The EP's opinions carry a level of importance that is determined by the procedure under which a proposal is being pursued. The relevant procedure for any particular proposal is set out in the treaties.
The four procedures in use are:
The first two are the most important, and the most frequently used.
Under the consultation procedure, the EP is only asked for its opinion once – after which the council takes a decision, in which it is not obliged to take account of the EP's amendments. The consultation procedure applies to the following policy areas:
Agriculture (price review)
Non-single market legislative harmonisation
Most matters relating to the creation of an area of freedom, security and justice
Those aspects of social and environmental policy requiring unanimity in the council
Justice and home affairs, as provided for under pillar three
As can be seen, the EP's power is limited in matters dealt with under the consultation procedure. It can maximise its influence in the following ways:
1. The EP can block proposals by refusing to give an opinion – which prevents the council and commission from proceeding. The EP can also delay proposals it does not support by referring them back to committees.
2. Insofar as the commission is able to amend the proposal until the moment of final agreement by the council, the EP will often aim to exert pressure on the commission to secure its agreement to amendments that the EP supports.
The Co-decision procedure is that which gives the EP the most amount of power and which is used in an increasing number of cases.
Under the co-decision procedure explained below, if the EP, council and commission are in full agreement at the end of the first reading stage, the proposal can be adopted as law.
However, if any amendments have been proposed, either by the council or the EP, the proposal is passed back to the commission for agreement, amendment or withdrawal.
Having agreed with or disagreed with any amendments proposed, the commission passes the proposal back to the EP – which refers the proposal to the committee that first considered it. The procedures followed leading up to the first reading are repeated, leading up to a second reading.
If an absolute majority (more than 50 per cent) of MEPs demand the withdrawal of a proposal at this stage, it is struck down. For amendments to be included in the opinion, they must also be adopted by an absolute majority.
This opinion is sent to the council, which will either approve the amendments and pass the proposal back to the commission, or will disagree, activating the conciliation committee procedure.
If the council agrees with the EP's amendments and the commission does as well, the proposal is adopted as law. If the commission disagrees, the proposal is sent back to the council – which can overrule the commission by unanimously supporting the amended proposal.
If the council disagrees with the EP's amendments, a conciliation committee is formed to resolve the dispute. This comprises an equal number of representatives of the council and MEPs, who are charged with coming up with a mutually acceptable form of words. The commission also has a presence at the conciliation committee.
If this cannot be reached, the proposal fails.
If agreement can be reached, it must be accepted by a qualified majority vote of the council and by an absolute majority of the EP to be adopted as law.
Co-decision's scope was increased dramatically by the Amsterdam Treaty, which replaced in great part the co-operation procedure which preceded it and which transformed many consultation matters into co-decision matters.
The co-operation procedure only remains in use for a small number of provisions, primarily relating to EMU. It is more complicated than the co-decision procedure it was largely replaced by.
The co-operation procedure is the same as the co-decision procedure, apart from in the following respects:
1. There is no provision for proposals to be adopted after first reading even when there is no disagreement
2. There is no conciliation committee process – after the EP's second reading, the council can overrule its proposed amendments on a unanimous vote.
Under the assent procedure, proposals are presented to the EP for a single reading with no provision for amendments – at which an absolute majority is required to veto a proposal.
The areas subject to assent are those in which the council acts by unanimity, the accession of new member states and the adoption of international agreements.