[Comp.Sci.Dept, Utrecht] Note from archiver<at>cs.uu.nl: This page is part of a big collection of Usenet postings, archived here for your convenience. For matters concerning the content of this page, please contact its author(s); use the source, if all else fails. For matters concerning the archive as a whole, please refer to the archive description or contact the archiver.

Subject: European Union Basics (FAQ), Part5/8

This article was archived around: 22 May 2006 04:35:55 GMT

All FAQs in Directory: european-union/basics
All FAQs posted in: talk.politics.european-union, eunet.politics, alt.politics.ec
Source: Usenet Version


Archive-name: european-union/basics/part5 Posting-Frequency: once every three weeks URL: http://eubasics.allmansland.com/councils.html
+ NB READERS OF THIS TEXT VERSION: + The original and most recent version of this file is always available + on the world-wide web. If you have Web access, please consider viewing + it there at the URL mentioned above. EU Basics FAQ: Councils representing governments [councilsrepresenting...] What is the Council of Ministers? COMPOSITION OF THE COUNCIL OF MINISTERS The Council of Ministers (or simply Council) represents the member state governments. The Council is composed of member state ministers: depending on the matter under discussion, either the ones responsible for specific policy areas (environment, transport, treasury) or the foreign ministers for general affairs. The Council decides unanimously on major policy decisions as laid down in the treaty provisions, and in principle decides with a qualified majority on other matters, and for some matters (research, structural funds) on the decisions about provisions to implement the decisions taken in unanimity. For this purpose, each member state's votes are weighted (less-than-proportionally to the number of inhabitants) and cast in a block: 10 votes each for France, Germany, Italy, the UK; 8 votes for Spain; 5 votes each for Belgium, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal; 4 votes each for Austria and Sweden; 3 votes each for Denmark, Finland and the Republic of Ireland; 2 votes for Luxembourg. A qualified majority decision is valid if 62 out of 87 votes are in favour of it (in other words: more than a 70% majority vote is required). In some cases the majority in favour must also include at least ten countries. Note: In April 1994, the UK tried to oppose an extension of the 70% rule to the prospective EU of 16 member states, arguing that the blocking minority should remain on 23 votes (out of 90) to retain a powerful blocking mechanism for minority states. Britain's arguments were not accepted, but it was agreed that a blocking minority of 23-26 votes would cause a proposal to be reconsidered and delayed for some time. As Norway has rejected membership, an extension of this agreement to the EU of fifteen means essentially the same, except for the fact that a blocking minority of 26 is now already enough to have the proposal rejected outright. As Andrew MacMullen[1] notes, +This should not be confused [but often was, especially in the Brit ish press, RS] with the so-called national veto arising out of the 19 65 French inspired crisis and boycott and the ambiguous Luxembourg ac cords of 1966. This has allowed countries to claim the right to a vet o where they consider their vital national interests are involved. Th ere is no clear definition of what this involves since it is simply a flexible political instrument . A classic instance was the German go vernment invocation in 1985 to block a 1% cut in cereal prices which German farmers found objectionable.; And Nick Bernard[2] wrote in eunet.politics: +There are in fact two different issues: the question of the so-cal led veto properly speaking, which is a reference to the Luxembourg ac cords of 1966 (and the UK understanding thereof) and the issue of the weighting of votes in Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) with enlargeme nt of the EU. In the UK, politicians (on all sides) did little to cle ar this ambiguity.; COUNCIL DECISIONS AND SECRECY The Council always meets behind closed doors; only the outcome of the decision is published afterwards. In some cases it is not even clear which Member States have supported or rejected which parts of the original Commission or European Parliament proposals. This secrecy is often thought to be one of the most undemocratic aspects of the European Union; Council members are effectively unaccountable to their national parliaments for whatever +national; position they claim to defend within Council meetings, and they can always blame other Member States (without means of verification) for Council decisions out of line with national European policies. Personally I feel that there is also a more philosophically undemocratic aspect to this secrecy: the fact that there is no publicly acknowledged opposition to Council policies. It is my view that the right to dissent publicly is a fundamental aspect of democracy, even if democracy also requires dissenters to loyally follow majority decisions until they can muster a majority for their own dissenting proposal. The secretive and often +unanimous; decision making within the Council does not acknowledge the fact that there are always different sides to a coin, and hence alienates itself (and the EU as a whole) from the European Citizen. Ole Villumsen[3] send me a very interesting contribution with regard to another aspect of Council secrecy: the secret protocols appended to decisions. +The Council passes rules that are made public, and produces protoc ols containing declarations, which are kept strictly secret. It happe ns, although seldom, that the secret protocols say the opposite of th e published rules. Examples are: The TV directive says that TV programmes can be interrupted by commercials no more frequently than once every 20 minutes. A secret Council declaration states that TV stations can easily deviate from this rule if it fits better with programme scheduling. Of course, this flexibility can only be utilized by TV stations that have received a hint about the declaration. In February 1995, the ministers of industry passed a directive on protecting the citizen against registration of personal data. The directive prescribes that member countries forbid (computerised, presumably) processing of sensitive personal information, such as ethnic origin, political or religious conviction, and information on health and sex life. At the same time, the ministers and the Commission agreed on a secret declaration stating that member countries can +pay regard to the country's juridical and sociological characteristics, for example in matters of information on genetic identity, political affiliation, physical condition, punishments, personal habits, etc.; Normally it is the job of the Commission to ensure that the rules a re followed, in practice by checking that national legislations imple ment them. When the commission knows about the secret protocols, it c an take them into account. Should an ordinary citizen bring a case to court, the court will have to judge according to the published rules only.; (Source: Danish newspaper Information, Saturday, May 20, 1995) In a separate message, Ole also noted that there is some progress to reducing secrecy: +The good news is that the Council of foreign affairs ministers on their Monday meeting [...] May 29 decided that they will no more use the option of keeping their voting secret. Whether the decision has e ffect for the Council when other kinds of ministers meet, was not cle ar from my newspaper (Information, May 30 1995). Richard Corbett[4] finds this section somewhat exaggerated: No +protocols; - which are legally binding texts - are adopted in s ecret. What is secret is declarations attached to the Council minutes whereby individual States, the Commission or the Council collectivel y make a statement as to how they interpret a legal text. This is indeed a problem, but the European Court has ruled - and Co uncil itself accepts - that the legal text actually adopted (and publ ished therefore in the Official Journal) is the only one with binding legal effect. Council has now agreed to limit the use of such declar ations and, where they are made, will normally publish them. However, it has not abolished entirely the possibility of making declarations and keeping them secret. As regards voting in Council, the Council does now publish the resu lts of all such votes. However, it retains the right to decide not to publish them, even if it has not recently used this right. What is the European Council? The European Council was formally established in 1974, building on the practice of holding Summits of EC Heads of Government, but its existence was only legally recognized in the Single European Act of 1987. The European Council is a special meeting of the Council of Ministers, in which the representatives of the Member States are the political heads of government themselves (13 PMs and the Presidents of France and Finland, plus their PMs if in a situation of +cohabitation;). The Foreign Ministers and three members of the Commission, including its President, also participate. The European Council should not be confused with the Council of Europe,[5] which is a totally separate international organisation independent of the EU. WHO ARE THE CURRENT MEMBERS OF THE EUROPEAN COUNCIL? Whether a Member State is represented by a Prime Minister or by a President is dependent on the constitution of the Member State in question. In twelve of the fifteen Member States the Head of State (President or Monarch) has a largely ceremonial function, hence the Prime Minister is the political head of government and the representative to the European Council. The Finnish and French Presidents are Head of State as well as political head of government, so they go to the European Council themselves (although France has sent both the President and the Prime Minister in times of +cohabitation;). Stefan Lintl[6] reports that Austria is unresolved whether to send the Chancellor or the President, as they seem to have conflicting powers in this matter. In response to some people requesting it, I have tried to compose a listing of the current members of the European Council. As prime minister or president, each member is of course also a very senior member of a political party, the affiliation of which in the European Parliament is put between brackets after their name. As I have compiled it by heart the list is not at all complete yet, but I am counting on the readers of this list to send in[7] all missing information. AT Mr Franz Vranitzky, Federal Chancellor (PES) BE Mr Jean-Luc Dehaene, Federal Prime Minister (EPP) DE Mr Helmut Kohl, Federal Chancellor (EPP) DK Mr Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, Prime Minister (PES) ES Mr Josi Aznar, Prime Minister (EPP) FI Mr Martti Ahtisaari, President (XXXXX) FR Mr Jacques Chirac, President (UE) GR Mr XXXXX, Prime Minister (PES) IE Mr John Bruton, Taoiseach (EPP) IT Mr Romano Prodi, Prime Minister (leaning towards PES) LU Mr XXXXX, Prime Minister (EPP) NL Mr Wim Kok, Prime Minister (PES) PT Mr Antonio Guterres, Prime Minister (PES) SE Mr Gvran Persson, Prime Minister (PES) UK Mr John Major, Prime Minister (EPP) WHAT ARE THE POWERS/ACTIVITIES OF THE EUROPEAN COUNCIL? The European Council convenes twice a year, in the last month of each member state's presidency of the Council.[8] In addition to some powers of its own (mainly institutional ones), in theory it has all the legal powers of the Council of Ministers. However, it does not normally operate in this mode. The heads of government prefer to meet relatively informally, without being tied to a bureaucratic agenda, but with plenty of photo-opportunities and press conferences. Its meetings and statements are often very important in providing political impetus or laying down guidelines in areas of prime importance to the EU, but it leaves the day-to-day legislative work to the ordinary Council meetings. The European Council also has the main responsibility for the Common Foreign and Security Policy. In addition, Emile Noel[9] notes that: +Unlike the Council of Ministers, the European Council convenes in the absence of experts, senior civil servants or other supporting sta ff (except interpreters). This plays a major part in its political ef fectiveness [and puts a great burden on personal skills of the politi cians present], but may often cause problems with subsequent implemen tation of its decisions.; Who is the President of the (European) Council? Both the Council of Ministers and the European Council have a rotating presidency, with each member state being chair of both for six months only. These are the presidencies of the latest and following years: 1991 Luxembourg, the Netherlands 1992 Portugal, United Kingdom 1993 Denmark, Belgium 1994 Greece, Germany 1995 France, Spain 1996 Italy, Ireland 1997 Netherlands, Luxembourg 1998 United Kingdom, Austria 1999 Germany, Finland 2000 Portugal, France 2001 Sweden, Belgium 2002 Spain, Denmark ___________________________________ Edited by Roland Siebelink & Bart Schelfhout[10] corrections and suggestions welcome. [Go to Table of Contents][11] *** References from this document *** [1] http://eubasics.allmansland.com/about.html#contr [2] http://eubasics.allmansland.com/about.html#contr [3] http://eubasics.allmansland.com/about.html#contr [4] http://eubasics.allmansland.com/about.html#contr [5] http://eubasics.allmansland.com/related.html#coe [6] http://eubasics.allmansland.com/about.html#contr [7] mailto:eubasics@allmansland.com [8] http://eubasics.allmansland.com/councils.html#councilpres [9] http://eubasics.allmansland.com/about.html#emile-noel [10] mailto:eubasics@allmansland.com [11] http://eubasics.allmansland.com/index.html