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[Luxembourg 2005 Presidency of the Council of the European Union]
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Decision-making process

The decision-making process within the European Union is a complex mechanism that has evolved continuously over recent decades. Several institutions are involved, the most important being the European Commission, the Council and the European Parliament.

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:

Besides, the Council and the European Parliament follow their own internal decision-making procedures.

Consultation procedure

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:

  • Police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters;
  • Revision of the treaties;
  • Discrimination based on gender, race or ethnic origin, religion, political beliefs, handicap, age or sexual orientation;
  • European citizenship;
  • Agriculture;
  • Legal immigration and the other policies connected to the free movement of people;
  • Transport (when it may have a significant influence in certain regions);
  • Competition law;
  • Tax provisions;
  • Economic policy;
  • ‘Closer cooperation’, i.e. the means authorising a group of Member States to cooperate in a particular area, even if the others do not yet wish to join them.

In certain areas, such as taxation, the Council’s decision must be unanimous.

Co-decision procedure

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:

  • Prevention of discrimination on the grounds of nationality;
  • Freedom of movement and residency;
  • Free movement of labour;
  • Social security of migrant labour;
  • Freedom of establishment;
  • Transport;
  • The internal market;
  • Employment;
  • Customs cooperation;
  • Combating social exclusion;
  • Equal opportunity and treatment;
  • Implementation of decisions relating to the European Social Fund;
  • Education;
  • Vocational training;
  • Culture;
  • Health;
  • Consumer protection;
  • Trans-European networks;
  • Execution of European Regional Development Fund decisions;
  • Research;
  • The environment;
  • Transparency;
  • Prevention and prosecution of fraud;
  • Statistics;
  • Establishment of a consultative body on data protection
  • Visas, asylum and illegal immigration (1 April 2005 at the latest)

Assent procedure

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:

  • Specific tasks of the European Central Bank;
  • Amendment of the statutes of the European System of Central Banks or the European Central Bank;
  • Structural and Cohesion Funds;
  • European Parliament’s uniform election procedure;
  • Certain international agreements;
  • Accession of new Member States;
  • Sanctions imposed on a Member State for a serious and persistent breach of fundamental rights under the Article 7 of the EU Treaty.

Decision-making within the Council

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.

Weighting of votes within the Council since 1 November 2004:

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

Total 321
Qualified majority required 232

Decision-making within the European Parliament

In terms of legislation, the work of the European Parliament is generally organised as follows:

  • the European Commission submits proposed legislation to Parliament; and a parliamentary committee competent for the area is asked to draw up a report and appoint a rapporteur. One or more parliamentary committees may be asked to give an opinion. Their opinion is adopted and forwarded to the competent committee;
  • MEPs - and the committees asked to give an opinion - may table amendments to the draft report drawn up by the rapporteur; it is then adopted, with amendments where applicable, by the committee competent for the area;
  • the report is examined by the political groups according to their political orientation;
  • the report is then discussed in plenary session. Amendments, tabled by the committee competent for the area, the political groups or a certain number of MEPs, may then be introduced. Parliament’s position is established by voting.

This page was last modified on : 29-12-2004

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