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European Union Basics (FAQ), Part5/8

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                               EU Basics FAQ: Councils representing governments
What is 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.;
   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
   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
       +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
       (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.
   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)
   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]

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