Chapter 4 Legislation and Decision-making


  •  There are four ‘regular’ types of legal instruments: Regulations, Directives, Decisions, and Recommendations and Opinions.
  • Regulations and Directives are the two legislative instruments. The difference between them is that Directives need to be transposed by the member states and Regulations do not.
  • Decisions are used for individual cases.
  • Recommendations and Opinions are non-binding instruments. Non-binding instruments also occur under other names, such as ‘Guidelines’.
  • The EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy uses a different set of legal instruments, which have no legal effects within the member states.
  • Decision-making procedures in the EU differ along three main dimensions: the involvement of the Commission, the involvement of the European Parliament, and the voting rule used in the Council of Ministers.
  • The ordinary legislative procedure seeks to define a balance between the Commission, the Council and the EP. In this procedure, the European Commission has the exclusive right of initiative, and both the Council and the EP have to approve a proposal and can amend it. Decision-making in the Council takes place by qualified majority.
  • Special legislative procedures differ from the ordinary legislative procedure because the EP cannot amend proposals or is only consulted and/or voting in the Council takes place by unanimity.
  • Under the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the Commission and the EP have even smaller roles than under the special legislative procedures, and the European Council takes important decisions alongside the Council of Ministers.
  • The more politically sensitive an issue is or the closer to member state governments’ vital interests, the smaller the role of the Commission and the EP in the associated decision-making procedure will be and the more likely the Council is to decide by unanimity.
  • Qualified majority voting (QMV) is a voting rule that seeks to balance the interests of small and large member states. As a result, it requires double (or even triple) majorities in the Council.
  • Although QMV is important in the background of Council decision-making, formal votes are often avoided in the Council and the member states try to find consensus before resorting to a vote.
  • Member state parliaments can raise objections to a legislative proposal if they feel the proposal violates the subsidiarity principle. If enough national parliaments do so, the initiator of the proposal needs to review the proposal and justify any revisions made (or not made).
  • The Open Method of Coordination (OMC) is a policy-making procedure that does not yield any binding decisions but attempts to bring about policy co-ordination through a process of benchmarking and learning.
© 2011 Herman Lelieveldt and Sebastiaan Princen  & Cambridge University Press