The Right of Initiative: Does the Commission have the monopoly of initiation?

As we mentioned previously, within the policy-making process, the European Commission has the ‘right of initiative’. This gives the Commission a high degree of power in the policy cycle, as the Commission is the body that formally initiates the creation of community policy or legislation.

Despite the importance of this formal initiation role, it would be incorrect to assume that the Commission exercises this role entirely independently.

This is for several reasons…

  1. Under Article 241 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the Council, acting by a simple majority, may request the Commission to undertake any studies the Council considers desirable for the attainment of the common objectives, and to submit to it any appropriate proposals”. The Commission has to inform the Council of why it does not decide to make a proposal if one has been requested.
  2. Commission proposals are often a direct response to ‘policy direction’ emanating from European Council summits.
  3. Under Article 225 of the TFEU “The European Parliament may, acting by a majority of its component Members, request the Commission to submit any appropriate proposal on matters on which it considers that a Union act is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaties”. The Commission has to inform the Parliament of why it does not decide to make a proposal if one has been requested.
  4. Member states, sectional interest groups, regional and local authorities and private firms and individuals frequently influence Commission policy initiation by methods such as direct lobbying and the production of policy papers.
  5. The Citizens’ Initiative. The Citizens’ Initiative is a new mechanism after Lisbon that allows a large number of EU citizens (at least 1 million citizens spread out over at least 7 member states) to invite the Commission to submit proposals on which these citizens believe EU legislation should be adopted. The Commission is not legally compelled to produce a proposal based on a Citizens’ Initiative; however (in practice) it would be difficult to ignore such a move for political reasons.

As such, it is important to remember that while, many policies are initiated by the Commission itself, the Commission frequently initiates proposals on behalf of others or where others have had significant input to proposals. However, the Commission retains the right of initiative and cannot be forced into providing a legislative proposal (again, as we will see on the next page, the CFSP is an exception).