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The European Commission and law-making

28 September 2009
by inadim -- last modified 29 September 2009

The European Commission's job is to represent the common European interest to all the EU countries. To allow it to play its role as 'guardian of the treaties' and defender of the general interest, the Commission also has the right of initiative in the lawmaking process. This means that it proposes legislative acts for the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers to adopt.


The Commission and better law-making

Since 2002, the Commission has been working to simplify and improve the regulatory environment in the EU ('Better Regulation'). This means cutting red tape, making better laws for consumers and business alike.

Better regulation involves re-examining projects throughout the policy cycle: new initiatives, proposals still under negotiation and legislation already on the books. So the Commission:

  • systematically assesses new initiatives for their potential economic, social and environmental impact
  • consults stakeholders and interested parties on all major initiatives
  • works to simplify the existing legislation
  • measures and reduces administrative costs of regulation.

The Commission's role in the EU law-making process

The Commission is also responsible for putting the EU's common policies (like the common agricultural policy and the growth and jobs strategy) into practice and manage the EU's budget and programmes.

Although the Commission is allowed to take any initiative it sees as necessary to attain the objectives of the EU treaties, most of its proposals are to meet its legal obligations and other technical requirements or because another EU institution, member country or stakeholder has asked it to act.

The Commission's proposals must be grounded in the European interest and respect the principles of subsidiarity (in domains where the EU does not have exclusive competence to act) and proportionality. This means that the Commission should legislate only where action is more effective at EU level, and then no more than necessary to attain the agreed-on objectives. If it is more efficient to act at national, regional or local level, the Commission should refrain from legislating.

The Commission's vocation is to work for the good of the EU as a whole, and not to favour any EU country or interest group in particular. It consults widely so that all the parties affected by a legislative act can contribute to its preparation. In general, an assessment of the economic, social and environmental impact of a given legislative act is published at the same time as the proposal itself.

How EU laws are made

1. Proposals for legislative acts – regulations, directives and decisions – are normally prepared by the Commission department responsible for the dossier, which consults all the other departments whose work is related as well as the national authorities, interested parties and other stakeholders in the EU countries. At the end of the process, the proposal is formally adopted by the college of commissioners.

2. The actual decision-making procedure by which the legal act is adopted depends on the Treaty rules governing the area of activity concerned. In most cases, the co-decision procedure is used. This means that the formal proposal is scrutinised by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, who are the EU's joint legislators. In some cases, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions are consulted during the process. During the co-decision procedure, Parliament and the Council will subject the proposal to one, two or three readings, during which the Commission will act as mediator and ensure that the European interest remains central, until the act is adopted.

3. Once the act has been adopted by the EU legislator, it is transposed into national law in all the EU countries (if it is a directive – regulations and decisions apply directly without any need for further national legislation) and applied by the Commission and the EU countries.

Source: European Commission