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date: 25 March 2017

The Community Method

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.

The Community method, in the narrow sense, is the institutional interaction between the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the European Court of Justice in the process of making and implementing European Union (EU) law in traditional EU policy fields such as the internal market, trade, competition, and the environment (i.e., the policy areas that belonged to the former European Community). In contrast with intergovernmental decision making, the Community method has the following characteristics:

• The European Commission has the duty to represent the EU’s general interest and cannot accept any orders from individual member states or other bodies. It has a monopoly on proposing new EU legislation. The purpose is that the EU’s legislative process starts on broad basis, not the national interest of a few.

• The adoption of legislative acts requires the approval of both the Council of Ministers (representing the member states) and the European Parliament (representing the EU’s citizens). This system underscores that the EU is a union of states as well as a union of people. The Council is generally entitled to decide by qualified majority voting, thus ensuring that the EU’s legislative process cannot be blocked by an individual veto.

• Once adopted, EU law is binding even on those member states that voted against. The Commission acts as the guardian of EU law and can bring member states before the European Court of Justice in case they fail to correctly implement EU law.

• The European Court of Justice ensures that EU institutions and member states respect the rule of law. It guarantees the uniform interpretation of EU law.

The broader interpretation of the Community method attaches particular importance to the key principles on which the EU was founded and to which the legislative process is supposed to contribute. Such principles include the resolve of creating an “ever closer union,” “built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity,” as declared in the Schuman Declaration of 1950.

The Community method, as defined above, is essentially a yardstick or model against which the evolution of the European integration process can be measured. In this sense, it is often more a political than a scientific concept. Thus, between 1999 and 2014, the Community method was explicitly referred to in sixty-three texts adopted by the European Parliament. For the same period, the European Library catalogue finds only thirty-eight scientific books or articles that build on the concept.

For certain observers the emergence of new forms of European coordination, sometimes entirely outside of the EU treaties, has put a strain on the relevance of the Community method as model for the EU’s future development. Political leaders (such as Chancellor Merkel) and academics have argued that the categorization of EU practice under Community method vs. intergovernmentalism is, according to Monar, “increasingly obsolete.” This, however, is a reductionist argument that must be rejected.