Under the ordinary legislative procedure, the European Parliament has the right to propose amendments to the proposals for new laws that come from the Commission. Commission proposals, Parliament's amendments and the Council's common position are then considered in a so-called "trialogue" meeting with representatives from the three institutions who seek to negotiate an agreement or a compromise.
80% of all such law proposals are dealt with in a single reading. There were around 1000 confidential trialogue meetings in 2013 according to an investigative article in the online newspaper euobserver.com. Official statistics later stated that there were almost 700 such meetings that year.
The first trialogue meeting took place under the German presidency in 1994. The most important meeting place for deciding new EU laws is thus not explicitly mentioned in the treaties at all!
Instead, these Trialogue meetings are regulated by a joint declaration of the three institutions in June 2007. The European Parliament has also developed its own rules by amending its internal Regulation regarding the relationship between the negotiating MEPs and their responsible committees and the European Parliament as a whole.
The trialogue meetings normally conclude with an agreement. The acting president of Coreper then sends a formal letter to the president of the responsible committee in the European Parliament stating that the Council will adopt the law in accordance with the agreement mentioned.
Then the European Parliament adopts the law in plenary session by a simple majority. Following this adoption the media often writes that the “European Parliament today adopted”. This decision has no place in the formal treaty rules and it conceals where legislative power is really based.
The European Parliament can only propose amendments to the draft laws that come from the Commission and it can reject a proposal by an absolute majority of its members. Proposals from the Council and the Parliament have force only if they are approved by the non-elected Commission. The Council can only adopt a text by unanimity if the Commission withholds its support.
The real decision on new EU laws occurs after the trialogue meetings and the symbolic approval of the trialogue agreements by the European Parliament. The Council then formally decides the law by qualified majority or (on rare occasions) by unanimity.
Formal adoption of a new EU law then takes place as an A-point at the next Council meeting without debate. The real influence of the MEPs involved in these trialogue meetings is far greater than their limited formal power because the Commission often supports the amendments from the European Parliament.
As a resukt of the development of this trialogue meeting system the formal "ordinary legislative procedure" that is set out in Article 294 TFEU has been changed into pragmatic agreements between the three institutions. From 14 July 2009 to 12 August 2013 there were 247 first reading agreements, 25 second reading agreements and 25 in between. There were only eight conciliation committee meetings.