EU Legislative Processes

The EU's legislative process is more complex than that which operates at Westminster – this reflects the institutional arrangement, the international character of the EU and the extent of diversity that must be accommodated in the EU's actions, and the shifting basis of the EU's 'constitution' (the treaties).

For a proposal to become law, the wording must be agreed by the commission, the council and (in most cases) the European parliament – and statutory consultees must have given their views on it.

Processes are necessarily slow, given the frequency of council meetings and EP plenary sessions, the small staff base of the institutions, the extensive range of consultations required and that are preferable, the powers of various participants in the process to halt or delay proceedings, and the shifting of participants' positions in response to domestic pressures and internal EU politicking.

Furthermore, there are a number of legislative and quasi-legislative procedures in use, reflecting the three different 'pillars' of the EU, as declared by the Maastricht Treaty.

Pillar 1 covers most of the EU's activities in relation to matters of common policy
Pillar 2 relates to common foreign and security policy, and is primarily intergovernmental
Pillar 3 relates to justice and home affairs policy, and is also primarily intergovernmental

In addition, a number of particular matters are subject to special procedures that vary from those usually employed for decision-making under each pillar. For example, the co-operation procedure – which has almost entirely been replaced by the co-decision procedure since the Amsterdam treaty came into effect – is still used in respect of two European monetary union (EMU) provisions.

The following focuses primarily on first pillar decision making, as this is the most complex and the most widely-used. Decision-making under these arrangements depend on the effective co-operation of the commission, the council and the EP throughout the process.