The EU agenda and the right of initiative

June 2020


The Conference on the Future of Europe was to be launched on 9 May 2020 to debate the EU’s priorities, institutional matters and democratic processes. Despite its delay due to the COVID-19 crisis, discussion of the EU’s democratic functioning is ongoing. This EIPA Paper seeks to shed light on one element in EU law-making that is under scrutiny, namely the exercise of the European Commission’s ‘right of initiative’.

The Commission, subject to few exceptions, has the sole right of initiative for legislative acts. This power was given to the Commission as it allows an independent actor to ensure that the general interest is adequately taken into account in negotiations, and to serve as a counterweight to differences in size between member countries. The rationale has evolved under Better Regulation and Better Law-Making to emphasise also the Commission’s role in guaranteeing the necessity and quality of initiatives in a context of broad consultation and interinstitutional cooperation.

Increased expectations regarding democratic participation, however, raise questions as to whether there should be a greater role for other players. The paper considers the European Parliament’s push to have a full right to propose legislation, perspectives for the European Citizens’ Initiative, and the possibility of a more proactive role for national parliaments.

By outlining the reasoning behind the Commission’s right of initiative as well as how it has developed, this paper aims to explain the broader institutional issues at stake in these discussions of EU decision-making and democratic participation in EU governance.

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