Saturday 25 September 2010

EU: "Community method" RIP – or a stake through its heart!

Why on Earth did they start a debate about the “Community method” now? (Opening shots here and more discussion here; ‘they’ meaning leading EU politicians)

At 50, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) met its preordained fate and passed away (23 July 2002).

"Nobody" ever talks about the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC or Euratom), although there is now a consolidated (updated) version of the Euratom Treaty.

When the Lisbon Treaty entered into force on 1 December 2009, the European Community disappeared into the mist of history, succeeded by the European Union. (In everyday speech the EU had taken over from the EC long before that, with only official documents and meticulous lawyers fighting a rearguard battle.)

In short, there is no (European) Community, if we take a practical view.

Requiescat in pace

“Old habits die hard”, we know, but this blog post argues that we should escort the term “Community method” back to its mausoleum, with full historical honours, the Ode to Joy playing.

RIP = Requiescat in pace (Rest in peace), or I’ll drive a stake through your heart!

To be really smug, we could ask: Why don’t 'they' read this blog and live longer, happier lives in the present?

In a December 2009 blog post, when the Treaty of Lisbon was fresh, I published a few notes on how the European Union makes laws:

Ordinary legislative procedure

In principle, the Lisbon Treaty entered into force on 1 December 2009. Article 289(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) (OJEU 9.5.2008 C 115/172) defines the ordinary legislative procedure, referring to more detailed provisions in Article 294 TFEU:

Article 289(1) TFEU

1. The ordinary legislative procedure shall consist in the joint adoption by the European Parliament and the Council of a regulation, directive or decision on a proposal from the Commission. This procedure is defined in Article 294.

Historically, the “Community method” has been the shorthand expression for a triangle, where the Commission proposes and the Council and the European Parliament adopt the laws.

Here is how the Europa Glossary describes the Community method with a bit more detail:

The Community method is the expression used for the institutional operating mode set up in the first pillar of the European Union. It proceeds from an integration logic with due respect for the subsidiarity principle, and has the following salient features:
 Commission monopoly of the right of initiative;
 widespread use of qualified majority voting in the Council;
 an active role for the European Parliament;
 uniform interpretation of Community law by the Court of Justice.

In my view, the term “Community method” should be heading for the scrap-heap of history, replaced by “the ordinary legislative procedure”, when we have to be exact. In daily use “EU legislation”, “EU lawmaking” and other shorter expressions can be used, because the ordinary legislative procedure is the default mode.

Clarifications are needed mainly when the “special legislative procedure” is used (with a smaller role for the European Parliament) for lawmaking, or when we discuss intergovernmental decision making, as in the areas of foreign, security and defence policy.

Partly this methodological detour was caused by reflections on the future use of EU terms, partly by the fact that we are still seeing the tail end of new legislation approved under the Treaty of Nice, with the European Community still in existence.

The somewhat antiquated Europa Glossary page on the Community and intergovernmental methods is still there, and there is continued need for an explanation of this historically important political term, just as we visit the graves of our loved ones to connect with our past.

After the Coroner’s verdict and solemn reburial, we need a Baptist for the newborn.

Ralf Grahn


  1. I definitely agree that the timing is strange; then again, there's often little rhyme nor reason for things that happen in the EU! :-$

  2. Michael,

    The beginning of the blog post was intentionally hazy when it spoke about the timing of the renewed debate about the "Community method" versus intergovernmentalism.

    Only later did it specify that the strangeness of the timing lies in the contradiction between a post-Lisbon debate conducted in expressly pre-Lisbon terms.

    I hope that people interested in EU politics and law would suggest better terms to describe the various forms of decision making in the European Union, especially regarding issues and legislative acts decided in an almost parliamentary manner.

    Here, it is a question of terminology.

    If we look at the more substantive issues, it is quite natural that the European Parliament and the (European) Council discuss the areas of responsibility, as well as how successfully decisions are made in important areas, such as economic governance or foreign policy, now that the Lisbon Treaty is in force and various challenges can be seen.

    I intend to discuss these matters in later blog entries.


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