Since the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty, we recognise two legislative procedures applied within the EU: ordinary legislative procedure and special legislative procedures.
Ordinary legislative procedure
The Lisbon Treaty replaced the former co-decision procedure with ordinary legislative procedure and extends its application to new policy areas, which has resultedin the process being currently applied to the vast majority of policy areas (85 areas), including the environment. The adoption of legislative proposals withinthis process requires its joint adoption by two equal EU legislators – the Council of the EU (the Council) and the European Parliament (the EP). The Lisbon Treaty thus enhanced the EP´s power at the expense of the Council, which had been permitted to adopt law even without the EP´s approval.
The Commission, as an executive body of the EU, is the only entity entitled to put forward EU law proposals, whether through regulation, directive or decision. However, in specific cases, it can do so on behalf of other EU institutions (the European Parliament, the Council, the European Central and Investment Banks,the Court of Justice). Since the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty, the Commission´s proposal may even follow the initiative of a quarter of Member States as well as the citizens´ initiative (1 million citizens from at least a quarter of Member States). The Commission´s proposal, drawn up by the relevant Directorate-General, is approved by its College either by written procedure (without discussion) or orally (with discussion) by simple majority, if voting applies (even though consensus is always preferred). Afterwards, it is submitted simultaneously to both the EP and the Council as well as to the national parliaments of Member States, who have eight weeks to assess whether the legislative proposal is in line with the principle of subsidiary. If they agree that it is not, the Commission must reconsider its proposal. In specific policy areas, including the environment, the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee must also be consulted.
Even though the proposal is submitted to both the EP and the Council at the same time, the EP is officially the first institution that examines the proposal. At the EP level, the proposal is discussed by the relevant committeethat appointa rapporteur for each proposal.He/she is responsible for draftingthe EP´s position, whichis in turn adopted in plenary. The EP may approve the proposal - without any changes or, with amendments, or even reject it in its entirety by a majority of votes cast.
The Council´s 1st reading can be officially conducted on the basis of the EP´s 1streading position. Nevertheless, in practice, the Council examines the proposal simultaneously with the 1st reading of the EP. While awaiting the EP´s official position, the Council may adopt a political agreement, also known as a general approach that indicates to the EP the Council´s opinion before it officially adopts its 1st reading position. This enables the EP to approve the position that would be acceptable for the Council in its 1st reading. As a result, the entire process is expedited since the mechanism is equipped to facilitate an agreement between two institutions in the 1st reading. On this basis, the majority of EU legislation (67%) is adopted at this stage.
The Council examines the proposal on three levels (working groups, the Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper) and ministers). The proposal is adopted by the Council in the 1st reading if it accepts the Commission´ s proposal without any amendments or if it accepts all of the EP´s amendments, in which case the proposal is adopted in wording that corresponds to the position of the EP. If the Council amends the EP´s position, its opinion is communicated to the EP for a 2nd reading. The Council decides by quality majority if the Commission includesthe EP´s amendments in its amended proposal or by unanimity if it does not.
There is no time limit for the 1st reading either at the EP or at the Council.
The EP has three months (possibly extended to four) to examine the Council´s position from the 1st reading. The act is adopted in wording that corresponds to the positions of the Council, whether the EP approves the Council position or fails to take a decision within the set time limit. If the EP rejects the proposal,the act does not come into force and the whole procedure ends. The EP may also propose, by a majority of its component members, amendments to the Council´s position and in turn send the proposal back to the Council for a 2nd reading.
Within three (possibly four) months of receiving the EP´s amendments, the Council may approve all of its amendments, in which case the act is considered adopted. The Council acts by quality majority on those EP´s amendments that the Commission has expressed its support for and unanimously on those for which it has conveyed a negative opinion. If the Council does not approve all of the EP´s amendments the Conciliation Committee is convened by the President of the Council - in agreement with the EP´s President within six weeks.
The Conciliation Committee is composed of an equal number of representatives of the Council and Members of Parliament. With the participation of the Commission, it aims to reacha final agreement on a text for the proposal in question. To do so, the Committee has six (possibly eight) weeks from the time of the Council´s refusal of the EP´s 2nd reading position. If it does not agree on a joint text, the proposal is considered not adopted and the legislative procedure ends.If the Committee approves the joint text (the Council by a qualified majority vote and the EP by an absolute majority vote), the text is forwarded to both institutions for a 3rd reading.
The proposed act is adopted in the 3rd reading if the EP, acting by a majority of votes cast, and the Council, by qualified majority, approve the negotiated text by the Conciliation Committee without any changes within six (possibly eight) weeks. A legislative act is in turn signed by the Presidents and Secretaries-General of the EP and the Council and then published in the Official Journal of the EU. If one of the institutions rejects the joint text or does not come to a decision in time the proposed act is considered rejected and the legislative procedure ends. A new procedure can start only with a new Commission´s proposal.
Special legislative procedures
In addition to ordinary legislative procedure, the Lisbon Treaty introduced special legislative procedures. Even though the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU does not provide their precise description,in practice it operates according to the following two modalities: consent and consultation procedures.As the name indicates,the procedures are only applied in a number of very specific policy areas (15 areas). Similar to ordinary legislative procedure,the Commission is the only institution entitled to put forward legislative proposals. However, unlike ordinary legislative procedure, the only legislator is de facto the Council and the role of the EP is considerably limited.
Under consent procedure, a proposal cannot be adopted without the consent of the EP acting by an absolute majority of its members. However, the EP can only approve or reject the proposal in its entirety and cannot amend it, as in the case of ordinary legislative procedure. The EP´s position cannot be overruled by the Council, which in fact provides the EP with the right of veto. This procedure is required in relation to the adoptionof certain international agreements, the accession of new EU members and, since Lisbon, also to the withdrawal from the EU. It is also applied when legislating on combating discrimination and in relation to serious breaches of fundamental rights.
Consultation procedure requires that the Council, before adopting any legislative proposal, consults the EP. Like ordinary legislative procedure, the EP is entitled to approve, reject or propose amendments to the proposal. However, the Council is not legally obliged to follow the EP´s position even though it cannot decide without receiving the EP´s opinion. Consultation procedure is applied as a legislative procedureto internal market exemptions and competition law. In non-legislative areas it is applicable when international agreements under the Common Foreign and Security Policy are being adopted.
Find out more information about the legislative procedures at:
Last update 15/10/2018