Decision-Making Procedures

Negotiations and decision-making within the European Union (EU) take place on several levels. The regional, state and supranational levels are interlinked.

All regulations and procedures related to the decision-making process are established by the respective treaties or agreements. Each proposal for legislation is anchored in a specific article of the founding treaties, which also determines, among other things, the legislative route for the adoption of such a proposal. Within the EU there are four basic procedures for the adoption of legislation - the consultation, assent, cooperation and co-decision procedures (described in detail below). The key difference between the individual procedures is the degree of involvement of the EU institutions. The European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council play the mot important roles in the decision-making process. The European Commission puts forward new legislation while the Parliament and the Council adopt it.

Four decision-making procedures

Consultations

Within the consultation procedure the European Parliament issues an opinon on the legislative proposals put forward by the European Commission. The Council then decides independenty on the basisof the European Parliament’s conclusions. The consultation procedure is used in cases which are not expressly subject to the cooperation and co-decision procedures.
 

Assent

The assent procedure was established by the Single European Act (1986). If this procedural route is taken, the European Council must obtain the European Parliament’s assent. The procedure is similar to the consultation procedure with the exception that Parliament cannot modify or amend the proposal: it must either give its assent or reject the proposal. To issue the assent, an absolute majority of the votes cast is required. This procedure is applied to important international treaties, EU enlargements and certain material decisions (such as decisions on civil rights, on the objectives of the European Central Bank or on the objectives of the Structural or Cohesion funds).
 

Cooperation

The cooperation procedure was also established by the Single European Act. At the time it significantly strengthened the powers of the European Parliament, which until then did not have great influence over the creation of European legislation. The Treaty on the European Union (1992) extended the application of the cooperation procedure to a number of areas. Under the Amsterdam Treaty (1997) the cooperation procedure is used only minimally, mainly in the sphere of economic and monetary union. In the majority of other cases it has been superseded by the co-decision procedure. 
The cooperation procedure takes place in two readings. After the first reading, the European Commission may amend the proposal in compliance with the positions of the Council or the Parliament. An important moment in this procedure is the possibility of the common position of the Council being rejected at the second reading by the Parliament. In such an event the Council must then approve the act unanimously at the second reading.
 

Co-decision

The co-decision procedure, put in place by the Treaty on European Union, was designed to tie in with the cooperation procedure. It was subsequently simplified by the Amsterdam Treaty and extended to other areas by the Treaty of Nice.

This procedure involves several institutions in the decision-making processes in equal degree – more specifically, it involves the Parliament and the Council. Today, co‑decision is the most frequently used procedure for adopting any new European legislation, e. g. in areas related to internal market, free movement of workers, education, healthcare, consumer policy, environmental policies, culture and research.
 
The co-decision procedure allows for first, second or third readings depending on how quickly the Council and the Parliament manage to find a common standpoint on the proposed act. In the event that the Council and the Parliament fail to agree on the proposal it is submitted to the Conciliation Committee which tries to find a compromise. This Committee is composed of an equal number of Council and Parliament representatives. As soon as the Conciliation Committee reaches an agreement, the text of the act is sent back to the Parliament and the Council for final approval. The Parliament adopts the act by absolute majority and the Council usually votes by qualified majority.
 

Qualified majority voting in the Council of the EU

The ongoing institutional reform of the EU has extended the number of areas where the Council uses qualified majority for the voting. Qualified majority voting is considered to be more effective and faster and, therefore it gradually replaces the unanimous vote. A unanimous vote remains in use in sensitive areas such as the foreign policy of the Member States, their internal matters or taxation issues.

The qualified majority determines the number of votes of the Council representatives which are required to make a decision on the basis of Article 205 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU). Three conditions must be met simultaneously for proper adoption of the proposal: the proposal must be approved by the vote of 1) the simple majority of the Member States (e.g. at least 14 out of the 27 Member States); 2) at least 62% of the EU population, and 3) states putting together at least 255 votes from the total of 345 votes which are distributed between the Member States.

 

Distribution of votes for each Member State in the European Council (as of 1.1.2007)

Germany, France, Italy, United Kingdom 29
Spain, Poland 27
Romania 14
Netherlands 13
Belgium, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal 12
Austria, Sweden, Bulgaria 10
Denmark, Ireland, Lithuania, Slovakia, Finland 7
Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg, Slovenia 4
Malta  3

 

If any of the Member States disagree with the proposal being discussed, they may prevent its adoption by creating a blocking minority. Such states need to put together at least 30% of the vote. If the disagreeing states reach between 25% and 30% of the vote, the negotiations continue until these votes fall below 25% or until the act is approved by 75% of all the votes of the Council members.

Acts adopted by the European Council may take the form of regulations, directives, decisions, common actions, common positions, recommendations, opinions, conclusions, declarations or resolutions. When the Council acts as legislator, it is principally the European Commission that submits legislative proposals. The Council considers such proposals and may amend them before they are adopted.

Last update: 16.8.2011 16:02

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