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    EU Law: The Council of Ministers and the European Essay

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    Council are the mostpowerful of the main institutions. Discuss. The different functions and responsibilities of each of theinstitutions makes it is almost impossible to single out themost powerful.

    Power, meaning by definition authority andcontrol. The Commission “the guardian of treaties”, TheEuropean Parliament “the voice of democracy”, The Court ofJustice, in theory, “the servant of community law”, and TheCouncil “the decision maker”, all play a vital role in theperformance of the European Community . None of theinstitutions works in isolation, but combine together toachieve the aims and objectives of the Community. Their levelof power is determined not only by the role of the institutionsthemselves but also the decision making process. Therefore inorder to evaluate the levels of power it is necessary toexamine each of the five main institutions and then to brieflyestablish their capacities within each decision making process.

    Described as being “a hydra-headed conglomerate of a dozen or morefunctional councils” (Pinder p25), The Council Of Ministers comprises 40different councils of national civil servants. Backed by a governmentaldepartment, most ministers realise that they have a responsibility to tryto reach agreements that will be of some benefit to the Community as awhole, although the national governments are able to exert an influenceover Community legislation. A Committee of Permanent Representatives(COREPER) which is charged with the background work and The Council OfMinisters is in permanent session. The Council meets in Brussels andLuxembourg, however the presidency which is described as a country’sopportunity to “show it’s commitment to Europe” (Noel p24) rotates everysix months and during this time meetings are held in whichever countryholds presidency. Combining legislative, executive and diplomatic roles, it’sfunction is fundamentally to examine Commission proposals, ensuring thatthere is a common understanding and then establish whether the proposal canbe accepted.

    It is The Council Of Ministers’ job to try to co-ordinate thepolicies of the Member States in areas where the Community’s method isstill co-operation and not integration, for example areas such asmacroeconomic policy and foreign policy. Despite being the main decisionmaking body it can only deal with proposals coming from the Commission, mayonly amend them by unanimity and has no power of legislation without theCommission’s approval. Decisions are taken by the ministers and, once adecision is adopted, recommendations are usually put to the Member Statesalthough they do not carry legal force. However, the less importantdecisions may be adopted without debate, as long as the permanentrepresentatives and commission representatives are unanimous. Also assisted by COREPER and a General Secretariat and consistingof heads of state or government, the president of the EEC Commission,foreign affairs ministers and members of the Commission.

    The EuropeanCouncil is an extension of the Council Of Ministers to the levels of headsof government or state. Although there was no provision for a EuropeanCouncil in the Treaty Of Rome, it was agreed in 1974 to establish one, thefirst meeting being in Dublin, 1st March 1975. Since then it is the onlyinstitution to have gained full competence in the Single European Act,giving legal recognition to it’s existence. In 1986 it was also agreed in1986 to restrict meetings to twice a year (having previously been threetimes a year), with a view to limiting the intervention of The EuropeanCouncil in the general running of the Community. Linked with the growing authority of the heads of state orgovernment in most member states, the importance of the European Council issteadily increasing.

    Despite having no legislative powers the EuropeanCouncil is vital in resolving log-jams, pushing the Community forwards andit sets an agenda for Community objectives. The decisions made havesignificant implications on the Community and although the methods forlaying the guidelines lead to difficulties regarding the implementation,they are decidedly effective. The Commission, incorporates one commissioner from each of thesmaller member states plus two from France, Germany, Italy and the U. K. Seventeen commissioners and their “cabinet’s” of either four or five peopleare responsible for their individual specialised areas.

    The Commission isheaded by a president (Jacques Delors) and six vice presidents, allnominated by the member states and serving a period of office of 4 years (5 years as from 1995, to bring it in line with The European Parliament). Although commissioners are usually former ministers or high officials ofthe member states they are bound by oath not to take instructions fromgovernments, but from the Treaty Of Rome, giving priority to Communityinterests. The so called “Guardian of Treaties”, it is the sole initiator oflegislation and ensures the implementation of it’s proposals. It plays anessential role in the process of community legislation and has beendescribed as “the motor of the community, pulling the council along behindit” (Pinder p22).

    With a function to execute policies decided undercommunity law, represent the Community in negotiations (for exampleinternational trade), bring infringements to the attention of thoseresponsible, and if necessary take them to court, it works in tandem withthe Council to provide a motive power for the Community. The five hundred and eighteen members of The European Parliament(MEP’s), selected by the citizens of Europe, hold a 5 year period ofoffice. They are supported by about 2500 staff as well as organisationsincluding The Economic and Social Committee (ECOSOC) and various consumergroups. The MEP’s meet eleven times a year in Strasbourg as a wholeparliament but meetings are held throughout the year in Brussels by theeighteen committees within the Parliament. The predominant role is one of consultation although significantpowers exist regarding assent to the entry of new member states into theCommunity. However, influence regarding the adoption of a budgetary policyis questionable.

    Admittedly there is a right to adopt or reject the budgetas a whole, but in the case of rejection the Community turns to a system oftwelfths. Given inflation this results in a cut in real expenditure, whichis not in line with the European Parliaments wishes. At the present time ithas no powers of legislation, although there is an opportunity to amendlegislation but The Council Of Ministers does have the final say. Asurprising power is the right (by a two thirds majority) to dismiss theCommission. If this were to happen, the Commission would neverthelessremain until a new one was appointed by unanimous vote among the Council. However, as the Commission is regarded as an ally this power of dismissalhas never been exercised.

    The Court Of Justice is based in Luxembourg and holds a 6 yearperiod of office. It consists of thirteen nominated judges “The judges haveto be chosen from persons whose independence is beyond doubt” (Article 167EC). One judge is nominated from each member state as well as an additionalone to avoid tied judgements. The president who is selected by the judgesthemselves is assisted by six Advocates General who analyse arguments andgive opinions despite the fact that their opinion is not binding. Supported by The Court Of First Instance it’s role is to, “ensurethat in the interpretation and application of this Treaty the law isobserved” (Pinder p31).

    The Court Of Justice is to uphold justice andcommunity law. Considered, in theory, to be “the most powerful” as it hasthe final say, there is actually very little input either in the process ofinitiating or implementing proposals. The decision making processes have great effect on eachinstitution’s varied levels of power. The Consultation Procedure involves aproposal which once adopted is sent to The European Parliament who mustthen issue an opinion.

    The Council has the responsibility of making a finaldecision, but there is no obligation to consider the opinion of TheEuropean Parliament. This was seen as undemocratic because of theParliament’s lack of influence and timely because of the fact that timelimits didn’t exist. The Co-operation Procedure was introduced in 1987under the Single European Act but only applies to the internal market. Therefore other areas of legislation still require proposals to go throughThe Consultation Procedure. The Co-operation Procedure involves The Commission taking a view onThe European Parliament’s opinion.

    After this The Council adopts a ‘commonposition’ whereby every one agrees by qualified majority. It is then TheParliament’s responsibility to either approve or take no action in whichcase The Council either adopts the act, rejects it by an absolute majority,although The Council may still adopt the proposal within three months, oramend by absolute majority. If this takes place, within one month TheCommission must review the parliament’s amendments within one month andthen may revise them. Finally The Council is given the option of eitheradopting or amending Commission proposals, adopting the amendments that theCommission would not accept or fail to act. Under The Maastricht Treaty there exists The ConciliationProcedure, which although not in action yet would have a more extensiverange of areas to cover. Comparable to The Co-operation Procedure, exceptThe European Parliament has the option of approving, taking no action,proposing amendments or rejecting the proposal.

    In the event of a rejectionThe European Parliament is obliged to inform The Council of it’sintentions. The Council then has three months to act on the amendments, inwhich time it may adopt all aims, adopt the amendments proposed by TheEuropean Parliament by unanimity or fail to act. This procedure gives TheEuropean Parliament a significant role if The Council fails to act. If newlegislation is not created within six weeks The Council readopts a commonposition.

    However, if it is rejected by absolute majority voting within TheEuropean Parliament the proposal lapses. By means of a process of elimination “the most powerfulinstitutions” may be narrowed down. The Court Of Justice despite having thefinal say, therefore having authority over all of the other institutionsdoes not enter the process of establishing policies, consequentlydemonstrating that it’s role is to survey the implementation and onlyintervene to ensure that the community law is observed. The EuropeanParliament has a consultative role and despite increasing importance, it’sdecisions can be overruled too simply by The Council and The Commission. Both vital to the Community and both having considerable amounts of power.

    The competition is between The Council and The Commission. Despite TheCouncils power to make decisions, all proposals originate from TheCommission and may only be altered by unanimity, whereas The Commissioncreates proposals and ensures that they are implemented. In conclusion, an understanding that the institutions work inunison instead of isolation to gain full-effect is imperative. However, ifthe definition of power is taken to be control and authority, then it isneither The Council Of Ministers nor the European Council which is the mostpowerful of the five main institutions, but by having the monopoly of thepower to propose as well as to implement it is undoubtedly The Commission.

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