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The codecision procedure is the main legislative procedure by which law can be adopted in the European Community, the first of the three pillars of the European Union. The codecision procedure gives the European Parliamentmarker the power to adopt legislation jointly with the Council of the European Union, requiring the two bodies to agree on an identical text before any proposal can become law.

The procedure is also known as the "Article 251 procedure", as it is laid down in Article 251 of the EC Treaty. The new Treaty of Lisbon replaces all references to the "procedure referred to in Article 251" with references to the "ordinary legislative procedure".

Other legislative procedures

The main differences with the other European Union legislative procedures are as follows:

  • The (now rarely used) cooperation procedure gives the European Parliamentmarker influence in the legislative process, but the Council can overrule Parliament's rejection of a particular proposal by adopting it unanimously.
  • In the consultation procedure, the Council is not bound by Parliament's position or by any other consultative body, but only by the obligation to consult the Parliament.
  • The assent procedure is a single reading vote in favour or against (usually used for international treaties), and the Council cannot overrule a rejection by the Parliament.

In addition, Parliament has a say on executive-level implementing measures decided by the Commission under the comitology procedure, most strongly through the "Regulatory Procedure with Scrutiny" introduced in 2006, which allows Parliament to block such implementing measures. This built on the Lamfalussy process, initially devised for measures concerning securities, and subsequently extended to the entire EU financial sector, which informally gave Parliament a right to be consulted.

Procedural summary

Under the codecision procedure, a new legislative proposal is drafted by the European Commissionmarker. The proposal then comes before the European Parliamentmarker and the Council of Ministers. The two institutions discuss the proposal, and each may amend it freely.

In Council, a new proposal is first considered by a working group for that policy area. The conclusion of the working group's discussions is known as the orientation generale, and usually forms the basis of Council's position at the end of the first reading, which is known as the common position.

Meanwhile, Parliament refers the matter to one of its specialised committees which appoints one of its members as 'rapporteur' to steer the proposal through the committee stage. The rapporteur is responsible for incorporating the committee's amendments into the draft proposal, as well as considering the recommendations of the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committeemarker. The finished report is then voted on in full plenary, where further amendments may be introduced.

In order for the proposal to become law, Council and Parliament must agree upon an identical final text. If the two institutions have agreed on identical amendments after the first reading, the proposal becomes law; this happens from time to time, either where there is a general consensus or where there is great time pressure to adopt the legislation.

Otherwise, there is a second reading in each institution. Parliament must complete its second reading within three months of the Council's common position being transmitted to the Parliament, or else Council's common position is deemed to have been accepted. This time period can be extended by agreement by one month.

The Council then has three months to vote on whether to accept the Parliament's amendments to the common position, in which case it becomes law.

If the Council does not accept the Parliament's second reading amendments a conciliation committee is set up with an equal number of members from Parliament and Council. The committee attempts to negotiate a compromise text which must then be approved by both institutions in a third reading. In practice, as the conciliation committee is now very large following successive enlargements of the EU, preparatory negotiaions take place in a "triologue" comprising the Council presidency, the relevant Commissioner and a small delegation of MEPs normally comprising the rapporteur and committee chair.

Both Parliament and Council have the power to reject a proposal either at second reading or in third reading, causing the proposal to fall. The Commission may alter or withdraw its proposal at any time before the Council has acted.


For a pictorial representation of the codecision procedure, the EU provides this diagram.

Policy areas where codecision applies

The policy areas where the codecision procedure applies under the current EU treaties are:

The Lisbon Treaty gives the Parliament more power through extended co-decision

The new Treaty of Lisbon, if it enters into force, will extend codecision to virtually all areas of EU policy.

Development of codecision

The introduction of codecision, under the Treaty of Maastricht, almost completely replaced the cooperation procedure and thereby strengthened Parliament's legislative powers considerably.

Initially, the codecision procedure applied to the following areas of European policy:

  • consumer policy
  • culture (incentive measures)
  • education (incentive measures)
  • environment (general action programme)
  • free movement of workers
  • health (incentive measures)
  • research (framework programme)
  • right of establishment
  • services
  • the internal market
  • trans-European networks (guidelines)

The Treaty of Amsterdam subsequently simplified the procedure, making it quicker and more transparent, and extending it to more areas of policy. It also removed the possibility for Council to adopt a text in the absence of any agreement in the conciliation committee, text which would become law unless Parliament rejected it by an absolute majority within 6 weeks - a possibility that loaded the codecision procedure in favour of Council.

Most recently, the Treaty of Nice established the codecision procedure for almost any policy area where the Council of Ministers adopts proposals by Qualified Majority Voting (rather than unanimity). The codecision procedure is now by far the most common legislative process in the EU, applying to the vast majority of policy areas.


Besides general criticism that the procedure can be long and cumbersome, some critics contend that the codecision procedure still gives more power to the Council than the Parliament , as, at second reading, Parliament may only modify or reject Council's position by an absolute majority of MEPs, with abstentions or absences therefore counting against .

Defenders reply that legislative procedures in bicameral systems often require a special majority in one chamber to over-rule the other, and that this is a mild form of that.

Another criticism is that, within Council, a qualified majority is a hefty majority of over 70% of the votes. Defenders say that the EU is not a full federation and argue that national governments should play a key role in the EU's collective decisions .

See also


  1. Text of the Draft Treaty amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community
  2. How the EU takes decisions
  3. .

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