There are basically eight stages in the ordinary legislative procedure. The commission proposal goes to the European Parliament for a first reading, allowing it to formulate what is known as an opinion. There are three possible opinion scenarios.
- The European Parliament can reject the proposal. It can accept the proposal without amendment.
- Or accept the proposal with amendment, modifying the proposal. These first two scenarios are rarely used.
- Generally the European Parliament accepts the commission proposal and formulates an opinion including an amendment.
This is the most common option. It is quite exceptional for the European Parliament to accept or reject the proposal in one shot. The European Parliament opinion then moves to the Council, the Council of Ministers, which takes a first reading of the Commission’s proposal. The Council can do two things:
- Accept the Parliament’s opinion, in this case the proposal is adopted, after the first reading.
- Or disagree with the European Parliament’s opinion providing its own position and communicating it with reasons to the European Parliament. When this second situation occurs since the European Parliament and the Council failed to agree on an identical text, the procedure needs to go to the second reading.
Here both institutions are bound by strict time limits, three months, in their respective readings. In the second reading, the Council positions on the commission proposal goes back to the parliament, which can do three things with that position. It can positively approve the Council position in its first reading, and as a result adopt the proposal. This is also what occurs if the European Parliament fails to take a decision within the specified time limit. It can reject the Council positions which puts an end to the legislative procedure. Or it can propose amendments to the Council positions.
There are further ideas that Parliament would like to attach to the originally commissioned proposal. If the European Parliament has adopted amendments in the second reading, the Commission presents an opinion in which it explains whether it finds a particular amendment acceptable or not. The amended proposal goes once again back to the Council, in this for a second reading which has two options. It approves all of the parliament’s amendments leading to the adoption of the legislative act or it cannot approve all of them, because these are European Parliament’s amendments. In this case the procedure goes to the so called conciliation stage. As the European Parliament and the Council cannot agree on the same amendments, and they want to make to the commission proposal within the second reading, a special mechanism applies, called conciliation.
The idea and the rationale behind conciliation is very simple: to rescue the legislative proposal by gathering representatives of the European Parliament and the Council together, with representatives of the European Commission, in a conciliation committee. We put all three actors in the same room and let them work. The mandate of this Committee is to reach an agreement on a joint text that reconciles the differences in opinion between the different institutions. Therefore, in a third reading this compromised text then goes back to the Parliament and the Council.
The work done by the conciliation committee has to be examined by both of them and then we vote on these texts. Both institutions only have the options of either adopting or rejecting it without making any further amendments. Where either the Parliament or the Council disagrees with the compromised text, the procedure ends without a legislative act. Where both institutions approve the text it becomes law. It only needs to be signed and published. Before a proposal becomes law, it needs indeed to be signed by the President of the European Parliament and by the President of the Council.
Subsequently it is published in the official journal of the European Union, and will start producing effect on all of you. Unlike the ordinary procedure, there are some special legislative procedures, where the Council of the EU is the dominant legislator, is no longer on a level playing field with the Parliament. The Parliament is associated with the procedure and its role is thus limited to only giving its opinion as a formality, sort of consultation procedure or giving its approval in a take it or leave it vote that gives it a veto power. The consent procedure, this is the name. Areas where the Council consults the Parliament playing an advisory role are proposals relating to family law, passports, or social security, as well as partial planning.