The legislative process in the EU

The most important questions and answers about the European institutions and the legislative process.

Die Europäische Kommission hat als einzige Institution das Recht, ein Gesetz zu entwerfen und auf den Weg zu bringen (Initiativrecht). Anschließend entscheiden das Europäische Parlament und der Europäische Ministerrat über solche Gesetzentwürfe.

The request to the European Commission to draft a law can have different starting points. The impulse for drawing up draft legislation can come from the European Commission itself, but also from the European Parliament , the Council of the European Union , the European Council or even the citizens of the European Union.

Three institutions are involved in the creation of laws at the European level: the EU Commission, the EU Parliament and the Council of the European Union aka Council of Ministers.

The Commission creates a draft law, which is then discussed by the Parliament and the Council of Ministers in so-called readings. First, the Parliament decides whether to adopt or amend the draft. Then the Council of Ministers is given the right to do so. If both bodies do not agree in the first attempt, the Parliament can reject or amend the draft. If the Council of Ministers is not satisfied with the changes in the second attempt, a mediation committee is convened to find a compromise (so-called trilogue). If that is not possible, no more legislation follows. At the second attempt, the Commission can also announce its dissatisfaction with the Parliament's amendments, so that the Council of Ministers has to adopt these amendments unanimously.

What types of legislation can the EU initiate?

The European Institutions in detail

The European Commission

The European Commission is the politically independent executive authority of the EU, i.e. it is the EU's executive body. It is often referred to as the 'guardian of the treaties', however, its functions go beyond that.

  • It is the only European institution with the right of initiative, i.e. only the commision may make a legislative proposal on which the Council and Parliament then vote
  • It monitors compliance with EU laws in the member states
  • It represents the EU in international organizations
  • It negotiates international treaties on behalf of the EU
  • It determines the priorities for the allocation of funds (with the Council and Parliament)
  • It prepares annual budgets
  • It monitors the expenses

The European Commission is composed of 27 representatives,
one per member state, structured as follows:

  • The President
  • 5 Vice-Presidents
  • 3 Executive Vice Presidents
  • One high representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who is also one of the Vice Presidents
  • 18 Commissioners for individual policy areas


In addition, there are more than 20,000 civil servants working in the Commission's 33 general directorates and 20 special departments. They are each led by a general director.

The Commission is reassembled every five years after the European elections.


Taking the election results into account, the heads of state or government of the member states (European Council) nominate a Commission President. The nominee then requires the approval of the European Parliament. After this approval has been granted, he selects a Commissioner from the proposals of each country (except his own), who must be approved by the respective heads of state and government. The nominated commissioners must present themselves to the parliament and answer questions from the MEPs. The Parliament then votes on whether to accept the Commission as a whole or reject individual Commissioners. Finally, the European Council must appoint the Commissioners. In the next step, the European Council also elects the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The remaining departments are assigned by the President. Also, the president appoints seven more vice presidents, including the three executive vice presidents. The commissioners hire staff for their respective policy areas, who work in what are called General Directorates.

  • The political orientation of the commission is set by the president
  • Each commissioner is assigned a policy area with associated General Directorates by the President
  • Meetings are typically held once a week
  • The president may summon extraordinary meetings
  • Meetings are not public, protocols are published
  • At the meetings, politically sensitive issues are discussed and votes are taken on proposals that must be decided by oral procedure. Resolutions are passed by simple majority
  • Less sensitive issues are approved by written procedure. A proposal is submitted in writing to all members. If no objection is raised within a set period of time, the proposal is considered approved
  • Decisions on administrative or management measures may be delegated to the general directors
  • The General Directorates are responsible for preparing, managing and implementing EU policy, legislation and funding
  • The commission operates according to the collegial principle

The collegial principle is a way of running for example governments in which important decisions are voted on in secret among equal mandate holders and the result is represented to the outside world with one vote.

The European Commission operates according to this principle.

The European Council

The European Council is the highest level of political cooperation between EU countries. This council is a meeting of all EU heads of state and government where, among other things, the EU's political agenda is set.

  • It decides on the general policy objectives and priorities of the EU
  • It deals with complex and sensitive issues that cannot be resolved at a lower level of intergovernmental cooperation
  • It defines the common foreign and security policy, taking into account the strategic interests of the EU, as well as defense policy matters
  • It appoints and designates candidates for important positions at EU level

The European Council is composed of the Heads of State or Government of all EU Member States, the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission.

It is presided by a president elected for two and a half years by the European Council itself.

  • As an "EU summit", it meets at least four times a year
  • The President may schedule additional meetings in the case of urgent matters
  • Decisions are made according to the consensus principle
  • In certain cases, a unanimous decision or a decision with a qualified majority may be required
  • Only the heads of state and government are entitled to vote

The consensus principle is a form of decision-making. A final result can only be reached without dissenting votes and must be acceptable to everyone involved. Each person involved in the process has equal rights.

The European Council works according to this principle.

The Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers)

The Council of the European Union is also called "the Council" or "the Council of Ministers". As the latter name suggests, the national ministries from all countries of the EU come together here. Together with the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union is the main decision-making body of the EU.

  • It votes on legislative proposals of the Commission
  • It approves the EU budget
  • It coordinates the policies of the EU countries
  • It develops the EU's foreign and security policy, based on guidelines from the European Council
  • It establishes international treaties between the EU and other states or organizations

In the Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers) the ministers of the member states of the EU gather. There are no fixed members, rather there are ten different Council formations, which are determined by the different policy areas. According to the upcoming topic, each member country thus sends the nationally responsible minister. The chairmanship of the Council is held on a rotating basis and changes every six months. The only exceptions are meetings of the foreign ministers, which are permanently chaired by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

  • The different formations meet with different frequency
  • Discussions and votes on draft legislation are open to the public.
  • The weighting of the votes of the individual ministers depends on the size and population of a nation.
  • A qualified majority is usually required for the adoption of a decision: 55% of the countries representing at least 65% of the total EU population.
  • To prevent a decision, 4 countries representing at least 35% of the total EU population are needed
  • Unanimity is required for sensitive matters
  • For procedural and administrative matters, a simple majority is sufficient

The European Parliament

The European Parliament stands alongside the Council of Ministers as an equal legislator and representative of the citizens.

In principle, the European Parliament has three major tasks: legislation, supervision and the budget.



  • It votes on legislative proposals of the Commission
  • It decides on international treaties and extensions
  • It examines the work program of the European Commission and requests it to propose legislation



  • It is responsible for the democratic control of all EU institutions
  • It elects the President of the EU Commission
  • It can file a motion of censure, which can force the entire EU Commission to resign
  • It approves expenses from the EU budget
  • It processes petitions from EU citizens
  • It can appoint committees of inquiry
  • It discusses monetary policy with the European Central Bank
  • It questions the Commission and the Council of the European Union
  • It observes elections



  • It draws up the budget
  • It approves the long-term EU budget, the so-called "multiannual financial framework"

The European Parliament is made up of deputies who are elected at national level by the citizens of the respective EU member states. However, the electoral systems are not uniform. The number of MEPs per country is roughly based on the size of the population. In this regard, no country can have more than 96 MEPs and no less than 6 MEPs. The total number of 705 deputies may not be exceeded. The parliament is elected for a period of 5 years. The members of the parliament do not group themselves according to their nationalities, but form political groups, which can be formed again and again. The parliament elects its president itself, from among its members, for a term of two and a half years. Care is taken to ensure that different countries of origin and "political families" alternate. The president then represents the parliament before the other EU institutions, the outside world and has the final word in the approval of the EU budget.

  • The Parliament includes 20 committees and 2 subcommittees
  • The individual committees are each responsible for a specific policy area
  • The committees prepare and examine legislation
  • Deputies and parliamentary groups can propose amendments or reject legislation
  • The legislation is also discussed in the individual political fractions
  • The Parliament holds plenary sessions at which it passes the legislation
  • All deputies meet in the plenary chamber during plenary sessions and vote on legislation
  • Plenary sessions are usually held on 4 days a month
  • Additional meetings may be scheduled in Brussels

Important steps in the legislative process



In the readings of the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, the draft laws of the European Commission are discussed. Depending on which reading it is, the draft may be adopted, rejected, or amended. Each institution may hold a maximum of three readings.

Here, the European Parliament may only adopt or amend the draft of the European Commission in order to then pass the draft on to the Council of Ministers.

The Council of Ministers may only adopt or propose amendments to a bill during the first reading. If it accepts it, the bill becomes applicable law and is passed.

If the Council of Ministers has asked for amendments during the first reading, the European Parliament can adopt, amend or finally reject the new draft in its second reading.

If the draft law has been modified again in the second reading of the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers can only approve or reject these modifications.

  • If it rejects the amendments, a mediation committee (trilogue) is summoned.
  • If it accepts the amendments, the law is in effect.


However, if the European Commission disagrees with the Parliament amendments from the second reading, an approval by the Council of Ministers must be unanimous.

After the Mediation Committee has reached a final result, Parliament and the Council of Ministers must give their approval once again: The Parliament with an absolute majority and the Council of Ministers with a qualified majority.



The trilogue is a composite tripartite meeting of the legislative institutions of the European Union: European Commission, Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers) and European Parliament. The European Commission assumes a moderating role.

Trilogue negotiations take place as a mediation committee if the Council of Ministers does not approve the amendments proposed by the Parliament at second reading. If no agreement is reached within six weeks, the bill is considered as failed.

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