Page last updated at 12:29 GMT, Thursday, 29 October 2009
Guide to the European Parliament

One of the most complex parts of the already complex European Union is how the European Parliament is involved in passing laws.

The European Commission is the only EU organisation that has the power to initiate new laws but they must be approved by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.

Laws are passed by one of two ways.

The ordinary legislative procedure

Previously known as the co-decision procedure, it is the most common and yet the most labyrinthine of the European Parliament's law-making powers.

However the reality is more straightforward.

The main aim of co-decision is to give an equal say to both the European Parliament, representing citizens, and the Council of Ministers, representing governments.

The European Parliament's Strasbourg seat is where the main sessions are held
Complex rules can dominate proceedings

If, after a maximum of two readings of the proposal in both institutions, no agreement can be reached, a Conciliation Committee made up of representatives from the Council and the Parliament is formed to try to find a common position.

If this still fails to reach agreement, the commission proposal falls.

The co-decision procedure is used in most of the "day-to-day" policy areas that the Parliament has to deal with, such as employment, immigration, workers' rights, internal market, free movement of workers, culture, agriculture and fisheries.

The special legislative procedure

This is used in those areas that are seen as so important to national interests, that supremacy rests with government representatives in the Council of Ministers.

It comprises the former consultation and assent procedures.

Under the consultation procedure, the Council is required to consult the Parliament for an opinion, but doesn't have to listen to the latter's view.

It is used for areas like foreign policy and competition laws.

The assent procedure is used to approve certain key decisions such as the accession of new member states, and the approval of Commissioners.

Assent requires an absolute majority of MEPs to approve a decision.

What next?

Once legislation has been passed, the Court of Justice makes sure it is interpreted uniformly across all the member states and tries to iron out any differences between European and national laws.

There are two main types of legislation that the EU institutions have to pass - regulations and directives.

A regulation must be implemented in the form set out by the European Commission and usually cover more technical matters, such as competition rules or the price of foodstocks.

However a directive gives more flexibility to member states. The Commission sets out the general framework of the draft law - such as uniform standards of food labelling - but it is up to the member state to decide how to implement the policy, usually within a two year time period.

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