The consent procedure is one of the special legislative procedures used in the European Union. The consent procedure is used for adopting most international agreements. The word consent refers to the role the European Parliament (EP) and the Council of Ministers (Council) play in the procedure. Both can either approve or disapprove a proposal, but neither can amend it.
Roughly, the consent procedure proceeds as follows: the European Commission submits an international agreement to Parliament and Council. The Council and the Parliament will vote on the proposal. If the EP and the Council approve of the agreement it may be implemented.
This procedure shares many similarities with the assent procedure.
Step 1: initiative
The European Commission submits a proposal to the Council of Ministers to negotiate an international agreement. The High Representative of the Union submits the proposal in case the envisaged agreement refers to the common foreign and security policy.
Step 2: appointing negotiators
The Council of Ministers draws up guidelines for the negotiations to be conducted. The Council also determines who will conduct the negotiations on behalf of the EU.
When appointing the negotiators the Council takes the content of the negotiations into account. In practice the negotiations are often held on matters that fall well within the competence of the European Union. This explains why the European Commission usually is appointed as negotiator. When the negotiations concern sensitive issues, the Council tends to appoint a special committee, which usually is made up of representative of the member states.
Step 3: preliminary signing
The negotiators prepare a provisional agreement. The Council of Ministers then may decide to authorize the negotiator to sign the provisional agreement on behalf of the EU.
In all cases, the negotiators submit the agreement for approval to the Council of Ministers. The difference with the preliminary signing (step 3) is the involvement of the European Parliament in approving of an agreement.
Three things can happen in the EP:
1.the EP either approves or disapproves of the proposed agreement. This applies to the following topics:
-agreements on matters that are decided by the ordinary legislative procedure, or any of the special legislative procedure where consent by the European Parliament is required
-agreements on cooperation that establish a specific institutional framework (e.g. a new organisation)
-agreements that have consequences for the EU budget
2.with other international agreements, the EP has an advisory role.
3.for proposals concerning foreign and security policy the Parliament plays no role. Only the approval by Council is required here.
Both the Council and the EP can only approve or disapprove of a proposal. They cannot amend it.
On voting procedures
In all the steps described above, the Council of Ministers decides by qualified majority vote. The European Parliament decides by a majority of votes cast.
Exceptions on voting procedures in the Council
In the steps described above, the Council of Ministers decides by unanimous vote in the following cases:
-all policy areas in the EU that are subject to unanimity in the Council of Ministers
-economic treaties with developed countries about financial assistance and cooperation
Agreements under the common trade policy
The general framework of the common trade policy is adopted by means of the ordinary legislative procedure. The consent procedures is only used for specific trade agreements.
step 1: initiative
The European Commission submits a proposal to the Council of Ministers to negotiate a trade agreement.
step 2: appointing negotiators
The Council of Ministers authorizes the Commission to conduct the negotiations on behalf of the EU.
step 3: negotiations
The Commission conducts the negotiations, supported by a special committee appointed by the Council. In practice this is always the Article 133 Committee, in which all member states are represented. The Commission shall report regularly to the EP on the progress of the negotiations.
step 4: concluding the agreement
The negotiators submit the agreement for approval to the Council of Ministers.
The Council may only approve or disapprove the agreement, no amendments can be made.
The EP does not play a role in approving specific trade agreements.
On voting procedures
In principle, the Council of Ministers decides by qualified majority vote.
For a number of policy areas an exception is made. Unanimity applies to agreements concerning:
-foreign direct investments
-cultural and audiovisual services, insofar as they pose a risk to the Union’s cultural and linguistic diversity
-education, insofar these agreements constitute a serious risk to the national organisation of such services and may infringe upon the responsibility of Member States to deliver them
-healthcare, insofar these agreements constitute a serious risk to the national organisation of such services and may infringe upon the responsibility of Member States to deliver them
-social services, insofar these agreements constitute a serious risk to the national organisation of such services and may infringe upon the responsibility of Member States to deliver them
The EU may conclude international agreements if these are necessary to reach goals of EU policies, or when the European treaties state that the EU is required or permitted to do so. These international agreements may be with third countries or with international organisations.
The consent procedure is used for most international agreements. For agreements regarding the exchange rate of the euro the consultation procedure is used.
The consent procedure is based on the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union.
-scope (general): TEU title V art. 21, part five TfEU (art. 205-219). Besides this general framework, in some policy areas specific references are made to the ability of the EU to conclude international agreements (common foreign and security policy, immigration, neighbouring countries, environment, research programs)
-procedure: international agreements: part five TfEU title V art. 218
-procedure: trade policy: part five TfEU title II art. 207, paragraph 3, 4