Policy-making and law-making processes
The Union’s responsibilities (‘competences’) have significantly developed in recent
decades, so that today EU policies and laws have a considerable impact at national and
sometimes international and subnational levels as well.
Here we examine the sources of policy, the various procedures by which the EU takes
decisions on policy issues and how it makes laws.
Proposals for and decisions on Union action come about in various ways, the impetus sometimes deriving from within the Community’s institutions (the Community method) and at others resulting from the expressed wishes of the member states who give a strong lead (the intergovernmental method). On occasions, EU powers are exercised jointly by Union institutions and national governments or national policies are coordinated at the Union level (the coordination method).
There is, then, no fixed process by which policies emerge. At times in EU history, national governments have been actively involved in pushing forward new initiatives, but in other phases of the Union’s development there has been a greater interest in supranational policy-making. Of course, there is an overlap between the two fields of activity. Some of the same personnel can be involved in national political life and in EU politics. Ministers from each country – and the officials who advise them – meet together periodically in the Council of Ministers, but much of their time is spent in the domestic arena. Even MEPs, members of the supranational Parliament, spend varying amounts of their time ‘back home’. In other words, ‘European’ and ‘national’ politics are not entirely distinct from each other.
Moreover, the bargaining that is part of EU policy-making is not always a matter of the potential conflict between EU and national interests. There will be negotiations and sometimes clashes in the home country between different government departments over how a particular issue should be handled. As Bomberg and Stubb1 explain: ‘Perhaps naturally, environment ministers often find agreement easier among themselves in Brussels than agreement with their “own” industry ministries’.
The Community method applies where treaties have granted specific powers to the EU. In these circumstances, the initiative in policy-making usually comes from the Commission, which tables a formal proposal. As we see on pp. 104–7, the