Process and players
Please note that this site is currently under revision to reflect the changes brought about by the Treaty of Lisbon.
- 1.1 The treaties
- 1.2 International agreements
- 1.3 Secondary legislation
- 1.4 Consolidated legislation
- 1.5 Preparatory material
- 1.6 Case-law
- 1.7 Parliamentary questions
- 2.1 Assent procedure (Code AVC)
- 2.2 Co-decision procedure (Code COD)
- 2.3 Cooperation procedure (Code SYN)
- 2.4 Consultation procedure (Code CNS)
- 3.1 The European Parliament
- 3.2 The Council of the European Union
- 3.3 The European Commission
- 3.4 The Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance of the European Communities
- 3.5 The European Court of Auditors
- 3.6 The European Economic and Social Committee
- 3.7 The Committee of the Regions
- 3.8 European Central Bank
1. The documentary holdings
The documentary holdings in the EUR-Lex system comprise more than 410 000 documents and allow multilingual access to legal acts of many different types, such as treaties, secondary legislation, international agreements, preparatory acts, case-law and parliamentary questions.
The treaties constitute the European Union’s ‘primary legislation’, which is comparable to constitutional law at national level. They thus lay down the fundamental features of the Union, in particular the responsibilities of the various actors in the decision-making process, the legislative procedures, under the Community system and the powers conferred on them. The treaties themselves are the subject of direct negotiations between the governments of the Member States, after which they have to be ratified in accordance with the procedures applying at national level (in principle by the national parliaments or by referendum).
Besides the two fundamental treaties, the Treaty establishing the European Community and the Treaty on European Union, the EUR-Lex system provides access to the Euratom Treaty, the Accession Treaties and other treaties and protocols.
This deserves special mention: approved by the Heads of State or Government on 18 June 2004 and signed on 29 October 2004, the treaty has yet to be ratified by the 25 Member States of the European Union before it enters into force.
The essential features of the Constitutional Treaty are as follows:
- inclusion in the text of the Treaty of the Charter of Fundamental Rights,
- a new definition of the European Union to replace the current ‘European Community’ and ‘European Union’,
- a clearer presentation of the distribution of powers between the Union and the Member States,
- a revised institutional framework, clarifying the respective roles of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission,
- more effective decision-making procedures,
- making the system more democratic and transparent.
The main purpose of the Treaty establishing the European Community (EC Treaty) was to bring about the gradual integration of the States of Europe and to establish a common market founded on the four freedoms of movement (for goods, services, people and capital) and on the gradual approximation of economic policies. To this end the Member States surrendered part of their sovereignty and gave the Community institutions the power to adopt legislation that would be directly applicable in the Member States (regulation, directive, decision) and take precedence over national law.
The present EC Treaty results from the amendments made to the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community (EEC Treaty), which was signed in Rome in 1957 and came into force on 1 January 1958. That treaty has been amended several times, in particular by the Single European Act, which came into force in 1987, the Treaty of Maastricht (Treaty on European Union), which came into force in 1993, the Treaty of Amsterdam, which came into force in 1999, and the Treaty of Nice, which came into force on 1 February 2003. As a result of these amendments, the sectors falling under the EC Treaty have been extended so that they now include nearly all aspects of the economy and certain more specifically political matters, such as the right of asylum and immigration (see the Treaty of Amsterdam).
A consolidated version of the EC Treaty is available in EUR-Lex.
The Treaty on European Union (EU Treaty) pursues two main objectives: the creation of a monetary union by laying down the principles and arrangements for the introduction of the euro and the creation of an economic and political union. This is the treaty that originated the concept of a three-pillar structure, the first pillar consisting of the European Community and the other two of the common foreign and security policy and police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. There is, however, a big difference between the first pillar and the other two, which have not given rise to any transfers of sovereignty to the common institutions as was the case with the Treaty establishing the European Community. In these fields the Member States wished to preserve their independent decision-making powers and restrict themselves to an intergovernmental form of cooperation. The most important legal instruments in these fields are the joint action, the common position, and the framework decision, which are almost always adopted unanimously and are binding only to a limited extent. The original EU Treaty (the Treaty of Maastricht) came into force on 1 November 1993 and has been amended successively by the Treaty of Amsterdam, which came into force in 1999, and the Treaty of Nice, which came into force on 1 February 2003.
A consolidated version of the EU Treaty is available in EUR-Lex.
It is also important to remember that the EU Treaty changed the designation of the European Economic Community (EEC) to European Community (EC), while the other two Communities, the ECSC (see ECSC Treaty) and Euratom (see Euratom Treaty) were merged with that Community.
The Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom Treaty) was signed in Rome on 25 March 1957 and came into force on 1 January 1958 at the same time as the EEC Treaty (see EC Treaty).
The aim of the Euratom Treaty was to coordinate the research programmes already undertaken or planned by the Member States for the peaceful use of nuclear energy. This treaty has now in a sense been absorbed into the EC Treaty.
The European Union has been enlarged six times: the six founder members (Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) were joined in 1973 by Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom, in 1981 by Greece, in 1986 by Spain and Portugal, in 1995 by Austria, Finland and Sweden, in 2004 by the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and in 2007 by Bulgaria and Romania.
The Accession Treaties contain the terms laid down for the new countries’ accession to the European Union and the necessary adjustments to the treaties on which the Union is founded.
The Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC Treaty) is the oldest of the European Community’s three founding treaties.
It was signed in Paris on 18 April 1951, came into force on 23 July 1952 and expired on 23 July 2002, as it had been concluded for a period of 50 years.
The purpose of the treaty was to set up a common market in coal and steel, and this formula was meant to be gradually extended to other areas of the economy. The coal and steel sectors now come under the ordinary regime of the EC Treaty.
The Single European Act was signed on 28 February 1986 and came into force on 1 July 1987.
Its purpose was the completion, by 31 December 1992 at the latest, of the Single European Market, i.e. an area within which there were to be no restrictions on the movement of persons, capital, goods and services. Ad hoc procedures were introduced into the EC Treaty to achieve this.
The Treaty of Amsterdam was signed on 2 October 1997 and came into force on 1 May 1999.
The were two significant changes:
- application of the co-decision procedure to new areas, together with an increase in the cases in which the Council of the European Union can take decisions by qualified majority instead of unanimously;
- the transfer to the EC Treaty of certain matters covered by the EU Treaty (visa policy, granting asylum and in general all questions concerning free movement); following this transfer the heading of Title VI in the EU Treaty (third pillar) was changed to ‘Provisions on police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters’.
The Treaty of Nice was signed on 26 February 2001 and came into force on 1 February 2003.
The purpose of this treaty was to adapt the functioning of the European Union with a view to enlargement. Among the changes made, the following are worth mentioning:
- modification of the decision-making process;
- a drastic reduction in the cases in which the Council has to take decisions unanimously; henceforth the Council can reach a decision by qualified majority in a large number of fields: the free movement of citizens, judicial cooperation in civil matters, industrial policy, etc.;
- changes to the weighting of votes within the Council;
- changes to the structure of the institutions;
- a new distribution of seats in the European Parliament;
- renouncement of their second members of the Commission on the part of France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain;
- reinforcement of the powers of the President of the European Commission.
- the Greenland Treaty (1984), which was concluded to allow Greenland to leave the EEC in 1985 and give it the status of an overseas country or territory;
- the Merger Treaty (1965), which established a single Commission and a single Council for the three Communities (the Coal and Steel Community, the Economic Community and Euratom); Article 9 of the Treaty of Amsterdam repealed the Merger Treaty and incorporated its essential elements into the EC Treaty;
- the Treaty amending certain financial provisions (1975), which amended certain articles in the three Treaties establishing the ECSC, the EEC and Euratom; these amendments were for the most part further amended by the subsequent treaties;
- the Protocol on the Netherlands Antilles (1962), which clarified the trade arrangements applicable to imports to the European Union of refined petroleum products from the Netherlands Antilles.
International agreements are the second source of EU law, allowing the European Union to develop its economic, social and political relations with the rest of the world. These are always agreements concluded between subjects of international law (Member States or organisations) for the purpose of establishing cooperation at international level. Agreements concluded by the European Union under the first pillar are binding on the institutions of the Union and the Member States; those concluded by the Union under the second and third pillars are binding on the institutions but not always on the Member States (see paragraph 220.127.116.11).
The former comprise two main types of agreement:
- international agreements with third countries or international organisations,
- agreements and conventions between the Member States.
Agreements of this type can be concluded either by the Community or by the Community and the Member States (joint agreements). These agreements are binding on the Community and the Member States and thus render them liable at international level. Three forms of agreement can be distinguished.
- Association agreements
Association involves close economic cooperation, combined with extensive financial support from the Community for the partner to the agreement. This category of agreements includes those with the overseas countries and territories, agreements preparing the way for accession and creating a customs union, and the agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA).
- Cooperation agreements
Cooperation agreements do not have the same scope as association agreements, in that they are concerned only with intensive economic cooperation. Agreements of this kind link the Community in particular with the countries of the Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia) and Masher (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria) and with Israel.
- Trade agreements
These are agreements on customs and trade policy concluded with non-member countries or groups of non-member countries or within the framework of international trade organisations. The agreement establishing the World Trade Organisation (WTO) comes into this category.
These are binding legal instruments concluded between the Member States either to resolve matters that are closely linked to the activities of the Community but for which the Community institutions have not been given any powers or to extend the territorial limits of national provisions in order to create uniform law at Community level (the agreement on the Community patent, for example).
The ‘secondary legislation’ is the third major source of Community law after the treaties (primary legislation) and international agreements. It can be defined as the totality of the legislative instruments adopted by the European institutions pursuant to the provisions of the treaties. Secondary legislation comprises the binding legal instruments (regulations, directives and decisions) and non-binding instruments (resolutions, opinions) provided for in the EC Treaty, together with a whole series of other instruments such as the institutions’ internal regulations and Community action programmes.
The legal instruments associated with the second and third pillars, which do not, strictly speaking, form part of secondary legislation since they continue to be governed by intergovernmental relations, have been included in this category for reasons of proper documentation.
Adopted by the Council in conjunction with the European Parliament or by the Commission alone, a regulation is a general measure that is binding in all its parts. Unlike directives, which are addressed to the Member States, and decisions, which are for specified recipients, regulations are addressed to everyone.
A regulation is directly applicable, which means that it creates law which takes immediate effect in all the Member States in the same way as a national instrument, without any further action on the part of the national authorities.
Adopted by the Council in conjunction with the European Parliament or by the Commission alone, a directive is addressed to the Member States. Its main purpose is to align national legislation.
A directive is binding on the Member States as to the result to be achieved but leaves them the choice of the form and method they adopt to realise the Community objectives within the framework of their internal legal order.
If a directive has not been transposed into national legislation in a Member State, if it has been transposed incompletely or if there is a delay in transposing it, citizens can directly invoke the directive in question before the national courts.
Adopted either by the Council, by the Council in conjunction with the European Parliament or by the Commission, a decision is the instrument by which the Community institutions give a ruling on a particular matter. By means of a decision, the institutions can require a Member State or a citizen of the Union to take or refrain from taking a particular action, or confer rights or impose obligations on a Member State or a citizen.
A decision is:
- an individual measure, and the persons to whom it is addressed must be specified individually, which distinguishes a decision from a regulation,
- binding in its entirety.
A recommendation allows the institutions to make their views known and to suggest a line of action without imposing any legal obligation on those to whom it is addressed (the Member States, other institutions, or in certain cases the citizens of the Union).
An opinion is an instrument that allows the institutions to make a statement in a non-binding fashion, in other words without imposing any legal obligation on those to whom it is addressed. The aim is to set out an institution’s point of view on a question.
A joint action is a legal instrument under Title V of the Treaty on European Union and is thus of an intergovernmental nature. Adopted by the Council of the European Union unanimously or, in certain cases, by a qualified majority, a joint action is binding on the Member States, which have to achieve the objectives set unless major difficulties arise.
Since the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam, decisions and framework decisions have replaced joint actions in the field of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. These are legal instruments under Title VI of the Treaty on European Union that are intergovernmental in nature. Decisions and framework decisions are adopted by the Council of the European Union unanimously on the initiative of the Commission or a Member State.
- A framework decision is binding on the Member States as to the result to be achieved and leave to the national authorities the choice of form and methods (like the directive in the Community context).
- Decisions are used in the field of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters for any purpose other than the approximation of the laws and regulations of the Member State, which is the preserve of framework decisions.
The common position in the context of the common foreign and security policy and police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters is a legal instrument under Titles V and VI of the Treaty on European Union and is intergovernmental in nature. Adopted unanimously by the Council of the European Union, it determines the Union’s approach to particular questions of foreign and security policy or police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters and gives guidance for the pursuit of national policies in these fields.
These are a legal instrument under Titles V and VI of the Treaty on European Union that was not provided for in the Treaty of Maastricht. In the context of the second and third pillars there was thus no legal basis for concluding international agreements. In order to prevent each agreement signed by the Council from having to be formally concluded by the Member States, the Treaty of Amsterdam made provision for the Council to be able to authorise the Presidency to enter into negotiations when necessary.
The agreements are binding on the institutions of the Union, but not on the Member States whose constitutional provisions lay down particular rules for concluding such agreements. In such cases the other Member States meeting within the Council can decide that the agreement will nonetheless be applicable on a provisional basis.
Consolidation consists of incorporating into a single text, with no official authenticity, a basic instrument (a Treaty or piece of Community legislation) and the amendments and corrections subsequently made to it. A consolidated version of the Treaty establishing the European Community is available in EUR-Lex.
All the secondary legislation in force has been consolidated and can be consulted in EUR-Lex. These texts are intended to be used purely for documentation purposes, and the institutions do not accept any liability for their content.
On the basis of consolidated texts, the Commission may undertake a legislative consolidation or recasting. Legislative consolidation consists of getting the consolidated text, with a certain amount of redrafting, adopted through a legislative procedure. The new text is then published in the Official Journal as a legislative instrument and becomes authentic.
The Commission can also take the initiative of recasting a text where it considers it necessary to thoroughly overhaul the legislation in a particular field. In that case it launches a new legislative procedure.
Preparatory material comprises all the documents issued by the institutions in connection with a legislative procedure. Also included in this category are some documents of more general significance. The main documents that are considered to form part of the preparatory material are explained below.
18.104.22.168. Legislative proposals and opinions from the Commission (graphical representation)
The Commission has a near-monopoly in initiating Community instruments (directives, regulations, decisions or international agreements), except where it shares this right with the Member States (see Member States’ initiative) or the European Central Bank. The treaties almost always require the Council to take decisions on the basis of proposals from the Commission. However, the Council can invite the Commission to draw up a proposal, as can the European Parliament.
At any point in the procedure the Commission can amend its proposal or, if necessary, withdraw it.
The Commission is again involved in a later stage of the legislative procedure. Once the Commission’s proposal has been transmitted to the European Parliament and the Council, point (c) of the second subparagraph of Article 251(2) lays down that, if Parliament proposes amendments to the common position adopted by the Council, the amended text is forwarded to the Council and to the Commission, which delivers an opinion on those amendments. If the Commission is not in favour of the amendments proposed by Parliament, the Council must act unanimously; if it is in favour, the Council may act by a qualified majority.
The Treaty of Amsterdam provided for the Member States to have a right of initiative on questions of asylum and immigration. For a period of five years the legislative right of initiative was thus shared between the Commission and the Member States, either party being able to put forward proposals independently of the other. This transitional period of five years ended on 1 May 2004, and the Member States now have a right of initiative only for the second and third pillars, i.e. in the fields of foreign and security policy and police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.
A common position is an instrument adopted by qualified majority by the Member States meeting within the Council as part of a legislative procedure in which the Council shares its decision-making power with the European Parliament (cooperation procedure or co-decision procedure). It expresses the Council’s position on a Commission proposal in the light of the opinion of the European Parliament (see European Parliament’s legislative resolution) and the opinions of the other institutions and bodies involved in the procedure (European Economic and Social Committee, Committee of the Regions, European Central Bank, Court of Auditors).
The European Parliament is involved in a number of stages in any legislative procedure(cooperation procedure and co-decision procedure): the documents adopted by Parliament at each stage in the procedure are generally resolutions and may contain instruments of various types, such as opinions or amendments to the Council’s common position. Legislative procedures are referred, depending on the subject matter, to a Parliamentary committee, which prepares a report containing a draft resolution for adoption by Parliament in plenary session.
The European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions give technical opinions on questions concerning regional policy and economic and social policy respectively. Opinions are given either on a Committee’s own initiative or at the request of Parliament, the Council or the Commission and serve to guide these institutions in their legislative activity. It is sometimes mandatory to consult the European Economic and Social Committee and/or the Committee of the Regions, but their opinions are not binding.
- White Papers, which contain a set of proposals for action by the Community in a particular field. They sometimes follow on from Green Papers, the purpose of which is to launch a consultation process at European level. If a White Paper is favourably received by the Council, it can lead, if appropriate, to an EU action programme in the field concerned.
- Green Papers, which are intended to stimulate thinking and launch consultation at European level on a particular subject. The consultations resulting from a Green Paper can then lead to the publication of a White Paper that will propose a set of concrete measures for Community action.
The annual report of the Court of Auditors presents the Court’s comments on the handling of the Community’s finances. It is forwarded to the Community institutions and published in the Official Journal. The report highlights the points where improvement would be possible, or indeed desirable. The institutions then reply to the Court of Auditors’ observations.
All the decisions handed down by bodies exercising judicial powers constitute case-law. The Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance of the European Communities are the judicial institutions of the European Union. It is the task of the Court to ensure that Community law is respected in the interpretation and implementation of the founding treaties. The Court is assisted in its work by advocates-general, who draw up opinions.
The Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance hand down judgments, which are decisions that conclude a litigation procedure.
There is no appeal against judgments of the Court of Justice.
An appeal against a judgment of the Court of First Instance can be brought before the Court of Justice.
The European Parliament, the Council, the Commission or a Member State can seek the opinion of the Court of Justice on whether an agreement between the Community and non-member countries or international organisations is compatible with the provisions of the EC Treaty. An agreement on which the Court of Justice has given a negative opinion can enter into force only under the conditions laid down in Article 48 of the Treaty on European Union (procedure for amending the treaties).
The Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance issue orders in a variety of instances, as laid down in the Rules of Procedure, which fall broadly into three groups:
- instances during the investigation of a case (for example, acts ordering the preservation of evidence, or separating, joining or suspending cases);
- instances where the Court takes a decision without considering the substance of the case (for example, in the event of manifest inadmissibility of the case or lack of jurisdiction);
- instances where the Court takes a decision on the substance of the case; here, the orders are in fact simplified judgments that are used when the case is identical to others on which a judgment has already been handed down.
Orders can in principle be amended or revoked.
The advocates-general have the duty of assisting the Court in its work. They present in open court, acting with complete impartiality and independence, reasoned submissions on cases before the Court. In these submissions the advocate-general thus proposes a solution to the dispute, but the submissions do not bind the judges. They are an integral part of the oral procedure and are published together with the judgment in the Court Reports.
Parliamentary questions represent a way for Members of Parliament to keep a check on the activities of the Commission and the Council. Each Member of Parliament can address to the Council and the Commission:
- written questions (requesting a written reply),
- oral questions (asked in the chamber) and
- questions during Question Time (the period reserved for questions in each part-session of Parliament).
These questions are a much-used means of keeping check. The written questions and the replies given are published in the Official Journal, C series. They are incorporated into EUR-Lex.
2. Legislative procedures
In contrast to the national systems, in which the will of the nation is expressed in Parliament, the European Union accords a major legislative role to the representatives of the Member States meeting in the Council. As the institutions have developed, the European Parliament has seen its powers increase: the Council now shares its legislative powers with Parliament for the adoption of general legal instruments of a binding nature (regulations and directives). The decision-making procedures comprise the consultation procedure, the cooperation procedure, the co-decision procedure and the assent procedure.
2.1. Assent procedure (Code AVC) (graphic representation)
The assent procedure, which was introduced by the Single European Act, gives Parliament the possibility of expressing its approval or disapproval of certain Council instruments. There are certain matters on which the Council cannot legislate unless Parliament gives its consent by an absolute majority of its members. The assent procedure, which represents as it were a right of veto for Parliament, was originally intended to apply only to the conclusion of association agreements and the examination of applications to join the European Community. The areas in which the assent procedure applies at present are as follows:
- enhanced cooperation (Article 11(2)),
- specific tasks of the ECB (Article 105(6)),
- amending the Statute of the European System of Central Banks (Article 107(5)),
- Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund (Article 161),
- uniform procedure for elections (Article 190(4)),
- certain international agreements (Article 300(3)),
- violation of human rights (Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union),
- accession of new Member States (Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union).
2.2. Co-decision procedure (Code COD) (graphic representation)
The co-decision procedure, which was introduced by the Treaty on European Union, was conceived as an extension of the cooperation procedure. However, while in the latter the Council can, acting unanimously, disregard the opinion of Parliament, in the co-decision procedure there is no such possibility: in the event of disagreement, a conciliation committee made up of representatives of the Council and of Parliament has to arrive at a text that is acceptable to the two institutions. The co-decision procedure now puts these two institutions on an equal footing in the legislative roles. Under this procedure, the Council cannot adopt a common position if the process of conciliation with Parliament fails. If no agreement is reached, the legislative process is liable to be broken off.
Co-decision has become by far the most important procedure in legislative practice.
It concerns the following areas:
- non-discrimination on grounds of nationality (Article 12),
- combating discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation (Article 13(2)),
- freedom of movement and of residence (Article 18(2)),
- free movement of workers (Article 40),
- social security for migrant workers (Article 42),
- right of establishment (Article 44(1), Article 46(2), Article 47(1) and (2)),
- visas, asylum, immigration and other policies relating to the free movement of persons (Article 67(4) and (5)),
- transport (Article 71(1), Article 80),
- the internal market (Article 95),
- employment (Article 129),
- customs cooperation (Article 135),
- social policy (Article 137(2)),
- equal opportunities and equal treatment (Article 141(3)),
- implementing decisions relating to the European Social Fund (Article 148),
- education (Article 149(4)),
- culture (except recommendations) (Article 151(5)),
- public health (Article 152(4)),
- consumer protection (Article 153(4)),
- trans-European networks (Article 156),
- industry (Article 157(3)),
- economic and social cohesion(Article 159),
- European Regional Development Fund (Article 162),
- research and technological development (Article 166(1), Article 172),
- vocational training (Article 150(4)),
- the environment (Article 175(1) and (3)),
- development cooperation (Article 179(1)),
- political parties at European level (Article 191),
- access to the institutions’ documents (Article 255(2)),
- fraud (Article 280),
- statistics (Article 285),
- establishing a supervisory body for data protection (Article 286).
2.3. Cooperation procedure (Code SYN) (graphic representation)
The cooperation procedure was introduced by the Single European Act to step up the role of the European Parliament compared with the consultation procedure. Parliament can make amendments to a Council common position but, unlike the co-decision procedure, the final decision lies with the Council alone.
The cooperation procedure applies exclusively to the following areas:
- rules for the multilateral surveillance procedure (Article 99(5)),
- prohibition on privileged access to financial institutions (Article 102(2)),
- prohibition on assuming liability for Member States’ commitments (Article 103(2)),
- measures to harmonise the circulation of coins (Article 106(2)).
Since the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam, all other areas previously subject to this procedure have come under the co-decision procedure.
2.4. Consultation procedure (Code CNS) (graphic representation)
Since the introduction of the cooperation procedure and the co-decision procedure, the importance of the consultation procedure has steadily declined. The characteristic feature of the consultation procedure is a division of tasks between the Commission and the Council that can be summed up in the phrase ‘the Commission proposes, the Council disposes’. However, before the Council can take a decision, certain stages have to be completed, in the course of which, besides the Commission and the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions may also have their say, depending on the subject of the regulations in question.
The consultation procedure now applies only to cases that are not expressly subject to the cooperation or co-decision procedures.
3. Players in the Community system
The European Parliament is made up of 732 representatives of the citizens of the Member States, elected by direct universal suffrage for a period of five years. The number of representatives elected in each Member State varies depending on the size of the population. The Members of Parliament do not sit in national delegations but form transnational groups in line with their political affinities.
The Members of Parliament are divided up into a number of specialist committees and delegations. The reports drawn up by Parliamentary committees are submitted for adoption by Parliament as a whole in plenary session. Questions to the Commission and the Council, emergency debates and Presidency statements are also dealt with in plenary session. Plenary sittings of Parliament are open to the public.
Parliament takes part to varying degrees in drawing up Community legislative instruments, depending on the areas concerned: it can be required to deliver non-binding opinions (consultation procedure) or binding opinions (assent procedure); it can make the Council accept amendments to Commission proposals that it has adopted by an absolute majority and that the Commission has taken over (cooperation procedure); lastly, more commonly, legislative texts are adopted by joint agreement between Parliament and the Council, Parliament’s assent on the final text being indispensable for it to be adopted (co-decision procedure).
Parliament shares budgetary powers with the Council and has the last word with regard to con-compulsory expenditure. It finally adopts the budget, supervises its implementation, and grants a discharge in respect of that implementation.
The Commission is politically responsible to Parliament. The appointment of the President and the Members of the Commission is subject to the prior approval of the European Parliament. The adoption by Parliament of a motion of censure on the Commission’s management brings about the resignation of the whole Commission as a body.
In more general terms, Parliament exercises its supervisory role by regularly examining the reports that the Commission sends it. In addition, Members of Parliament frequently address written and oral questions to the Commission and the Council.
Parliament also has the power to set up temporary committees of enquiry to investigate allegations of infringements or maladministration in the implementation of Community law.
In matters of the common foreign and security policy and of police and judicial cooperation, Parliament has the right to be regularly informed and can address questions to the Council and make recommendations. It is consulted on the main aspects and fundamental choices in the field of the common foreign and security policy and on all proposed measures, with the exception of joint positions on questions of police and judicial cooperation.
Parliament examines petitions addressed to it by citizens of the Union on questions relating to the fields of activity of the Community.
The European Parliament appoints the European ombudsman, empowered to receive complaints concerning maladministration in the activities of the Community institutions or bodies.
For further information, consult the European Parliament’s website (http://www.europarl.europa.eu).
The Council of the European Union is made up of representatives of the governments of the Member States. Its composition varies depending on the subjects on the agenda, as each Member State is represented by the member of the government with responsibility for the area in question (foreign affairs, finance, social affairs, transport, agriculture, etc.).
The Council’s work is prepared by a committee consisting of the Member States’ permanent representatives (Coreper); this in turn is assisted by a number of working parties made up of officials in the national government departments.
The Presidency of the Council is held in turn for periods of six months by each Member State in an order laid down by the Council. The Presidency is assisted by the Secretariat-General of the Council, which prepares the work and ensures that it runs smoothly. The Secretary-General of the Council is at the same time the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy.
By default, the Council acts by a majority of its component members. The treaty requires unanimity in a limited number of situations. In the majority of cases the Council acts by a qualified majority: to be adopted, a proposal has to receive a threshold number of votes, each Member State having a number of votes determined on the basis of its population.
The Council has six key responsibilities:
- on the basis of proposals put forward by the Commission, the Council adopts Community legislation; in many fields it legislates jointly with the European Parliament;
- it coordinates the broad economic policies of the Member States;
- in the name of the European Community it concludes international agreements between the Community and one or more States or international organisations;
- it adopts, jointly with the European Parliament, the budget of the European Union;
- it defines the European Union’s common foreign and security policy on the basis of guidelines set by the European Council;
- it coordinates cooperation between the national courts and police forces in criminal matters.
For further information, consult the Council’s website (http://www.consilium.europa.eu).
The Commission consists of 27 members (one per Member State), chosen on the grounds of their general competence, whose independence is beyond doubt. The members of the Commission are appointed by the Council, after approval by the European Parliament, for a period of five years.
The President of the Commission is designated by the Council meeting at the level of Heads of State or Government; this designation is then approved by the European Parliament.
The Commission’s departments are divided into directorates-general, each of which is responsible for a particular area of activity.
The European Commission has four main roles.
It has a near-monopoly in initiating legislation: the Commission is responsible for drawing up proposals for new legislative instruments which it forwards to the Parliament and the Council. It also plays an active part in the successive stages of the legislative procedures.
It puts policies into effect and implements the budget of the European Union: the Commission is responsible for managing and carrying out the budget and puts into effect the policies and programmes adopted by Parliament and the Council.
It is the guardian of the treaties: the Commission ensures that the legal provisions adopted by the Community institutions are applied by individuals, by the Member States and by the other institutions. In exercising its powers, the Commission can in particular impose sanctions on individuals and companies for infringements of Community law. It can institute infringement proceedings against Member States, as part of which it invites Member States to rectify the situation within a specified period. Lastly, the Commission can bring actions before the Court of Justice on the grounds of infringements of Community law by the Member States or by other institutions.
It represents the Community: on behalf of the Community the Commission conducts negotiations with a view to concluding international agreements with non-member countries or international organisations, in conjunction with special committees appointed by the Council and within the framework of negotiating directives established by the Council.
For further information, consult the Commission’s website (http://ec.europa.eu).
The Court is made up of 27 judges and 8 advocates-general, appointed by common accord of the governments of the Member States for a renewable term of six years.
They are from the ranks of lawyers whose independence is beyond doubt and who possess the qualifications required for appointment to the highest judicial offices in their respective countries or who are of recognised competence.
The advocates-general assist the Court in accomplishing its tasks. They are responsible for presenting in open court, acting with complete impartiality and independence, reasoned submissions on cases which require their involvement. Their function is not to be confused with that of a public prosecutor or any similar office.
The Court of First Instance comprises at least one judge from each Member State. The judges are appointed by common accord of the governments of the Member States for a term of six years and are chosen from the ranks of those whose independence is beyond doubt and who possess the qualifications required for occupying a high judicial office.
In addition, the Treaty of Nice provides for the possibility of creating judicial panels attached to the Court of First Instance which amount to specialist tribunals to hear cases in specific areas.
It is the responsibility of the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance to ensure that the law is observed in the interpretation and application of the Treaties establishing the European Communities and of the provisions laid down by the competent Community institutions.
The Courts exercise judicial powers in actions of various types:
actions for infringement of Community law (brought against Member States in the event of the infringement of obligations imposed on them by the treaties),
- actions for annulment (of instruments adopted by the Community institutions),
- actions for failure to act (against a Community institution that has failed to take action),
- actions for damages (for making good losses caused by an illegal act or failure to act by a Community institution),
- actions concerning contractual liability (disputes concerning public-law or private-law contracts concluded by the Community),
- staff actions (disputes between the Community and its officials and other servants),
- requests for preliminary rulings (at the request of courts in the Member States, the Court of Justice or the Court of First Instance give rulings on the interpretation of Community law or on the validity of acts adopted by the institutions or by the European Central Bank).
The Court of Justice hears actions brought by the Community institutions or by the Member States against acts of the institutions or wrongdoing by the Member States. It has jurisdiction to hear requests for preliminary rulings, except in specific fields where jurisdiction has been given to the Court of First Instance. The Court of First Instance deals with actions brought by natural and legal persons against decisions taken by the Community institutions. Appeals against rulings by the Court of First Instance, on points on law only, can be brought before the Court of Justice.
For further information, consult the Court of Justice’s website (http://curia.europa.eu).
The Court of Auditors is made up of one national from each Member State, chosen from the ranks of those who, in their respective countries, work or have worked for an auditing institution or are particularly qualified for that work and whose independence is beyond doubt. The members of the Court of Auditors are appointed by the Council, acting by qualified majority after consulting the European Parliament, for a term of six years.
The Court of Auditors is responsible for examining all revenue or expenditure accounts of the Community or any Community body, in order to ensure that the EU spends its money in accordance with budgetary rules and regulations and respecting administrative and accounting principles. Its task is to ensure the soundness of financial management.
Subject of the audits of the Court of Auditors are the Community institutions and the Member States, as well as any body managing revenue or expenditure on behalf of the Community and any natural or legal person in receipt of payments from the Community budget. Audits in the Member States are carried out in collaboration with the competent national bodies or departments, which are obliged to forward any document or information requested by the Court of Auditors.
The Court of Auditors provides the Council and the European Parliament annually with a statement of assurance regarding the reliability of the accounts and the legality and regularity of the underlying transactions. An annual report presenting the Court’s observations on the management of Community finances is forwarded to the Community institutions and published in the Official Journal. The report highlights those areas in which improvements are possible, and even desirable. The institutions’ replies to the Court’s observations are also published in the Official Journal.
The Court of Auditors also has advisory powers. The other EU institutions may in certain cases ask the Court of Auditors for its opinion.
Finally, the Court may comment on specific issues in the form of special reports which are also published in the Official Journal.
For further information, consult the Court of Auditors’ website (http://eca.europa.eu).
The European Economic and Social Committee comprises representatives of the various social and economic aspects of society, in particular farmers, transporters, workers, businessmen and tradesmen, the professions, consumers and the public in general.
The members of the Economic and Social Committee are proposed by the Member States and appointed by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, for a period of four years. They comprise three groups, representing employers, employees and various economic and social interests.
The Economic and Social Committee has a consultative role. It puts forward the views of its members and defends their interests in policy discussions with the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament.
The Committee is an integral part of European decision-making: it must be consulted before any decision involving economic and social policy. It may also, on its own initiative, issue opinions on other topics which it considers important or at the request of the institutions.
For further information, please consult the Economic and Social Committee’s website (http://www.cese.europa.eu).
The Committee of the Regions comprises representatives of regional and local government. The members of the Committee, together with the same number of alternatives, are proposed by the Member States and appointed by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, for a period of four years.
The Committee of the Regions is a consultative body. Its role is to raise awareness of local and regional points of view with regard to European legislation. To this end, it submits opinions on Commission proposals.
The Commission and the Council must consult the Committee of the Regions where specific regional interests are involved, but they may also consult it at any time. The Committee can adopt opinions on its own initiative and submit them to the Commission, the Council and Parliament.
For further information, please consult the Committee of the Regions’ website (http://www.cor.europa.eu).
The European Central Bank comprises two bodies:
- The Council of Governors comprises the ECB Executive Board and the governors of the national central banks within the euro zone.
- The Executive Board comprises the President, the Vice-President and four other members appointed unanimously by the Member States after recommendation by the Council and consultation with the European Parliament. Their term of office is eight years and may not be renewed.
The two bodies take decisions by simple majority, each member having one vote and the chairman a casting vote.
The European Central Bank (ECB) is at the heart of European economic and monetary union (EMU).
It is responsible for the stability of the euro, including regulating the money supply, and, together with the other national central banks, defines and implements the monetary policy of the Union.
To enable it to achieve its tasks, it has a wide range of other prerogatives.
- It controls liquidity through the purchase and sale of bonds or by means of credit operations through the banks and operations on the money market, or indeed by fixing the mandatory reserve that credit organisations must hold with national central banks or the ECB.
- It carries out prudential regulation of credit organisations.
The ECB is also entrusted with consultative and legislative functions.
In those fields for which it is competent, the Bank is consulted by the European institutions or by the authorities of the Member States when exercising their respective legislative roles. It may also submit opinions to the Community institutions on questions involving such matters.
The ECB may initiate legislation in fields involving monetary policy and adopt such regulations as are necessary to achieve specific tasks entrusted to it.
To make it possible for the ECB to carry out its tasks, there are a number of provisions which guarantee its independence: the ECB may neither solicit nor accept any direction by the institutions, the Member States or by any other body.
For further information, please consult the European Central Bank’s website (http://www.ecb.int/home/html/lingua.en.html).