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Negotiations within European Union 101: The Mechanism and Institutions


Negotiation involves strategically addressing an issue in a way that all parties find acceptable. In a negotiation, all parties try to influence and convince the others in accordance with their interests. At the international level, negotiation is a solution-seeking process based on power, and a specific dispute can either be completely resolved or may not be completely resolved by all parties satisfaction.

As one of the most influential organizations, for the European Union to function, negotiations are crucial. The formation of the union has brought significant effects on the policy-making process. Unlike most of the exclusively state-dominated international organizations, legislation in the European Union is carried out as a political process where power is distributed among institutions. In this sense, there are some differences between EU negotiations and traditional international negotiations. The Member States must influence negotiation processes to be able to shape the formation and implementation of common policies. This 101 series is dedicated to discussing the negotiation process within European Union.

Negotiations within European Union 101 is divided into five chapters:

  1. Negotiations within European Union: The Mechanism and Institutions

  2. Negotiations within European Union: Qualified Majority Voting versus Consensus

  3. Negotiations within European Union: Trilogue Negotiations

  4. Negotiations within European Union: Hard Bargaining versus Problem Solving

  5. Negotiations within European Union: Discussion of IGC 2000

European integration has profoundly affected the policy-making process and led everyday occurrence of diverse negotiations in the European Union. European Commission representatives aim to have their proposal accepted as it is, which is opposed by ministers in the Council since they defend the interests of their country, while lobbyists attempt to affect the decisions and European Parliament members put an effort to defend their positions. A multilevel negotiating system is a part of the European Union's institutional framework (Kohler-Koch, 1999, p. 16). The member states of the European Union negotiate to complete the formation and implementation process of common policies. States must actively participate in negotiation processes to influence directives and regulations successfully (Panke, 2011, p. 123). The first article of this series discusses the mechanism of negotiations and the roles of two main actors, the Council and the Presidency.

Negotiations within European Union
European Council president Charles Michel, EU Parliament president David Sassoli, and EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen giving a speech on the future of Europe in Brussels (1)

Decisions about common issues affecting the individual position of Member States are taken by agreement of all members after negotiations. The executive branch, European Commission, submits a proposal to the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. The commissioners from each member state are promoted by their internal staff. During any negotiation, this detail reveals the concerns of representatives as well as the institutions. The negotiation process starts when the Council receives the proposal. During the negotiations, each country is represented by one of its ministers or ambassadors. The Council is led by the Presidency. Each member state chairs the Council for six months alternately. If the proposal is related to foreign policy, the contribution of the High Representative increases as an actor responsible for the formation and implementation of the Union's shared foreign and security policy. To conclude the negotiations, the Council has to submit the final version of the proposal and take the approval of the Parliament, which has diverse dynamic and political groups. If the Council and the Parliament are unable to reach an agreement during the first reading, a second reading will be held following a new round of negotiations. If the two institutions still cannot reach an agreement, then a Conciliation Committee intervenes.

Negotiations within European Union
The European Council (2)

“According to a former Secretary-General of the Council, the Council’s work is traditionally a constant process of negotiations" (Soetendorp & Hosli, 2000, p. 2). As the most competent institution, the European Council takes decisions on complex issues, amends the agreements, and provides guidance for almost all the issues related to the Union. Negotiations constitute a broad part of these processes.

The power of representatives of Member States during negotiations can be evaluated according to three sources: state sources of power, institutional sources of power, and individual sources of power (Tallberg, 2008, p. 687). In this case, power can be defined as the ability of the representatives to defend the interests of their countries. Economic strength, population size, military capabilities are examples of state sources of power. The access to the veto and the rotating Presidency constitute institutional resources of power, whereas the expertise of the representative indicates an individual source of power (Tallberg, 2008, p. 687). In addition to these three sources, there is another element that affects the outcome of negotiations. It is a party’s option of not concluding the negotiation. If a Member State is better off without reaching an agreement, this provides leverage during negotiations. Unlike the other international negotiations in which the concept of negotiating power is usually equated with state resources, in the European Council it is based on strategic advantages.

Negotiations within European Union
Flags of Member States (3)

The Presidency as the chair of the Council performs as a powerful actor during negotiations. Every six months, the Member States rotate in the Presidency of the Council and three member states hold each presidency together. The Presidency is responsible for chairing the meetings and negotiations of the Council to make sure that the institution is functioning properly. In the presence of conflicting interests, each representative attempts to maximize their advantage and as it is stated, some Member States might be better off without an agreement. During the negotiations, Member States tend to be secretive about their true preferences and adopt tactical negotiating positions that reduce or eliminate the contract zone that is necessary to realize joint benefits (Tallberg, 2004, p. 999). As a result, there is always the possibility of negotiations getting stalled. The Presidency as the chair can prevent negotiation failure. By virtue of its position, the Presidency gains access to information that is unavailable to the negotiating parties, since the Secretariat provides information about the parties’ true preferences and resistance points (Tallberg, 2004, p. 1001). However, this power can also be used as leverage to shape the course of negotiations by the national interests of the Presidency. Therefore, the functions of the Presidency remain controversial.

Negotiations within the European Union can be described as a complex and relatively slow process involving many actors. Negotiations as a continuous mechanism facilitates further negotiations as it deters aggressive behavior. Despite many controversies, it creates a distinctive balance in this sense.


Kohler-Koch, B. (1999). The Evolution and Transformation of European Governance, 14–25.

Panke, D. (2011). Small states in EU negotiations. Cooperation and Conflict, 46(2), 123–143.

Soetendorp, B., & Hosli, M. O. (2000). Negotiations in the European Union: the Hidden Influence on Council Decision-Making. International Studies Association. Retrieved 2022, from

Tallberg, J. (2008). Bargaining power in the European Council. JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies, 46(3), 685–708.

Tallberg, J. (2004). The power of the presidency: Brokerage, efficiency and distribution in EU negotiations*. JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies, 42(5), 999–1022.

Wessels, W., Maurer, A., & Mittag Jürgen. (2018). Fifteen into one?: The European Union and its member states. Manchester University Press.

Image Sources:

Image 1: Reuters, F. (2020). Los presidentes del Consejo Europeo, Charles Michel; de la Eurocámara, David Sassoli; y de la Comisión Europea, Ursula Von der Leyen, este viernes en Bruselas. Reuters. [Photograph]. CincoDias.

Image 2: Pignatelli, D. (2021). The European Council. [Photograph]. European Council.

Image 3: Zerla, W. (n.d.). Flags of member states, Council of Europe, Strasburg, France. [Photograph]. gettyimages.


Author Photo

Deniz Aktunç

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