Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The EU Institutions 2- The European Council

2- The European Council

The Draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe distinguishes the European Council from the Council of Ministers. Previous treaties did not draw such a distinction.

The European Council was established in a summit in Paris in 1974. The first meeting was held in Dublin between March 10 and 11, 1975. It consists of the Heads of State or government of Member States of the European Union, the foreign ministers and the President of the Commission. Its General Secretariat assists the Council. The Secretary General acts as High Representative for the common foreign and security policy.

The European Council should not be confused with the Council of Europe, which is not an EU body, but an international organization whose goal is the protection of human rights and democracy as well as the development of European cultural identity and diversity, nor with the Council of the European Union, which is made up of Ministers representing the Member States of the European Union, which shares legislative power jointly with the European Parliament.

Since its inception, the European Council developed a major important role in the decision making process of the European Union, although the description of its role in Article 4 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) which was signed at Maastricht on June 7,1992 and became effective on November 1st, 1993, does not correspond to what it has been doing for many years.

It meets as least twice a year, each Member State holds the chair for six months, and its major role is to “give impetus” to the needs of the European Union in order to develop further and define general policy guidelines. Throughout the last thirty years, the European Council had played a major role in the areas of agriculture, commercial policy, competition, and free movement of goods, persons, services and capital. Its authority had extended to include international agreements. It also functions in the budgetary process in conjunction with the Parliament and the Commission.

A qualified majority is required to pass a resolution at the European Council. When the number of Member States in the European United was 15, the qualified majority required 62 votes out of 87 (71%). Votes were weighted in proportion to the size of population

Qualified majority voting requires all Member State’s votes be cast as one bloc. In May 1st, 2004, ten more countries joined the Union, these are: Cyprus (Greek part), the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia, bringing the total Member States of the European Union to twenty five. Accordingly,
Beginning on January 1st, 2004 until October 2009, the qualified majority will be reached if the following conditions are met:

1- If a majority of Member States approve a bill, in some cases a two-third majority is required;
2- A minimum of 232 votes is cast in favor of the proposal, i.e. 72.3%.

The distribution of votes per each Member States is as following:

Belgium 12
Czech Republic 12
Denmark 7
Germany 29
Estonia 4
Greece 12
Spain 27
France 29
Ireland 7
Italy 29
Cyprus 4
Latvia 4
Lithuania 7
Luxemburg 4
Hungary 12
Malta 3
Netherlands 13
Austria 10
Poland 27
Portugal 12
Slovenia 4
Slovakia 7
Finland 7
Sweden 10
United Kingdom 29

There shall be a minimum of 232 votes in favor of an act, representing a majority of Member States when acting on proposal from the Commission. In other cases, there shall be at least 232 votes in favor, representing at a minimum of two-thirds of Member States.

Public access to the records of the European Council is allowed. The Treaty of Amsterdam, signed on October 2nd, 1997 and entered into effect on July 1, 1999 has laid down the principles governing access to documents. This means, the results and explanations of votes and statements entered in the minutes are available to the general public.

Gabriel Sawma

Copyright 2005, Gabriel Sawma. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

No comments: