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9. Council common position

When the Council does not share the views expressed by Parliament, it adopts a common position, which is forwarded to the European Parliament together with a statement of reasons

Where the European Parliament has approved the Commission’s proposal without amendment, but the Council wishes to make changes to it, the Council will again adopt a common position.

Legal basis: Article 294(5) TFEU.

In detail

Preparation of the common position: 

The decision is usually prepared by the working parties (or sometimes attachés) and Coreper. In the next stage of this preparatory work, the Council will establish or negotiate a “political agreement”  laying down the broad outlines of the proposed common position. The details of this agreement are subsequently finalised by the working party, verified by lawyer-linguists and formally adopted as a Common Position by the Council of Ministers at a subsequent meeting. The Council may, on occasion, reach an agreement in principle before the European Parliament delivers its position, commonly termed a “general approach” . The Commission does not take a definitive position at this stage, since it needs to be able first of all to react to any amendments of the European Parliament. The Council moves from the general approach to a political agreement, then to a common position after examining the EP’s position, unless the EP amendments coincide with the general approach, allowing the act in question to be adopted.

Wherever possible, informal contacts (in the form of trilogues) may be established in the period between the political agreement and the formal notification of the common position, with a view to facilitating an (early) agreement at second reading (also known as "negotiated common position"). 

Adoption of the common position: 

Adoption may take place without debate (“A” item on the agenda) or with debate (“B” item) or, in exceptional cases, by written procedure. In the first two instances, the deliberations are in the public domain. The Council’s decision requires a qualified majority (see Article 16(3) TEU), except in cases specified in the Treaty.

The European Parliament is generally notified of the common position at the plenary session following its formal adoption. The time limits laid down by the Treaty for the subsequent stages of the procedure start to run after the European Parliament announces the receipt of the common position in plenary (the day after the announcement which usually takes place on Thursday of a plenary week).

The statement of reasons is accompanied by any statements made by the Council and/or the Commission for the Council minutes, as well as unilateral statements by delegations.

No time limit is laid down in the Treaty for the adoption of a common position by the Council. During the legislature 2004-2009, this phase has lasted for an average of 24 to 31 months from the start of the procedure (for files reaching second reading agreements or going into conciliation, respectively), depending on the complexity of the dossiers. First reading agreements took on average 15 months from Commission proposal to signature (during the 2004-2009 legislature). However, the adoption of certain politically sensitive common positions has sometimes taken much longer, up to several years (8 years for the longest case). For more details, see section on statistics pdf - 54 KB [54 KB] .

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10. Commission communication on the common position

In this document, which is forwarded to the European Parliament in tandem with the common position, the Commission explains why it has decided to support or oppose the common position. The Commission also comments on the Council’s reaction to the EP amendments which it had supported in plenary at the first reading. Only if the Commission amends its proposal in line with the common position, the Council can act by qualified majority.

Legal basis: Article 294(6) TFEU.

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11.  EP second reading

A three-month time limit is laid down by the Treaty (this period may be extended by a month) for the European Parliament to take action on the basis of the Council position at first reading.

The adoption procedure is similar to that at first reading but has some distinct differences. As a general rule, the amendments must:

  • include amendments adopted at first reading and not accepted by the Council; or
  • be concerned with a part of the common position which did not appear in, or
  • be substantially different from, the Commission’s initial proposal; or introduce a compromise between the positions of the co-legislators.

In detail

The President of the European Parliament makes an announcement, in plenary session, acknowledging receipt of the Council position at first reading and the Commission’s communication thereon, duly translated into all the official languages. The three-month time limit starts to run on the day following receipt (see Rule 61 of the EP's Rules of Procedure).

Work in parliamentary committee:

The procedure for second reading in parliamentary committee generally follows the rules and practice of the first reading, with the difference that the text to be amended is the Council position at first reading and not the Commission’s proposal. The parliamentary committees which were asked for an opinion at first reading are not consulted anew, except in specific cases. The amendments adopted in parliamentary committee constitute “the recommendation for second reading”, which is normally defended by the same rapporteur as at first reading. It includes proposed amendments, where appropriate. Amendments may also be tabled personally by other Members of the European Parliament. Pursuant to Rule 66 of the EP's Rules of Procedure, the amendments must either include amendments adopted at first reading and not accepted by the Council, or be concerned with a part of the common position that did not appear in, or is substantially different from, the Commission’s initial proposal, or introduce a compromise between the positions of the co-legislators. If new European elections have taken place, the rules for first reading will apply (Rule 66(3) of the EP's Rules of Procedure). Furthermore, the Rapporteur will have to be (re-) appointed.

The proposed amendments are put to the vote in the parliamentary committee responsible, which takes a decision by simple majority.

Adoption in plenary session :

The plenary makes its position known on the basis of the amendments included in the recommendation adopted by the parliamentary committee and any amendments tabled in plenary by political groups or by a minimum of 40 Members. The rules on the admissibility of amendments applying to the parliamentary committee are also applicable for amendments tabled at the plenary stage. The plenary adopts amendments by absolute majority

The European Parliament may extend the three-month time limit by a further month (Article 294(14) TFEU and Rule 62 of the EP's Rules of Procedure).

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