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EU Decision-making

The EU decision-making process is often said to be complicated. Many actors are involved, but the most significant roles are played by three EU institutions: the European Commission, the European Parliament and the EU Council. The role they play and influence they have varies according to the issue under consideration, as the legislative process is different for each of the three pillars of the European Union.


Inter-governmental method

When the EU is deciding on issues falling under the second and third pillars – common foreign and security policy and police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters - the so-called inter-governmental method is followed. Under it the right of initiative is shared between the Commission and Member States, and unanimity in the Council is generally necessary to adopt a decision. The working procedure in these two pillars is in essence guided by the need for consensus to be reached among all Member States on a specific issue.


Community method

In the first, the so-called Community pillar, encompassing core EU policy areas, there are four decision-making procedures, but the basic pattern is more or less the same. The decision-making process starts with the Commission putting forward a proposal for common action. The proposal is then passed on to be dealt with by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. The final decision is taken by the Council of Ministers alone or together with the Parliament, depending on which decision-making procedure is prescribed.

In all four different paths of decision-making within the first pillar, the European Commission has more or less the same function, which is to draft and submit legislative proposals to the Parliament and Council for consultation and further action. It has a near-monopoly in initiating legislation, but also plays an active part in the successive stages of the legislative procedures.

The European Parliament, which represents the people of the Union, takes part to varying degrees in drawing up Community legislative instruments, depending on the areas concerned and the legislative procedure followed. The four paths of drafting legislation in community pillars are:

  • the co-decision procedure, which involves joint decisions by the Council and the Parliament, as they must be in agreement for a decision to go through. The procedure gives the European Parliament the greatest influence, and it is now applied in most of the Community's legislative areas;
  • the consultation procedure, in which the Council must consult the European Parliament before it takes a decision, but the opinion of the Parliament is non-binding;
  • the cooperation procedure, in which the Parliament can make the Council accept amendments to Commission proposals that it has adopted by an absolute majority and that the Commission has taken over;
  • the assent procedure, in which the Council may only take a decision if it has the express approval of the European Parliament.


Decision-making and the Council of the European Union

One of the key responsibilities of the Council is to adopt Community legislation on the basis of proposals put forward by the Commission. In many fields, as already mentioned, it legislates jointly with the European Parliament. Once the legislative procedure has been successfully completed, it is the Council that adopts any given piece of legislation.

However, it is not only the decision-making procedure that is determined by the area to which a certain proposal belongs. In the Council there are also different rules for voting, depending on the nature of the matter to be decided. The Council's decision is taken either by a qualified majority or by unanimity. The number of areas in which decisions are taken by unanimity has decreased in recent decades and currently comprises around forty, particularly those regarding fiscal policy, social security, immigration, intellectual property and trade policy on services.

Since the amendments effected by the Treaty of Nice in 2003, votes are allocated in the Council of the European Union as follows:


29 votes each

France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy

27 votes each

Poland, Spain

14 votes


13 votes

The Netherlands

12 votes each

Belgium, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal

10 votes each

Austria, Sweden, Bulgaria

7 votes each

Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Lithuania, Slovakia

4 votes each

Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg, Slovenia

3 votes



The total number of votes is 345, and in order to reach a qualified majority, 255 votes must be in favour of a decision. Additionally, any Member State can ask for verification that the Member States which make up a fixed majority represent at least 62% of the population of the Union; if not, the decision is not approved.



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Date: 28.12.2007