, or on my initiative as a negotiator for the European Parliament.
There's a lot at stake, and I'm so focused on every word that I don’t even notice it’s well past midnight. Thankfully, there is still enough coffee, and any potential fatigue is constantly beaten by adrenaline and the determination to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion. I’m starting to see that the other parties feel the same way, and this fills me with optimism. Europe, at least the one we know today, is fundamentally built on compromise. It has always relied on the ability to find common ground and to give up part of one’s preferences for the common good. Everyone in the room understands that.
Success also thanks to Czech presidency
Just before 3 am, we’ve managed to reach an agreement. The Path to Europe's Digital Decade is set and is marked by a valuable compromise. We’re shaking hands. Everyone did an amazing job. Plus, the successful trilogue on the Digital Decade also happened thanks to the Czech presidency. Czech diplomats proved their expertise once again, showing that they know their job really well. The fact that a Czech MEP also contributed to the final agreement is the icing on the cake.
Written by Martina Dlabajová
Photo credits: M. Dlabajová
Martina Dlabajová has been a member of the European Parliament since 2014.