Many people view the EU decision making process as very complex; however, it is not that different from many national legislative processes.
Most EU legislation is passed through what is known as the ordinary legislative process (this used to be called co-decision), in which the Commission drafts a proposal, then both Parliament and Council discuss, amend and vote on the proposal through two ‘readings’.
At the end of the process, both Council and Parliament must reach an agreement on the final proposal, which then enters into law on publication in the EU’s ‘Official Journal‘.
Many democracies use a similar approach at national level – a civil service that drafts legislation, two ‘houses’ of parliament (in the UK the House of Commons and the House of Lords), and then some sort of process for the two houses to reach and agreement.
The ordinary legislative process in a bit more detail
The first stage is the Commission publishing a legislative proposal (often after a request from Council). This proposal then goes to the Parliament, initiating the first reading…
The first reading has two key elements:
If the Council Common Position is different from the Parliament’s vote, then the legislation passes into second reading in order to resolve the differences. If there is no difference – which is rare and only usually happens in very uncontroversial situations – then the legislation will become law.
Second reading will then begin, following a similar pattern to first reading, but this time with the Parliament examining, and voting on, the changes proposed by Council, and then the Council considering what the Parliament proposes. Second reading is a faster process than first reading, as only differences between Parliament and Council positions can be discussed, and various elements are time-limited.
It is possible that Parliament and Council will agree at this stage (a second reading agreement); if they don’t then the Conciliation process will be used to force a compromise.
Once a final text is agreed, and all translations have been done, the legislation will be published in the Official Journal of the European Union. The legislation will specify when it must be implemented in the Member States, or when it comes into force in the case of a regulation.
How is EU legislation implemented and enforced?
There are two main types of EU legislation:
The Commission can take Member States to court and fine them if EU legislation is not implemented. In the most extreme cases, Member States can be subject to a daily fine – this happened to Greece when they were fined for poor waste management on Crete.
Almost all enforcement of EU legislation occurs within the Member States. This leads to complaints about uneven implementation of regulations in different countries, but at the moment there is no sign that Member States wish to give more power to the Commission in this area. A small number of regulations are enforced at EU level, notably competition law, such as antitrust cases.
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