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In virtually all cases, the Commission enjoys the right of initiative to table proposed legislation. The Council and the European Parliament, which both enjoy legislative powers, are then responsible for adopting the proposal according to one of the procedures laid down for this purpose.
The Council and the European Parliament take their own decisions according to specific rules, playing a different role according to the decision-making procedure that involves them jointly.
The three major decision-making procedures are the:
In the consultation procedure the Commission submits a proposal to the Council, which then consults the European Parliament. While it is not bound by Parliament's opinion, the Council must nevertheless consult it in a certain number of cases, failing which the proposal cannot become legally binding.
The areas covered by the consultation procedure are:
In certain areas, such as taxation, the Council’s decision must be unanimous.
In this procedure the Council shares legislative powers with the European Parliament. Both institutions read the proposal and discuss it once or several times. If an agreement cannot be reached, the proposal is submitted to a conciliation committee. In recent years, the Council's legislative powers have been broadened, the co-decision procedure now being necessary in an increasing number of areas. The co-decision procedure has therefore become the ordinary but not exclusive legislative procedure.
Areas subject to the co-decision procedure are:
In the assent procedure, which applies in certain specific cases, the Council can take a decision only with the European Parliament’s express assent.
The areas subject to the assent procedure are:
There are three procedures for adopting decisions within the Council:
1. Absolute majority: the Council takes a decision with half the votes plus one. This procedure is applied for procedural questions and non-controversial matters.
2. Qualified majority: a proposal is adopted if it obtains a minimum number of votes, each country having a number of votes in proportion to its population. After 10 new members were admitted on 1 May 2004, the vote weighting key was altered. The qualified majority procedure is the most common and applies in particular to the internal market, the harmonisation of legislation, the environment, culture and health.
3. Unanimity: a decision can be taken only on a unanimous vote, each Member State therefore enjoying a right of veto. Although qualified majority voting is becoming increasingly common, certain sensitive areas such as foreign policy, defence, direct and indirect taxation, social security and matters concerning the enlargement of the Union still require a unanimous vote.
United Kingdom 29
Czech Republic 12
Qualified majority required 232
In terms of legislation, the work of the European Parliament is generally organised as follows:
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