European legislation has an impact on many areas of European life, not least because many problems can only be solved on a European or international level.
It is important that legislation takes account of the various interests of different stakeholders, be it the interests of interest groups (such as the social partners, for example) or the interests and concerns of civil society (citizen petitions, citizen initiatives, public consultations).
Whether a regulatory area is subject to Union legislation is specified in more detail in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The Union has only the powers transferred to it in the Treaties (principle of conferral of powers).
There are regulatory areas where only the EU may pass laws and binding legal instruments (exclusive competence). These include issues of the customs union and competition, the monetary policy for the euro-countries, the common commercial policy, the conservation of biological marine resources in the framework of the common fisheries policy and in certain cases also the conclusion of international agreements.
As far as issues of shared competence of EU and member states are concerned, both the EU and the member states can pass legal instruments. Shared competence applies to issues of the internal market, social policy, economic, social and territorial cohesion, agriculture and fishery, the environment, consumer protection and transport among others. The member states can, however, only exercise their competence if and to the extent the EU has decided not to exercise its competence. In this context, the principle of subsidiarity must be observed: the EU may only act in areas outside its exclusive competence where the EU – due to scope or effect of the intended objectives – is able to work more efficiently than the member states on a central, regional or local level.
In addition to that there are areas where the EU may only take measures to support, coordinate or complement measures taken by the member states. This means that the EU has no right of harmonisation in these areas and only takes on a supportive role beside the member states. These areas include, for example, the protection and improvement of human health, industry, culture and tourism.
Ordinary legislative procedure
The ordinary legislative procedure applies in 95% of the cases, i.e. the European Parliament (EP) and the Council decide together on a legislative proposal made by the European Commission. The ordinary legislative procedure starts with a legislative proposal made by the Commission (for a regulation, directive or resolution) that is submitted to the EP and the Council as well as to the national parliaments at the same time. The national parliaments are entitled to conduct a subsidiarity check within a period of eight weeks. In a next step, the President of the European Parliament refers the legislative proposal to the committee of the EP in charge for further deliberation and the member states discuss the proposal in the Council Working Parties.
In addition to the ordinary legislative procedure there are areas where the EP has to give its approval but is unable to amend the content (consent procedure).
Under the consultation procedure the European Parliament must be heard and has the right of giving its opinion. While being required to consult Parliament on legislative proposals, the Council is not bound by the EP's position. The EU treaties define which legislative procedure is to be applied in the individual cases. It is impossible to make a precise statement about what percentage of Austrian laws are influenced by EU legislation.
Contribution of the Austrian Parliament and the Federal Provinces to EU Legislation
Austria attaches great importance to involving the federal provinces in defining the country's EU policy and to ensuring that the democratically legitimised representatives of the people can make active contributions.
Cooperation between government and parliament in matters of European integration is subject to the rights of participation of National and Federal Council as defined in article 23 of the Austrian Constitutional Law, and in terms of EU projects it is subject to information and opinion rights.
If the Main Committee of the National Council or the Standing Sub-Committee on matters relating to the EU resolves to give an opinion on an EU-related matter that is directed at issuing a binding legislative act that would have an effect on national legislation, the competent federal minister is bound by this opinion and may only deviate from it for compelling reasons of integration or foreign policy. If the minister in charge intends to deviate from such an opinion, the matter is to be re-submitted to the National Council. If the EU legislative act under preparation means a deviation from applicable Austrian Federal Constitutional Law, deviation from the opinion is only allowed if the National Council and/or the Federal Council (in terms of responsibility of federal provinces) do not object within an appropriate period of time.
The participation right of provinces and communities under article 23d Austrian Constitutional Law includes an analogous information and opinion right for their areas of responsibility.
When the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force, the participation rights of national parliaments in monitoring the compliance with the principle of subsidiarity were increased. Under the principle of subsidiarity, in areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Union shall act only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the member states, either at central level or at regional and local level, but can rather, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved at Union level.
If a parliament (or a house of a parliament) is of the opinion that a proposal violates the principle of subsidiarity, it can submit a detailed opinion within eight weeks, also known as "subsidiarity objection". In such a case, the Commission has to review its proposal and may even have to change it. It shall also substantiate its resolution on the further procedure. If a national parliament is of the opinion that an adopted European legal instrument infringes the principle of subsidiarity, it may file action with the European Court of Justice aiming to nullify and void the legal instrument.
Coordination of Austrian positions
The Austrian positions are coordinated in the weekly meetings of the Committee of Permanent Representatives in Brussels under the chairmanship of the Austrian Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs. By this means the continued involvement of the competent ministries, the social partners, the Austrian National Bank, the Federation of Austrian Industry, the provinces and communities in the Austrian opinion-forming process is ensured.
Since November 2004, the individual departments submit reports about the work programme and legislative proposals on EU level to Parliament at the beginning of each year, to provide information to the members of parliament and involve them in the process of opinion-forming.
As the major political decisions are taken in the capitals of the EU member states, the Austrian embassies in the EU member states play a vital role in making Austria's interests and concerns with regard to EU legislation heard.