The legislative process in the EU goes through three stages: making a proposal, discussing it and making a decision. The right of legislative initiative belongs to the Commission. It is she who prepares draft decisions.
For different categories of legislative and regulatory acts, different decision-making procedures and, accordingly, different procedures for interaction between the Commissions, the Council and Parliament are provided.
The Amsterdam Treaty enshrined four main procedures.
Parliament consent procedure, i.e. approving or vetoing an act unanimously adopted by the Council, is applied when deciding on the admission of new Member States to the EU, determining the tasks and powers of the European Central Bank, when concluding international treaties, etc.
But there are cases, for example, in the revision of prices for agricultural products, where a unanimously adopted decision by the Council does not require parliamentary consent. Then resort to the consultation procedure. Moreover, the role of Parliament is limited to the adoption of recommendations on the bill, which the Council can ignore.
On the bulk of the issues that the Council decides by a qualified majority, the procedure for joint decision of the Council and Parliament is applied. It extends to issues related to the freedom of movement of labor and services, employment, consumer protection, trans-European transport and energy networks, education, culture, healthcare, the environment, general principles for monitoring these issues. The essence of this procedure, which provides for two parliamentary readings on the bill, is that the Parliament has the opportunity to finally reject, by an absolute majority of votes, the decision formulated in the Council. The Council may adopt parliamentary amendments to the bill by a qualified majority vote (unanimous decision is required to pass amendments that have not been approved by the Commission). In the absence of the proper number of votes in the Council in favor of the parliamentary amendment, it shall not be adopted.
The procedure for cooperation between the Council and Parliament is much less commonly used. It is reserved only for a number of issues related to the functioning of the Economic and Monetary Union. Like the joint decision procedure, the cooperation procedure provides for two parliamentary readings on the bill. In this case, the veto of the Parliament can be overcome by unanimous decision of the Council. Acting unanimously, members of the Council may reject both amendments to the bill made in Parliament and approved by the Commission. But since unanimity in the Council is often unattainable, it is actually easier for him to pass parliamentary amendments than to insist on his own version of the bill.
During the discussion of the project, in some cases, the Council seeks additional advice from the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions.
The final decision on most regulations is made by the Council. According to the EU Treaty, decisions in the Council are adopted by a majority vote, but in practice voting by a qualified majority is common. In the latter case, the Member States have the following weight: Germany, France, Italy, Great Britain – 10 votes each, Spain – 8, Belgium, Greece, Netherlands, Portugal – 5 each, Austria, Sweden – 4 each, Ireland, Denmark, Finland – by 3, Luxembourg – 2. Total – 87 votes. The acts are considered adopted by a qualified majority, provided that they have collected at least 62 votes in favor.
According to the Nice edition of the EU Treaty, from January 1, 2005, when making decisions, the votes of the Member States in the Council will have a different weight: Germany, France, Italy and the UK will receive 29 votes, Spain – 27, the Netherlands – 13, Belgium, Greece, Portugal – by 12, Austria, Sweden – by 10, Denmark, Ireland, Finland – by 7, Luxembourg – 4. Total – 237 votes. The acts will be considered adopted by a qualified majority, provided that they have collected at least 169 votes in favor.
When the number of EU member states reaches 27, a qualified majority will require 258 votes in favor.
The Nice Treaty introduces the principle of double majority into the practice of voting in the EU, which allows the Big Four countries (France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy) to retain control over the decision-making process in the Union expanding to the East. It consists in the fact that, in addition to the conditions listed above, those member states with a total population of at least 62% of the EU’s total population should vote in favor.