Reforming the European Scrutiny System in the House of Commons - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

Annex 1: Glossary

Please note that there is a fuller guide to European Union institutions and legislation on the European Scrutiny Committee's website:


The acquis is the body of common rights and obligations which bind all the Member States together within the European Union. It comprises: the content, principles and political objectives of the Treaties; the legislation adopted in application of the treaties and the case law of the Court of Justice; the declarations and resolutions adopted by the Union; measures relating to the common foreign and security policy; measures relating to justice and home affairs; and international agreements concluded by the EU.

Applicant countries have to accept the acquis before they can join the EU. Derogations from the acquis are granted only in exceptional circumstances and are limited in scope. To integrate into the European Union, applicant countries have to transpose the acquis into their national legislation and implement it from the moment of their accession.

Codecision procedure/ordinary legislative procedure

Following the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, the codecision procedure became the ordinary legislative procedure of the EU (Article 294 TFEU). This procedure gives the European Parliament the power to adopt instruments jointly with the Council of the European Union. It becomes co-legislator, on an equal footing with the Council, except in the cases provided for in the Treaties where the procedures regarding consultation and approval apply, known as the special legislative procedure. The ordinary legislative procedure entails qualified majority voting in the Council. The procedure comprises one, two or three readings, between the Council and the European Parliament (for further details please see paragraph 71).

Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)

Under the Lisbon Treaty the CFSP now forms part of the larger framework of the EU's external action. The Lisbon Treaty reiterates the principles which govern the definition of this policy. It tasks the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy with the mission to implement the strategies and decisions taken by the European Council and the Council in matters related to the CFSP. In carrying out her mandate, the High Representative is supported by the European External Action Service and the Political and Security Committee (PSC).

Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP)

The European Union's European security and defence policy aims to allow the EU to develop its civilian and military capacities for crisis management and conflict prevention at international level.

The Maastricht Treaty (1992) was the first to include provisions on the EU's responsibilities in terms of security and the possibility of a future common defence policy. With the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam (1999), new tasks were included in the Treaty on European Union (Title V), such as crisis management missions and peace-keeping missions. The Political and Security Committee, the EU Military Committee and EU Military Staff were established as the permanent political and military structures responsible for an autonomous, operational EU defence policy. In December 1999, the Helsinki European Council established the "global objective", in other words that the Union must be able to deploy up to 60,000 persons within 60 days and for at least one year.

The Treaty of Lisbon reiterates that the Common Security and Defence Policy is an integral part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. The ESDP becomes the "Common Security and Defence Policy" (CSDP) and could lead to a common defence if the European Council acting unanimously so decides (Article 42 TEU). Decisions relating to the CSDP are adopted unanimously by the Council.

The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is responsible for implementing the CSDP and for coordinating the civilian and military aspects of the "Petersberg" tasks (Article 43 TEU). Member States may be involved in carrying out these missions under the framework of permanent structured cooperation.

The Treaty of Lisbon also provides a "common defence clause", which obliges Member States to assist a Member State which is the victim of armed aggression on its territory (Article 42(7) TEU).[288]

The Treaty of Lisbon also institutionalises the European Defence Agency created in July 2004 through a Council joint action. This Agency is responsible for: improving the defence capacities of the Union particularly in the field of crisis management; strengthening the Union's industrial and technological armament capacities; and promoting European cooperation in armament matters.


The Permanent Representatives Committee or Coreper (Article 240 TFEU) is responsible for preparing the work of the Council of the European Union. It consists of representatives from Member States with the rank of ambassadors to the European Union and is chaired by the Member State which holds the Council Presidency. (For further details see paragraphs 79-82.)

Council of the EU

The Council of the European Union ("Council of Ministers" or "Council") is the EU's main decision-making body for Member States. Its meetings are attended by Member State ministers, and it is thus the institution which represents the Member States. The Council's headquarters are in Brussels, but some of its meetings are held in Luxembourg. Sessions of the Council are convened by the Presidency, which sets the agenda.

The Council meets in different configurations (ten in all), bringing together the competent Member State ministers: General Affairs; Foreign Affairs; Economic and Financial Affairs; Justice and Internal Affairs; Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs; Competitiveness; Transport, Telecommunications and Energy; Agriculture and Fisheries; Environment; Education, Youth and Culture. The "General Affairs" Council is responsible for coordinating the work of the different Council formations, with the Commission's assistance.

Decisions are prepared by Coreper, assisted by working groups of national government officials.

The Council, together with the European Parliament, acts in a legislative and budgetary capacity. It is also the lead institution for decision-making on CFSP, and on the coordination of economic policies (intergovernmental approach).

Court of Justice of the EU

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), created in 1952 by the Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community, comprises the Court of Justice, the General Court and specialised courts. It ensures compliance with EU law in the interpretation and application of the Treaties. The Court of Justice comprises one judge per Member State and eight Advocates-General. The number of Advocates-General may be increased by the Council at the request of the CJEU.

The two main functions of the CJEU are to:

  • check whether acts of the European institutions and of governments are compatible with the Treaties (infringement proceedings, proceedings for failure to act, actions for annulment);
  • give preliminary rulings, at the request of a national court, on the interpretation of EU law.

The Court may sit in chambers, in a Grand Chamber or as a full Court. The Advocates-General assist the Court of Justice. Their duty is to present with complete impartiality and independence a legal opinion on cases referred to them. The Registrar is the Secretary-General of the institution and manages the services of that institution under the authority of the President of the Court.

Delegating and Implementing Acts

Before the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the Commission's implementation of EU legislation was overseen by committees of Member State experts through the so-called "comitology" system.  This system has now been abolished (although it will continue to apply to unamended acts adopted before the Lisbon Treaty), and the Treaty instead distinguishes between delegated acts and implementing acts (Articles 290 and 291 TFEU). A delegated act is defined as a general measure to supplement or amend non-essential elements of legislation, whereas an implementing act is characterised by its essential nature: the need for uniform conditions for implementation. There is no formal role for Member State expert committees for the delegated acts procedure, although the Commission continues to consult these on an informal basis. For implementing acts, the system is similar to the old comitology procedure, with formal committees of national experts.

The European Parliament and the Council have the power to veto or revoke proposed delegated acts (the Council acting on the basis of qualified majority voting under Article 290(2) TFEU). Agreement between the Parliament and the Council in this regard is not required; an objection from either would prevent the adoption of the delegated act. Under implementing acts, the Member States can block a proposal through the Appeal Committee comprising deputy Permanent Representatives (convened if agreement cannot be reached among the committee of national experts), but only if a qualified majority is opposed. If there is no qualified majority, the Commission decides unilaterally whether to adopt the implementing act.

European Commission

Established by the Treaty of Rome in 1957, the European Commission proposes policies to be adopted by the Council and the European Parliament, and monitors implementation. It possesses the exclusive right of initiative in almost all areas of EU policy.

The Commission is appointed for a five-year term by the Council acting by qualified majority in agreement with the Member States. It is subject to a vote of appointment by the European Parliament, to which it is answerable. The Commissioners are assisted by an administration made up of Directorates-General and specialised departments whose staff are divided mainly between Brussels and Luxembourg.

European Council

With the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Council became one of the European Union institutions. Comprising the Heads of State or Government of the Member States, it meets at least four times a year and includes the President of the European Commission as a full member (but not a voting member). It elects its President for a period of two and a half years.

The role of the European Council is to provide the European Union "with the necessary impetus for its development" and to define its general political direction (Article 15 TEU). It does not exercise any legislative function. However, the Treaty of Lisbon provides the option for the European Council to be consulted on criminal matters (Articles 82 and 83 TFEU) or on social security matters (Article 48 TFEU) in cases where a State opposes a legislative proposal in these areas.

European External Action Service

The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is assisted by a European External Action Service tasked with the coordination of the Union's external actions, preparing action proposals or positions and implementing them after Council approval. They also provide support to the President of the European Council, the President of the Council and to the members of the Commission on all areas of external relations.

The European External Action Service comprises officials from relevant departments of the General Secretariat of the Council, the European Commission and diplomatic services of the Member States.

Existing EU delegations and crisis management structures within the General Secretariat of the Council, such as the Crisis Management and Planning Directorate, the Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability and the European Union Military Staff, also form part of the European External Action Service.

European Parliament

The European Parliament's main functions are as follows:

  • legislative power: in most cases Parliament shares legislative power with the Council through the ordinary legislative procedure;
  • budgetary power: Parliament shares budgetary powers with the Council in voting on the annual budget, rendering it enforceable through the President of the Parliament's signature, and overseeing its implementation; and
  • power of control over the EU's institutions, in particular the Commission. Parliament can give or withhold approval for the designation of Commissioners and has the power to dismiss the Commission as a body by passing a motion of censure. It also exercises a power of control over the EU's activities through the written and oral questions it can put to the Commission and the Council. It can also set up temporary committees and committees of inquiry whose remit is not necessarily confined to the activities of European institutions but can extend to action taken by the Member States in implementing European policies.

Explanatory Memorandum

An Explanatory Memorandum (EM) is the Government's written evidence to Parliament which summarises the content of a proposal for EU legislation or other important EU document. It contains information about the aims of the proposal and the Government's attitude towards it.

Green Paper

Green Papers are documents published by the European Commission to stimulate discussion on given topics at European level. They invite the relevant parties (bodies or individuals) to participate in a consultation process and debate on the basis of the proposals they put forward. Green Papers may give rise to legislative developments that are then outlined in White Papers.

High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

The Amsterdam Treaty created the post of the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the first holder of which was Javier Solana, Secretary General of the Council. The Lisbon Treaty maintains the function of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, but extends his/her responsibilities by incorporating the functions of Council Presidency in matters of foreign affairs, and of the Commissioner responsible for External Relations. The current postholder is Baroness Ashton.

The High Representative is one of the eight Vice-Presidents of the European Commission and presides over the Foreign Affairs Council. They participate in the development of the Common Foreign and Security Policy and implement it as mandated by the Council. They are responsible for external relations and the coordination of other aspects of the Union's external action. They are also responsible for the Common Security and Defence Policy.

The High Representative is appointed by the European Council by a qualified majority, with the approval of the President of the Commission, for a mandate of five years. The European Council may end this mandate following the same procedure. The High Representative must tender his/her resignation if the President of the European Commission requests it.

In carrying out their missions, the High Representative is supported by the European External Action Service.

Presidency of the Council of the EU

The Presidency of the Council of the EU is responsible for the functioning of the Council, including chairing Council meetings, determining the agenda of meetings and representing the Council at meetings with other EU institutions.

The Lisbon Treaty provides that the Presidency of the Council in its different forms be carried out by groups of three Member States. The composition of these groups is determined by equal rotation of the Member States. Each member of the group holds the Presidency for a period of six months.

The Presidency of the Council of Foreign Affairs is held by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy who also represents the Union in issues relating to the CFSP.

Qualified Majority

A qualified majority is the number of votes required in the Council for a decision to be adopted when issues are being debated on the basis of Article 16 TEU and Article 238 of the TFEU. Under the ordinary legislative procedure, the Council acts by qualified majority, in codecision with the European Parliament.

The Treaty of Nice introduced a qualified majority system based on a new weighting of votes and a "demographic verification" clause. The number of votes allocated to each Member State was re-weighted, in particular for those States with larger populations. After 1 January 2007 and following enlargement of the EU, the qualified majority increased to 255 votes out of a total of 345, representing a majority of the Member States. Moreover, a Member State may request verification that the qualified majority represents at least 62% of the total population of the EU. If this is not the case, the decision is not adopted.

With the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon a new system known as "double majority" was introduced. It will enter into force on 1 November 2014. The Nice system shall remain applicable during the transition period up to 31 October 2014. In accordance with the Treaty, the new qualified majority corresponds to at least 55% of the members of the Council, comprising at least 15 of them and representing at least 65% of the European population. A blocking minority may be formed comprising at least four members of the Council.

As the various institutional reforms have taken effect, qualified majority voting has largely replaced unanimous voting. The Treaty of Lisbon extended the qualified majority to issues which were previously governed by unanimity, such as external border control, asylum, and the negotiation of international agreements on trade matters.


The principle of subsidiarity is defined in Article 5 of the Treaty on European Union. It provides that decisions should be taken as closely as possible to the citizen. Specifically, it is the principle whereby the EU does not take action (except in the areas that fall within its exclusive competence), unless it is more effective than action taken at national, regional or local level.

The Edinburgh European Council of December 1992 issued a declaration on the principle of subsidiarity that laid down the rules for its application. The Treaty of Amsterdam took up the approach that followed from this declaration in a Protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. Following the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon on 1 December 2009, a new Protocol requires the principle of subsidiarity to be respected in all draft legislative acts and allows national parliaments to object to a proposal on the grounds that it breaches the principle. If a sufficient number of Member States object (either a quarter or a third) the proposal may be maintained, amended or withdrawn by the Commission, or blocked by the European Parliament or the Council. In the case of a breach of the principle of subsidiarity, the Committee of the Regions may also refer the legislative act directly to the Court of Justice of the European Union (if it was consulted on it during the legislative process), and national parliaments can refer the legislative act to the Court of Justice acting through their Member States.

White Paper

Commission White Papers are documents containing proposals for Union action in a specific area. In some cases they follow a Green Paper published to launch a consultation process at European level. When a White Paper is favourably received by the Council, it can lead to an action programme for the Union in the area concerned.

Glossary adapted from the website.

288   A "solidarity clause" (Article 222 TFEU) allows all civilian and military means to be mobilised to assist a Member State which has been the victim of a terrorist attack or a natural or man-made disaster. Back

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Prepared 28 November 2013