Brussels, 22 May 2002
Explanatory note on the "Community method"
I. What is the Community Method (can we name it differently) ?
The Community method is a decision-making procedure that allows for a transparent, effective and democratic functioning of the European Union. It is based on the interplay between three autonomous institutions : the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Council of Ministers (also called the 'institutional triangle').
The key features of the Community method are :
A key above feature is the exclusive capacity of the Commission to introduce legislative initiatives. The Commission has a multinational and independent administration, and decides by political consensus. This is the best guarantee to express the general European interest and not national or partisan interests. In turn, this is crucial for creating trust between the Member States.
The Community Method currently applies to issues related to the 'first pillar' (largely economic, social and environmental matters, including international affairs such as trade). It does not apply to the Common Foreign and Security Policy and to Justice and Home Affairs, which were introduced as separate 'pillars' in the Maastricht Treaty of 1992. There, the right of initiative is mostly shared by all Member States and the European Commission, and unanimity mostly applies as a decision rule.
II. What is the added value compared to intergovernmental method ?
The Community method allows Member States to share sovereignty in a democratic way and to work in the general interest of the European Union. Compared to the way in which a 'classical' international organisation works, the method offers the following advantages :
III. How has the Community method been renewed over time ?
The Community method is not static. It has been adjusted and renewed over time with, inter alia :
History shows the importance of qualified majority voting. The Single Market programme was only realised after the Single European Act of 1987 changed the decision rule from unanimity to qualified majority for many issues. The EU environment policy got a boost from the Maastricht Treaty, which introduced qualified majority voting for many environmental issues.
Unanimity often leads to policy failure. It applies, for instance, to fiscal matters related to the functioning of the single market. This entails blockages in the Council and, subsequently, a proliferation of co-operation between Member States outside of the EU framework. This can complicate doing business in the internal market.
One important institutional change over time has been the role of the European Council. The increased involvement of the European Council in deciding on specific matters has damaged the quality of the interplay between the institutional triangle. The European Council should reinforce the authority of the Council of Ministers and not erode it ; it should define broad policy orientations but leave actual decisions to the institutional triangle.