The three most important decision-making procedures in the framework of the first pillar are the consultation procedure, the cooperation procedure, and the co-decision procedure. These are laid down in Articles 250-252 EC.
In the consultation procedure, the Commission has the right of initiative. The Commission proposal is sent to the Council. After consulting the European Parliament, the Council can make a decision unanimously or by a qualified majority. The Parliament´s opinion is not binding upon the Council. If the Council wants to make a decision that differs from the Commission´s proposal, it can only do so unanimously.
As long as the Council has not made a decision, the Commission can withdraw or change the original proposal. If the Commission withdraws a proposal, the Council cannot make a decision. If a proposal is changed, the Council can only adopt a modified proposal unanimously.
Schematic overview and documents
The cooperation procedure (Art. 252 EC) was introduced by the Single European Act and is only used in the EMU. The procedure begins with a proposal of the European Commission. After obtaining the opinion of the European Parliament, the Council formulates a common position (first reading) by a qualified majority. This common position indicates how the Council would like to decide.
The common position is sent to the Parliament for a second reading. If the Parliament adopts the common position, or if it does not express an opinion, the Council will convert the common position into a decision.
However, the Parliament may reject or amend the common position by a unanimous vote. If the common position is rejected, the Council can only make a decision unanimously.
If the Parliament proposes amendments, the Commission can adopt these and submit an amended proposal to the Council. The Council will subsequently decide by a qualified majority on a decision concerning the (amended) Commission proposal. A decision that differs from this proposal may only be taken unanimously.
Schematic overview and documents
The co-decision procedure (Art. 251 EC) was introduced on the basis of the Maastricht Treaty. Since the Amsterdam Treaty, it is the most important method of decision-making. Legislation is adopted in a multi-stage procedure involving both the Council and Parliament.
Like the other decision-making procedures, the co-decision procedure begins with a Commission proposal. The Parliament gives its opinion on the proposal and may propose amendments. If the Parliament does not make amendments, or if the Council adopts the Parliament´s amendments, the Council can adopt an act with a qualified majority.
If the Council does not adopt the amendments, it formulates a common position that is sent to the Parliament after the Commission has given its opinion on it.
If the Parliament does not express an opinion, or if it adopts the common position by an absolute majority of votes, then the act is adopted. The Parliament can also amend or reject the common position. In the latter case, no decision will have been taken.
In case of amendments by Parliament, the Commission is the first to give its opinion. If the Commission gives a negative opinion, the Council can only adopt amendments unanimously and pass an act. For a positive opinion, a qualified majority is sufficient.
The Council may also disagree. In that case, a Conciliation Committee is set up, consisting of 15 Council members and 15 MPs. If no agreement is reached, no act can be adopted. If the committee does agree on a joint text, a qualified majority of the Council and a simple majority of votes in the Parliament adopting the joint text is required before an act can be adopted.
Schematic overview and documents
Once the Council and the Parliament have adopted an act, it must be implemented (usually) by the Member States or (sometimes) by the European institutions. In exceptional cases, the Council may adopt implementing measures but, as a rule, implementation of rules is left to the Commission. Art. 202, third item, provides that the Council may lay down certain requirements regarding the exercise of these powers.
These requirements are laid down in the "comitology" decision, or Decision on committee procedures (OJ EC 1999, L184/23). Comitology is the name of the whole of procedures governing the committees helping the Commission to implement measures. The committees consist of representatives of Member States and are chaired by a representative of the Commission. Thus, Member States can exert influence on the executive powers delegated by the Council. There are many such committees, each focusing on particular issues. For instance, there is a committee on the technical requirements of tachograph records, a committee for nature conservation, and a committee for clean drinking water. The number of committees totals more than 200, but an official list is not yet available. A detailed description of the state of affairs concerning comitology can be found on the site of the House of Lords.
If the Commission is referred to as the implementor of an EC legislative proposal, the Council and the European Parliament determine the main lines of the Commission´s executive powers in accordance with the decision on committee procedures. The decision on committee procedures mentions three implementation procedures: the advisory procedure, the management procedure, and the regulatory procedure. The decision on committee procedures specifies which implementation procedures must be used for which policy domain, so that this issue is no longer subject to lengthy negotiations.
The advisory procedure is the simplest implementation procedure. The Commission only needs to submit its proposal for implementation measures to a committee. Irrespective of the nature of the committee´s position, the Commission may determine the implementation measures at its own discretion. In the management procedure, the draft implementation measures are submitted to a committee that must pass a qualified vote. The Commission takes a decision afterwards. If the opinion of the committee is negative, however, the Commission can only determine conditional measures that may enter into effect immediately. The decision taken is submitted to the Council, which may take a different decision within a three-month period.
A negative opinion of the committee in the regulatory procedure effectively stops the Commission from determining any measures. The Council will then decide on the basis of the draft decision submitted by the Commission. If the Council fails to take a decision within three months, the Commission is free to make its own decision.
Art. 249 EC describes the types of decisions that can be made in the first pillar. First among them are the Council Regulations. They are general in nature, i.e., in principle, they apply to an indefinite number of cases and persons. A regulation is binding in its entirety and is directly applicable in every Member State. A regulation can be invoked in disputes among citizens (horizontal effect).
A directive requires Member States to achieve particular aims before a specified deadline, whereby the Member States are free to determine the form and the means to do so. A directive requires Member States to adopt national legislation and therefore does not have horizontal effect. It is possible, under particular conditions, for an individual to invoke a directive against a Member State (vertical effect). This is the case if the implementation deadline has expired or if the provision of the directive has not been implemented in national legislation in time or incorrectly and the provision is sufficiently specified or unconditional or lays down rights of individuals.
A decision is binding in its entirety for those at whom it is expressly aimed. In contrast to a regulation, a decision is not general in nature, but aims to apply a general rule in a concrete case.
In addition, recommendations or opinions can be issued. They concern policy and are not binding.
The remaining category includes "sui generis decisions". These decisions concern, among other things, the internal organisation, e.g., the rules of procedure of the various institutions. Resolutions also fall into this category. The legal effects of these instruments have not been laid down and will have to be determined separately for every decision.