EU Decision Making
In particular, three institutions are involved when new EU rules are to be decided: the Commission, Parliament and the Council of Ministers. Proposals for new rules almost always come from the Commission. The exception is foreign policy where a member state can make proposals.
The European Commission is taking help to obtain a basis for its proposals. All proposals are discussed primarily with national ministries and authorities, but also with the European Parliament’s various specialist committees. The Commission also has expert committees to access where researchers and industry experts are invited.
The influence from outside interest groups is great. Lobbyists from companies, regions, consumer organizations, environmental groups and a number of industry associations are present in Brussels. They must register publicly and state who they work for.
The Commission often initiates major legislative work by inviting hearings. Many times a “green book” is then formulated with an analysis of the situation and various proposals for solutions that are posted for comments.
Consultations are often held via the internet, some only for interest groups, others also open to citizens.
When a formal bill is ready, the Committee of the Regions and Ecosoc are consulted (see above). At the same time, the bills go to the national parliaments of the EU countries.
According to Phonecations, EU proposals must always be checked against the principle of subsidiarity, which states that decisions must be taken at the lowest effective level – central, national or local level. For each new proposal, the Commission must justify why an EU decision is considered necessary.
National parliaments have the opportunity to “draw a yellow card” if they believe that the European Commission has made a mistake and submitted a proposal that should actually be dealt with at national level. If a third of all national parliaments agree, the bill must go back for reassessment.
If the Council of Ministers and Parliament cannot agree on certain legislation, there is a conciliation process in which a small number of participants try to reach a compromise. This conciliation committee has six weeks. If it fails, Parliament can scrap the proposal.
After 2009, this formal process has been replaced by an informal process, called a trilogy, in which the Council of Ministers, Parliament and the European Commission try to agree in a small and closed group. The parties then call on their respective principals to vote in favor of the compromise.
The trilogy has shortened the process considerably and around 85 percent of the legislation has thus been able to be taken already at a first vote in parliament (the formal procedures usually give two “readings.”)
So far, these trilogues are taking place without transparency, but it has recently been raised requirements to open the process, for example by the EU Ombudsman.
Once the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament have agreed, the Council shall issue an act. These come in several forms. The most important legal acts are regulations and directives, which create common rules. A regulation applies immediately as a law in the member states. A directive must be transposed into national law within a certain time – it gives the Member State a little more leeway to adapt the law nationally.
In addition, the Council of Ministers can issue decisions, recommendations and opinions. Decisions are only binding on the party to whom it is addressed, for example a country, a company or an individual.
For judicial cooperation, there are so-called framework decisions which coordinate national laws (these are taken unanimously). Recommendations and opinions are never binding.
The Lisbon Treaty has reduced the EU’s many decision-making procedures from several dozen to five. Majority votes are the main rule. Unanimity remains for, among other things, amendments to the Treaty, taxes and foreign, security and defense policy (when a abstention vote is counted as no vote).
If all member states to agree to a policy in which decisions under the Treaty shall be taken by unanimity transition to majority voting (the so-called passerelle or footbridge).