The EU legislative process

The main actors of the European legislative process are the European Commission, the Parliament and the Council of the European Union. The ordinary legislative procedure for environmental issues is co-decision. However, there are also other procedures with specific rules.

The Commission has the exclusive right to initiate a legislative process by proposing a draft legislation to the other institutions. The proposal is usually based on a consultation process with experts, main stakeholders and an impact assessment carried out by the Commission.

The proposal is forwarded simultaneously to the European Parliament and to the Council but also to all National Parliaments and, where applicable, to the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee. They are all asked to provide opinions to the Council, the European Parliament and the Commission.

In the co-decision procedure, both the European Parliament and the Council initiate an internal discussion on the Commission proposal, which should result in a joint opinion.

In the European Parliament the process starts when the responsible committee elects  a member of the European Parliament to act as their rapporteur and to be in charge of preparing a report of the Parliament proposed changes to the Commission text. Each political group also chooses a parliamentarian to monitor the work of the rapporteur and prepare  the group’s position, called a shadow rapporteur. The report prepared by the rapporteur is discussed, amended and voted on within the responsible parliamentary committee. The committee’s report, amending the Commission’s proposal and the amendments proposed by other relevant parliamentary committees, are then debated and voted on a plenary session. The process usually lasts between 13 and 15 months depending on the technical or political complexity of the dossiers.

Simultaneously with the parliament proceedings, the Council discusses the Commission’s proposal within working parties. They consist of experts from the member states and chaired by the member state holding the six-monthly Presidency of the Council. The working parties report to the representatives of the member states, COREPER, which prepares the decisions to be adopted by the Council of Ministers. They present a common position, which is finalised taking into account the European Parliament position. The process by the Council lasts on average of 24 to 31 months.

The European Parliament, the Council and the Commission often organise informal meetings (called trilogues) to seek the conclusion of an agreement at first reading. The aim is to try to mediate and adjust the amendments to create compromise texts, often assisted by he Commission.

After the Council has formally adopted its position at first reading, it is sent to the Parliament who has four months time to react. The procedure for the second reading generally follows the same rules and practices of the first reading, with the difference that the text to be amended is the Council position at first reading and not the Commission’s proposal. Amendments from the Parliament are allowed only in areas where the Parliament and the Council have differences of opinions. It is not allowed to modify the parts of the text that have already been voted on.

The final legislative act is signed by the Presidents and Secretaries-General of the European Parliament and of the Council. Then it is published in the Official Journal after legal control and translation in all EU official languages. The national process to transpose the European legislation into national law can then formally start.