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Adopting EU law

The EU uses a variety of legislative procedures to adopt laws. The procedure followed for a legislative proposal depends on the type and subject of the proposal. The vast majority of EU laws are jointly adopted by the EU Parliament and Council, while

Parliament and Council adopt ordinary legislative procedure

Most EU laws are adopted using the ordinary legislative procedure, in which the European Parliament (directly elected) and the Council of the EU (representatives of the 27 EU countries) have equal say. The Commission submits a legislative proposal to the Parliament and Council, who must agree on the text in order for it to become EU law. 

How it works

Via a series of readings of a proposed law, Parliament and Council review and amend the text. If the two institutions agree on the amendments, the proposed law is adopted. If the Parliament and Council cannot agree on amendments, a second reading takes place. If no agreement is reached at the second reading, the proposal is put before a ‘conciliation committee’ made up of equal numbers of Parliament and Council representatives. Commission representatives also attend the meetings and contribute. Once the committee reaches an agreement, the text is sent to the Parliament and Council for a third reading, so it can finally be adopted as law. On the rare occasions where they cannot agree, the law is not adopted.

Find more details on the role of the Parliament and role of the Council in the EU's standard law-making process.

Special legislative procedures

These procedures are followed only in certain cases. Typically, the EU Council is the sole legislator and the EU Parliament is only required to give its consent to a legislative proposal or be consulted on it. More rarely the Parliament alone (after consulting the Council) can adopt legal acts.

Commission adopts

The Council or Parliament can authorise the Commission to adopt two types of non-legislative acts:

  • implementing acts, which introduce measures to ensure laws are implemented in the same way throughout the EU countries
  • delegated acts, which amend or supplement existing laws, notably in order to add new non-essential rules 

Implementing and delegated acts

Revising the treaties

The EU treaties, which form the basis of all EU law, can be revised to adapt EU laws and policies to new challenges. Any change to the treaties requires the unanimous agreement of all 27 EU countries.

There are two ways to revise the treaties: 

  • the ordinary revision procedure is used when making key amendments to the treaties, such as increasing or reducing the competences of the EU
  • the simplified revision procedure can be used to make changes related to the EU's internal policies and actions, for example, agriculture and fisheries, internal market, border controls, economic and monetary policy, provided they do not extend the EU's competences

The role of national parliaments

National parliaments receive all Commission legislative proposals at the same time as the European Parliament and Council, giving them the chance to react to proposals with an opinion.

In areas where the EU shares power to act with EU countries, national parliaments check whether action would be more effective at national or regional level (principle of subsidiarity). This is called the 'subsidiarity control mechanism'.

Relations with national parliaments