European Law Monitor

Make your voice heard!

The Co-Decision Procedure

A step by step breakdown, and how to engage with it.

The first stage in any European legislative procedure is the European Commission formally adopts the proposal. This changes its status from a white paper to an official proposal, and the legislation procedure basically starts from there.

After the Commission has adopted the proposal, it is then sent simultaneously to both the European Parliament and to the European Council, who then pass it on to one of their committees. The committees are a vital part of the law making process, and their opinions carry a lot of weight. So if you can notify the committees dealing with your proposal of your concerns then you stand a good chance of influencing it.

Under the co decision procedure, the Council committee, charged with dealing with the proposal, and the European Parliament committee dealing with it, work in tandem. So they will try, as far as possible, to synchronise meetings, with a view to getting agreement on the proposal by the time it goes to first reading. First reading is the first meeting of the European Parliament, which all 700 odd MEPs attend (called the Plenary), where the proposal is put to the vote for the first time.

Whilst the proposal is still being looked at by the committees the crucial, and largely unsung go-between is the Commission department (DG) who have issued the proposal. They attend both the European Parliament committee meetings and the Council committee meetings. Whilst the Commission theoretically is only the legislative generator and doesn´t have any direct power, in practice they can have a lot of influence. So it is always worthwhile notifying both your MEP and the DG in charge of the proposal with your concerns.

So what happens after the committee receives the proposal?

They will prepare a report, giving their view on the proposal. Prior to the report being completed they will normally have done a couple of draft reports.

Who are the key figures at committee level?

There are three key players when you are looking to influence a proposal that has not yet gone to first reading.

  • The first is the chairman of the committee.
  • The second is the rapporteur. This is the person who drafts the final report and reports to the European Parliament on the committees findings.
  • The third are the MEPs on the committee.

How are the reports made?

At this stage, three things can happen.

1. The proposal can be approved without amendment.

If that happens, when it is tabled on the agenda of the plenary meeting (the meeting of all the MEPs that mentioned earlier), then it is tabled as an item without amendment or debate unless

(i) 32 MEPs object. That is quite a high number of MEPS that you need to convince eg the UK has a total of 87 MEPS. So while its not impossible for you to do this, if you´ve suddenly become aware of the proposal, and realised how it is likely to affect you, you will have to react fairly quickly. In those circumstances, a letter or email to at least 32 MEPs, (more if you can manage it) explaining why you think the proposal should be amended and asking them to get it re-tabled as an item for debate should be enough to get it debated. In reality, this means it will be probably be passed back to the committee for further discussion.

(ii) The other way to get it debated is to ask a political group to ask on your behalf. As you probably know, MEPs group together in political parties. To a certain extent, whether you go this route will depend on whether the effect of the proposal fits in with the parties political agenda i.e. if you were objecting because you felt the proposal did not take account of damage to the environment, then you could ask the Green party, and you would probably be successful. If you were objecting because you felt the proposal did not take account of damage to trade and industry, then you would probably not ask the Green party but one of the other ones.

So if you get to this stage, and you want to ask a party to object that a proposal has been approved without amendment or debate then you need to familiarise yourself with the main objectives of each party.

What happens if its approved without amendment at committee level, and no one objects?

A draft resolution, approving the proposal is sent to the Council. The draft resolution is a short statement, that lays out the European Parliament's position on a proposal. Once the Council receive it they will decide whether they agree with the European Parliament position, and if they do • the proposal becomes law.

Once it has become law there is next to nothing you can do about it, even if it has the effect of wiping out your business. It´s too late.

A worrying aspect about this procedure is that, in theory, it means a proposal could go through without any discussion, but in practice it tends not to work that way.

An MEP's job is to argue on behalf of their constituents, both business and consumer. So the more people that contact them, the stronger their case, and consequently yours, becomes. So do not be shy about contacting your MEP • they will be delighted to hear from you.

2. The chairman or rapporteur prepare a report.

That report, with their amendments, is approved without the committee discussing it, unless one tenth of the MEPS on the committee object within 21 days of the report being issued.

If they do object, then the proposal is passed back to the committee for full discussion at the next meeting. So if you find out that this has happened, and you do not agree with the amendments put forward by the chairman or the rapporteur, then contact one tenth of the MEPs on the committee dealing with your proposal as soon as possible.

If you don´t, when it comes to the plenary, it will be tabled as an item without amendment or debate, approved, and be law before you know it.

3. The rapporteur prepares a draft report which he then presents to the committee for discussion.

This is when your letter to the MEPs on that committee have a lot of influence. If you have also contacted the DG in charge of the proposal that will also help, as they attend this committee meeting.

The committee will then draft amendments to the proposal, which will hopefully incorporate changes to take account of your concerns. The DG in charge of the proposal will comment on the changes. If they haven´t commented by the time the plenary is due, or if they are not happy with the changes, the item will not be tabled at the next plenary meeting, but will carry on being discussed.

The key point from this is if you can get both the DG in charge of the proposal and MEP's on the committee onside, then you stand a real chance of influencing the legislation.

If you want to cover every base you should also contact

(i) The Presidency of the Council. Once opinions on the proposal start to firm up, the Presidency of the Council starts discussions with

  • the chairman or rapporteur of the committee and
  • the DG in charge of the proposal in order to reach some form of agreement on the wording.

To contact the Presidency you should write or email to

(ii) The Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER); they do the groundwork for the Council.

(iii) The government minister, at national level, or at least their department, who is likely to be dealing with this proposal.