The treaties constitute the European Union’s ‘primary legislation’, which is comparable to constitutional law at national level. They thus lay down the fundamental features of the Union, in particular the responsibilities of the various actors in the decision-making process, the legislative procedures, under the Community system and the powers conferred on them. The treaties themselves are the subject of direct negotiations between the governments of the Member States, after which they have to be ratified in accordance with the procedures applying at national level (in principle by the national parliaments or by referendum).
Founding treaties Accession treaties Other treaties and protocols
Treaty establishing the European Economic Community (1957)
Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (1957)
Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (1951)
Treaty concerning the accession of the Republic of Bulgaria and Romania to the European Union (2005)
Accession of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia (2003)
Accession of Austria, Finland and Sweden (1994)
Accession of Spain and Portugal (1985)
Accession of Greece (1979)
Accession of Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom (1972)
Other treaties and protocols
Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (2004)
Treaty of Nice ( 2001)
Treaty of Amsterdam ( 1997)
Single European Act (1986)
Greenland Treaty (1984)
Merger Treaty (1965)
Intergovernmental Conference - Conference of the governments of the Member States convened in order to negotiate amendments to existing treaties
The Treaty on European Union contains a provision allowing for the revision of the treaties. Article 48 states that any Member State or the Commission may submit proposals to the Council for amending the treaties. This opens the way, if the Council agrees, for the convening by the President of the Council of an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC).
Amending the treaties requires the unanimous agreement of all Member States. It also requires ratification by all Member States in accordance with their own respective internal procedures before a new treaty can enter into force.
There have been a number of Intergovernmental Conferences over recent years. These have resulted in successive amending treaties, notably the Single European Act (1986), the Treaty on European Union (1992), the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997) and the Treaty of Nice (2001).
The Treaty of Lisbon amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community has been signed in Lisbon on 13 December 2007 by the representatives of the 27 Member States. In accordance with its Article 6, the Treaty will have to be ratified by the Member States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements and will enter into force on 1 January 2009, provided that all instruments of ratification have been deposited, or, failing that, on the first day of the month following the deposit of the last instrument of ratification.
Decision-making process of European Union. Legislative procedures
In contrast to the national systems, in which the will of the nation is expressed in Parliament, the European Union accords a major legislative role to the representatives of the Member States meeting in the Council. As the institutions have developed, the European Parliament has seen its powers increase: the Council now shares its legislative powers with Parliament for the adoption of general legal instruments of a binding nature (regulations and directives). The decision-making procedures comprise the assent procedure, the co-decision procedure, the cooperation procedure and the consultation procedure.
Assent procedure (Code AVC)
The assent procedure, which was introduced by the Single European Act, gives Parliament the possibility of expressing its approval or disapproval of certain Council instruments. There are certain matters on which the Council cannot legislate unless Parliament gives its consent by an absolute majority of its members. The assent procedure, which represents as it were a right of veto for Parliament, was originally intended to apply only to the conclusion of association agreements and the examination of applications to join the European Community. The areas in which the assent procedure applies at present are as follows:
enhanced cooperation (Article 11(2)),
specific tasks of the ECB (Article 105(6)),
amending the Statute of the European System of Central Banks (Article 107(5)),
Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund (Article 161),
uniform procedure for elections (Article 190(4)),
certain international agreements (Article 300(3)),
violation of human rights (Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union),
accession of new Member States (Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union)
The co-decision procedure, which was introduced by the Treaty on European Union, was conceived as an extension of the cooperation procedure. However, while in the latter the Council can, acting unanimously, disregard the opinion of Parliament, in the co-decision procedure there is no such possibility: in the event of disagreement, a conciliation committee made up of representatives of the Council and of Parliament has to arrive at a text that is acceptable to the two institutions. The co-decision procedure now puts these two institutions on an equal footing in the legislative roles. Under this procedure, the Council cannot adopt a common position if the process of conciliation with Parliament fails. If no agreement is reached, the legislative process is liable to be broken off.
Co-decision has become by far the most important procedure in legislative practice.
It concerns many areas, for example:
non-discrimination on grounds of nationality (Article 12),
combating discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation (Article 13(2)),
freedom of movement and of residence (Article 18(2)),
free movement of workers (Article 40),
social security for migrant workers (Article 42),
right of establishment (Article 44(1), Article 46(2), Article 47(1) and (2)),
visas, asylum, immigration and other policies relating to the free movement of persons (Article 67(4) and (5))
The cooperation procedure was introduced by the Single European Act to step up the role of the European Parliament compared with the consultation procedure. Parliament can make amendments to a Council common position but, unlike the co-decision procedure, the final decision lies with the Council alone.
The cooperation procedure applies exclusively to the following areas:
rules for the multilateral surveillance procedure (Article 99(5)),
prohibition on privileged access to financial institutions (Article 102(2)),
prohibition on assuming liability for Member States’ commitments (Article 103(2)),
measures to harmonise the circulation of coins (Article 106(2)).
Since the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam, all other areas previously subject to this procedure have come under the co-decision procedure
Since the introduction of the cooperation procedure and the co-decision procedure, the importance of the consultation procedure has steadily declined. The characteristic feature of the consultation procedure is a division of tasks between the Commission and the Council that can be summed up in the phrase ‘the Commission proposes, the Council disposes’. However, before the Council can take a decision, certain stages have to be completed, in the course of which, besides the Commission and the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions may also have their say, depending on the subject of the regulations in question.
The consultation procedure now applies only to cases that are not expressly subject to the cooperation or co-decision procedures.
General publications of the European Union. Official Information Bulletin of the European Union
General publications of the European Union Official Information General Report on the Activities of the European Union
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