The decision-making stage consists in agreements, opt outs, compromises and bargaining. There are different procedures and varying degrees of relative power in EU negotiations. These are shared by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. However, the process involves permanent compromise among many people: staff of the main EU institutions, civil servants and ministers representing different layers of government, etc.
At this stage, the Commission does not have strict decision-making competences. However, it is involved in the process through the administrative decisions that follow the “big” political decisions taken by the Council and the European Parliament.
The stage of decision making is not over the moment that laws are published in the Official Journal of the EU. After the publication, there is a huge quantity of details that needs to be worked out. This is also where Comitology comes into place.
The legal base is a source of conflict in EU policy making. There are two different positions in conflict resolution. On one hand, the Commission is always aiming for the use of qualified majority voting. On the other hand, some Member states would argue for a procedure giving them veto rights. Despite the existence of these extreme positions, consensus in one of the norms vital for EU decision making to work. The main reason is that without a decision, there can be no implementation or evaluation.
The Council of Ministers is one of the main actors in the EU decision making. One of the institutional arrangement with more impact is the rotating Presidency of the Council. For instance, the Presidency can push items onto the agenda, or leave and it is the responsible of moderate the debate about one topic.
One way to study the influence of member states on EU decision making voting behaviour. Only a small percentage of decisions are characterized by a scenario in which members vote against the majority or even abstain from voting. The main reasons of that are: 1) All countries must implement the regulations and directives. If a member state is unhappy about the decision, it may be considerably less willing to implement and enforce it. 2) To avoid risk of its delegation getting a reputation of a “foot dragger” in negotiations.
The most part of decisions are taken in co-decision between the Council and the European Parliament. Although this procedure entails two “readings” between both institutions, the majority of dossiers are currently decided upon the first reading.
When we talk about theoretical perspective the debate is between “intergovernmentalists” and “supranationalists”. One of the most important studies on EU decision making was wrote by Andrew Moravesik (1993). The author offered a liberal intergovernmentalist perspective when he show evidence to argue that is was the member states who were dominating the process and the direction of integration through “history-making decisions”. However, since Maastricht reform that perspective is not clear at all and the debate is not closed.
Peterson, J. and Bomberg, E. (1999) Decision making in the European Union (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan).
Tallberg, J. (2006) Leadership and Negotiation in the European Union (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).