Institutional Context

It can be difficult to understand how policymaking in the European Union works. This page aims to improve public understanding of the EU AI Act’s institutional context. This summary was put together by Hadrien Pouget, an AI policy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He hopes it will help others trying to navigate the AI Act, and is happy to respond to further questions at


1. Introduction

The EU AI Act (AIA) has received international attention, and many who have never before taken an interest in EU legislation are pouring over it to understand its implications. As unprecedented as the AIA is, it remains fundamentally a piece of EU legislation. Much of it is borrowed from common EU frameworks, to the extent that it cannot be properly understood without this broader context. Those unfamiliar with the EU may struggle to discern what is in fact new about the act and what is merely established EU practice, or miss important subtext.

This guide aims to provide an overview of the legislative context of the AIA, from the legislative procedure which is driving the AIA, through to compliance and enforcement mechanisms, all of which draw from existing EU practices. In this spirit, it largely stays away from analysing the content of the AIA; many such analyses already exist.

Figure 1. A summary of the most important actors in the creation and enforcement of the AI Act, and their relationships.

2. Legislative Process

The AI Act is being shaped by EU’s ordinary legislative procedure, the process by which most EU legislation is produced. The key actors and their interactions are outlined here.

Figure 2. A high-level view of the Ordinary Legislative Procedure by which the AI Act is being formed.

2.1. Key Actors

  1. European Commission – Composed of 27 Commissioners, put forward by member states and approved by the European Parliament. The Commission acts as the executive branch of the EU.
  2. European Parliament
    1. Represents the people of the EU. Members of European Parliament (MEPs) are elected directly by European citizens. Each member state of the EU is allocated a number of seats depending largely on their population.
    2. The parliament has several committees which are expected to take the lead on issues in their jurisdiction. In the AIA’s case, these are the committees on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) and Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO).
    3. For each piece of legislation, the committee has a “rapporteur,” an MEP who leads the committee’s work. In the case of the AIA, these are Dragoş Tudorache (LIBE) and Brando Benifei (IMCO), respectively. A selection of other committees are responsible for sections of the act especially relevant to their work.
  3. The Council of the European Union (“The Council”)[1] – For each issue, the Council convenes the relevant government ministers from each member state. The AIA is being handled by telecommunications ministers under the “Working Party on Telecommunications and Information Society (WP TELECOM).” The presidency of the Council rotates on a 6-month basis between member states. The presidency has some power to set the Council’s focus and represents the Council when interacting with other EU institutions.

2.2. The Ordinary Legislative Procedure

In brief, the ordinary legislative procedure follows these steps:

  1. The Commission produces a first draft of a piece of legislation. It is the only organisation with the power to do so, called the “right of initiative.”
  2. Parliament receives the first draft and passes it back and forth with the Council, adding amendments until they agree (the legislation is passed), or until it has gone back and forth three times without agreement (the process ends and no legislation is adopted). During this time, informal dialogues, called “trilogues,” take place between the Council, Parliament, and the Commission. In practice, these are often pivotal: legislation is now usually agreed on the first pass[2], as Parliament and the Council agree on a direction through informal meetings.
  3. Once Parliament and the Council have officially approved the text, it is published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU). The legislation will generally specify how long after its publication it will come into force.

2.3. Keeping the Act Updated After Publication

The EU has two notable tools for updating existing legislation without having to repeat the entire legislative process: implementing acts and delegated acts. Legislation must specify when these can be used, and for what purpose. The two mechanisms are similar; both allow the Commission to create or amend legislation after it has passed, although they require slightly different oversight mechanisms.

The AIA will likely make use of both mechanisms (recent drafts have), allowing it to be updated in response to technological developments. They also allow the act to leave non-essential blanks in the AIA to be filled at a later date.

To continue bringing expertise to the EU, an “AI board” will be established. It will likely advise on implementing and delegated acts, as well as on many other areas where expertise might be needed during implementation and enforcement.


2.4. Legislative Timeline Highlights (As of December 2022)

European Commission European Parliament European Council
21st April 2021: First draft published.

20th April 2022 & 14th June 2022: Draft Report by IMCO/LIBE.

Draft collecting all opinions and proposed amendments. Serves as a basis for negotiations within Parliament. By this point, most other relevant committees have published their own opinions.

6th of Dec 2022: Adoption of Council’s position by WP TELECOM.

A position, also known as the Council’s “general approach, is developed as a signal to Parliament.

Early 2023: Vote on amended draft.

This vote would mean Parliament passes the act on to the Council.

Trilogue negotiations aiming to unify Parliament and Council position. Trilogue negotiations aiming to unify Parliament and Council position. Trilogue negotiations aiming to unify Parliament and Council position.
??: The Council either accepts Parliament’s proposal or proposes its own amendments.
Late 2023 – Early 2024 (estimated): AI Act comes into force a short time after being published in the Official Journal of the European Union.

24+ Months later: AI Act applies in full.

The exact timeline is still being debated, but different pieces will start being applied at different times over the first 2-3 years after the act comes into force.

3. Legislative Context

3.1. Types of EU Legislation

The EU can produce several kinds of legislation. The AIA is the strongest form, a regulation.

  • Regulations are binding, and directly applicable in all member states.
  • Directives outline binding outcomes, but do not specify how outcomes should be achieved. Member states are required to devise their own laws on how to achieve these outcomes.
  • Decisions are binding and may address specific EU countries or companies.
  • Recommendations and Opinions are non-binding.

3.2. New Legislative Framework – Tools for Enforcing Product Legislation

The “New Legislative Framework” (NLF), adopted in 2008, outlines the general structure that pieces of EU product legislation follow, and the tools new legislation has at its disposal.[3] It provides a large amount of boilerplate which can then be taken by new legislation and adapted. The AIA is built around this framework.

3.2.1. Essential Requirements

One of the key outcomes of EU product legislation like the AIA is a set of “essential requirements” products must meet. Once they meet these requirements, companies can access the entirety of the EU market – a large, relatively wealthy population, which serves as a tempting incentive. Essential requirements can cover anything the EU decides should be required of the product or its producer.

They intentionally avoid technical detail, instead being only specific enough to create legally binding obligations.[4] Manufacturers can then attempt to fulfil these obligations their own way, or they can use the relevant “harmonised standards.”

3.2.2. Harmonised Standards

Technical standards, produced as described in the “Standard-Setting Process” section, help make essential requirements more concrete. Once a piece of legislation is passed, technical standards are designed to address particular essential requirements. Adherence to those standards is enough to establish compliance with the relevant essential requirements as these standards carry a presumption of conformity.”[5] Such standards are published in the Official Journal of the European Union, after which they are called harmonised standards.”

For example, the AIA requires the adoption of suitable risk management measures.” What counts as suitable” is left ambiguous, and harmonised standards would bring clarity to these sorts of requirements.

In practice, harmonised standards play a crucial role. They are the most straightforward way of adhering to the essential requirements. While manufacturers may meet the essential requirements without adhering to harmonised standards, navigating the resulting grey area is often not worth it, and they must usually show their alternative solution is at least equivalent to the standard.

In cases where harmonised standards do not exist, current AIA drafts specify the Commission may create common specifications” to compensate. These are analogous to harmonised standards, but unlike harmonised standards (developed by organisations independent of the EU), the process for developing them remains entirely in the hands of EU institutions.

3.2.3. Conformity assessments

Conformity assessments are one of the enforcement tools made available by the NLF. They must be run before a product is put on the market. If a product is found to conform to all the relevant requirements, a declaration of conformity is made, and a CE” symbol is affixed. The product can then be put on the market.

The NLF describes different processes that conformity assessments could follow,[6] and allows for any of these three groups to run the assessment:

  • The manufacturers of the product themselves. The manufacturers must of course document the assessment to prove it was run correctly. This is often the default option for lower-stakes products.
  • Conformity assessment bodies. These bodies must be accredited by “notifying authorities,” which member states must put in place. Once a conformity assessment body is accredited, it is also called a “notified body.”
  • Public authorities.

It is up to each piece of legislation to adapt the NLFs tools to its context – for example, the AIA may allow self-assessment for some high-risk applications, and require notified bodies for others.

3.2.4. Market Surveillance

Each member state is also responsible for market surveillance within their market; they must remove products which do not comply with EU legislation, or which do but have been found to be too dangerous regardless.

Legislation typically gives further details on how the relevant market surveillance authorities will operate. The AIA, for example, outlines what kinds of data the market surveillance authorities should have access to (documentation, datasets, source code, etc.) and under what conditions. It also outlines how the authorities should coordinate with the Commission, notified bodies, or authorities in other countries.

3.2.5. Liability

Providers of AI systems, like anyone bringing a product to the EU market, are also liable for damages caused by their defective products. While liability is not explicitly covered by the AIA, non-compliance with EU regulation makes it easier to bring a case against an organisation. The proposals for a revision of the Product Liability Directive, and for the new AI Liability Directive make this even clearer.

4. AI Act – Annotated Table of Contents

While the AI Act is still in draft form, its structure should be largely unchanged. This table of contents highlights in green how the AIA is a product of the NLF. This is based on the common position published by the Council on the 25th of November 2022, available here.

    • Title I – “General Provisions”
      • Scope, Definitions, and Implementing acts to update the definition of AI
    • Title Ia – “General Purpose AI Systems”
      • How general purpose AI systems should be handled
    • Title II – “Prohibited Artificial Intelligence Practices”
      • Practices prohibited by the AI Act
    • Title III – “High-Risk AI Systems”
      • Chapter 1 – “Classification of AI Systems as High-Risk”
        • What systems should be considered high-risk, Delegated acts allowing for additions or removals
      • Chapter 2 – “Requirements for High-Risk AI Systems”
        • Outlines the essential requirements AI systems need to meet
        • Includes a risk management system, and instructions on data governance, documentation, monitoring, human oversight, etc.
      • Chapter 3 – “Obligations of Providers and Users of High-Risk AI Systems and Other Parties”
        • A summary, with references to other relevant parts of the text, of the obligations of those providing and using the AI system, including special obligations for importers and distributors.”
      • Chapter 4 – “Notifying Authorities and Notified Bodies”
        • Outlines how notifying authorities and notified bodies should operate
      • Chapter 5 – “Standards, Conformity Assessment, Certificates, Registration”
        • Harmonised standards carry a presumption of conformity
        • How common specifications can be developed
        • Which types of conformity assessments are required in each circumstance
        • Responsibilities of notified authorities in a conformity assessment
        • Database of high-risk systems
    • Title IV – “Transparency Obligations for Providers and Users of Certain AI Systems”
      • Consumers should be told when they are interacting with AI systems (not only high-risk ones) or generated content.
    • Title V – “Measures in Support of Innovation”
      • Regulatory sandboxes, run by notifying authorities and market surveillance authorities
        • Testing high-risk AI systems in real world conditions, and implementing acts to provide further details on the process
        • Support and exemptions for smaller businesses
    • Title VI – “Governance”
      • Chapter 1 – “European Artificial Intelligence Board”
        • A board of AI experts is to be established, their governance mechanisms and responsibilities outlined
      • Chapter 2 – “National Competent Authorities”
        • Requires the creation of a market surveillance authority and notifying authority
    • Title VII – “EU Database for High-Risk AI System Listed in Annex III”
      • The creation and governance of a database for high-risk systems
      • Chapter 1 – “Post-Market Monitoring”
        • How monitoring a system once it is on the market should work
      • Chapter 2 – “Sharing of Information on Serious Incidents”
        • Requires incidents which constitute a breach of obligation to be reported to market surveillance authorities
      • Chapter 3 – “Enforcement”
        • Outlines how market surveillance authorities should operate
        • Procedures for more general human rights and safety enforcement
        • Explains what constitutes non-compliance, or risk despite compliance
    • Title VIII – “Post-Market Monitoring, Information Sharing, Market Surveillance”
    • Title IX – “Codes of Conduct”
      • Encourages the creation of voluntary codes of conduct for AI system providers
    • Title X – “Confidentiality and Penalties”
      • Outlines how and what information can be shared by various actors
      • Explains penalties market surveillance authorities can impose
    • Title XI – “Delegation of Power and Committee Procedure”
      • Explains oversight for delegated acts
    • Title XII – “Final Provisions”
      • Amendments to other legislation required for coherence
      • How often aspects of the act need to be revisited
      • How the act will come into force

    [1] Note that this is separate from the European Council (composed the EU member states’ heads of state), and from the Council of Europe (an international organisation entirely separate to the EU).

    [2] According to the European Parliament, 89% of acts passed between 2014 and 2019 were adopted in the “first reading”. Source here.

    [3] Regulation EC No 765/2008 (here), Decision No 768/2008/EC (here), and Regulation EU 2019/1020 (here) outline how market surveillance functions, how conformity assessments should be run, and how independent conformity assessment bodies become accredited. Decision No 768/2008/EC contains much of the boilerplate the AIA is built on.

    [4] Points (8) and (11) in the preamble, and Article 3 of Decision No 768/2008/EC (here).

    [5] Article R8 of Decision No 768/2008/EC (here).

    [6] Annex II of Decision No 768/2008/EC (here).