Commission, European Commission
Council, European Council
Council of Ministers
Economic and Social Committee
The Pillar Structure
Qualified Majority Voting
Simple Majority Voting
Treaty Establishing the European Community
Treaty on European Union, Maastricht Treaty
Western European Union
Co-decision Procedure Back to Top
There are four decision-making procedures. This one allows the European Parliament the most influence in amending legislation. It is complex, but incorporates more opportunity for amendment and the possibility for the EP to reject legislation, which makes for a much stronger bargaining position.
Co-decision was introduced under the Maastricht Treaty. It is based on article 189b of the TEC.
Commission, European Commission Back to Top
The Commission is the executive body of the EU. It has the right of initiative and is the "guardian of the Treaties".
The Commission is staffed by over 12,000 civil servants allocated between the 24 Directorates-General, or General Services like the translation department which is the largest of its kind in the world.
It is the Commissionıs duty to draft proposals for submission to the Council and the Parliament. The Commission adopts the draft proposals on a collegiate basis, which means that the proposals are endorsed by all its 20 members to become a "Commission proposal to the Council" or "to the Council and Parliament".
Members of the Commission, or Commissioners Back to Top
The Commission is led by 20 Members or Commissioners. France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom have two Commissioners each. All the other member states have one.
The Members and the President of the Commission are appointed by the council for a five-year term of office. Commissioners may be reappointed, as can the serving president, for subsequent terms of office or receive new responsibilities.
The Commissioners are obliged to be completely independent of their national government and act only in the interest of the European Union. Each has special responsibility for one or more policy areas, but decision are taken on the basis of collective responsibility. they are assisted by a "cabinet" of advisers, mostly of the same nationality as the Commissioner. The "chefs de cabinet" prepare the weekly meetings of the Commission.
Communities, three communities Back to Top
The three communities, are the European Union, the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Atomic Energy Community. The original EEC, ECSC and Euratom treaties are known as the Treaties of Rome and were signed on 25 March 1957.
Council, European Council, Secretary General of the Council Back to Top
Every six months, the European heads of government or state meet. The meeting is called the European Council and is named after the city in which the meeting takes place. In December 1995, the Heads of state or Government met in Madrid - hence the Madrid European Council. In December 1996, the heads of state met in Dublin - hence the Dublin European Council.
Council of Ministers/Council Back to Top
Ministers with the same portfolio from each member state meet to pass European laws and the progress legislation. The meetings take place on a regular basis varying from once a month to once every year depending on how much business they have to discuss. This meeting is called the Council of Ministers.
Decision-making procedures Back to Top
There are four procedures by which legislation is initiated, amended and adopted by the Community. The four procedures show a slight variation in the balance of power between the Council of Ministers (Council) and the European Parliament (EP).
In all of them the Commission makes the initial proposal and the Council makes the final decision. The European Parliament has different degrees of influence over amendment in the different procedures. The Economic and Social Committee has the right of consultation in most of them. The procedures are:
Democratic deficit Back to Top
When decisions are taken in the Council of Ministers by a simple majority or by qualified majority, the decision can effectively be taken by less than 50% of the EU population. If the number of people who supported the political parties represented were factored into the equation, it could be an even smaller proportion. The fact that decisions can be taken by the representatives of a minority of the EU population is known as a democratic deficit.
Economic and Social Committee Back to Top
Like the initial role of the European Parliament, the ESC is a consultative body. Its role is to represent economic and social interests and the Counsellors are drawn from employers' organisations, trade unions and also from other interest groups.
The opinion of the ESC must be sought for all legislative proposals, although the Council of Ministers is under no obligation to take the ESCıs advice. This accounts for much of the activity of the Committee. However, it also has been developing its role and over the past years has attempted to broaden its consultation base. To this end the ESC has held many influential public consultation exercises where all interested parties have been able to attend and participate.
European Parliament Back to Top
The European Parliament has 626 members who are elected for terms of office of five years. Members are organised by Political Group and during Plenary Session sit in blocks according to the group to which they belong. The legislative work of the Parliament is through its 20 committees and 3 sub-committees.
Other work is also done through its Joint Assembly Delegations, Inter-Parliamentary delegations and the unofficial inter-political groups on specific subjects. Reports prepared by committees are then debated and voted on by the whole parliament sitting in plenary session.
The Parliament meets for committee and political group meetings for three weeks of the month in Brussels. For one week of the month it meets in Strasbourg for plenary sessions. Mini-plenary sessions of two days are occasionally held in Brussels.
Europol Back to Top
The Europol Drugs Unit started operation in January 1994. Its five-fold task involves the exchange and analysis of information and intelligence in relation to illicit drugs trafficking, illicit trafficking in radioactive and nuclear substances, crimes involving clandestine immigration networks, illicit vehicle trafficking and trafficking in human beings together with the criminal organisations involved and any associated money laundering. It is supervised by the Council of Justice and Interior Ministers.
Its successor, Europol is to be established in the Hague on the basis of a Europol Convention which was signed in Brussels in July 1995, but has yet to be ratified.
Institutions Back to Top
Various bodies are involved in the EU decision making process. They are known as the institutions. The institutions are:
Maastricht treaty, Treaty on European Union Back to Top
This treaty was agreed at Maastricht in December 1991, signed in February 1992 and came into force in November 1993. It updates the EEC, ECSC and Euratom treaties in the light of future enlargement to the Scandinavian countries and Austria and sets a firm timetable for economic and monetary union, as well as introducing the Social Protocol or Social Chapter.
Member States Back to Top
There are currently fifteen member states. They are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the UK.
Pillars, the three pillars, pillar structure Back to Top
A new structure and institutional framework was introduced for the European Union as a result of the Maastricht Treaty. The Treaty brought together the three communities into one Union which is built on three pillars.
The first pillar, the Community pillar, is rooted in the Treaties of Paris and Rome as modified by the Single European Act. The Member States and the Community institutions together ensure that this pillar functions, and its scope has been extended. Areas in the first pillar can be legislated on by the institutions. It is the only supra-national element of the Union.
The second pillar consists of the common foreign and security activities of the European Union. Its provisions are laid down in a framework of mainly intergovernmental co-operation, with the Commission associated and the European Parliament consulted.
Justice and Home affairs constitutes the third pillar. It also operates by intergovernmental co-operation. The European Institutions have no real decision making powers in the third pillar.
Presidency Back to Top
The presidency of the Council of Ministers rotates every six months. The country holding the presidency sets the agenda for Council meetings and summits during its six-month stint.
The Netherlands currently holds the presidency. Luxembourg will hold it in the second half of 1997, from 1 July; the UK from 1 January 1998; Austria from 1 July 1998; Germany from 1 January 1999; Finland from 1 July 1999; Portugal from 1 January 2000; France from 1 July 2000; Sweden from 1 January 2001; Belgium from 1 July 2001; Spain from 1 January 2002; Denmark from 1 July 2002 and Greece from 1 January 2003.
Qualified Majority Voting Back to Top
Qualified Majority Voting is a form of voting in the Council of Ministers which is used for certain provisions of the treaties. For a piece of legislation to be adopted by qualified majority voting it needs a minimum of 62 out of 87 votes. Different member states have different numbers of votes:
- Germany, France, Italy and the UK have 10 votes each
- Spain has 8 votes
- Belgium, Greece, the Netherlands and Portugal have 5 votes each
- Austria and Sweden have four votes each
- Denmark, Finland and Ireland have 3 votes each
- Luxembourg has 2 votes
The Single European Act replaced unanimity with qualified majority voting in the following areas:
- alterations to the common customs tariff (article 28)
- freedom to provide services (article 59, second paragraph)
- the free movement of capital (article 70 (1))
- the common policy on sea and air transport (article 84(2))
The Single European Act also placed the following new provisions under qualified majority voting:
- the internal market (articles 8a, 8b, 100a, 100b)
- social policy (article 118a)
- economic and social cohesion (article 130e)
- research and technological development (article 130q (2))
- the environment (subject to a prior decision, Article 130s)
Schengen Agreement Back to Top
This accord was signed in 1985 by 13 of the 15 EU governments and provides for the eventual abolition of border controls. It is likely to be incorporated into the new treaty. Despite occasional hitches, free movement exists between Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Spain and Portugal.
Austria, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Italy and Sweden have signed Schengen, but not implemented it fully. Ireland and the UK have not signed it and do not want to.
Simple Majority Voting Back to Top
Majority voting in the council of ministers occurs on a large number of uncontroversial issues. Under this system each member state has one vote and a simple majority is 8 of the 15 member states.
Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty Back to Top
Treaty Establishing the European Community Back to Top
This is an updated version of the original European Economic Community Treaty. It was renamed under the Treaty on European Union.
Treaty on European Union, Maastricht Treaty
Western European Union or WEU Back to Top
The Intergovernmental Conference will integrate the work of the WEU with the EU more closely. How that will occur will only become clear after the Amsterdam Summit.
The Western European Union originated as the Brussels Treaty Organisation. This was established under the Treaty of Brussels, signed in 1948 by Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the UK to provide collective self defence and economic, cultural and social collaboration amongst its signatories.
With the collapse of the European Defence Community and the decision of NATO to incorporate the Federal Republic of Germany into the Western security system, the BTO was modified to become WEU in 1954 with the admission of West Germany and Italy.
Owing to the overlap with NATO and the Council of Europe, the Union became largely defunct. From the late 1970s onwards, efforts were made to add a security dimension to the ECıs European Political Co-operation. Opposition to these efforts from Denmark, Greece and Ireland led the remaining EC countries - all WEU members - to reactivate the Union in 1984.
Members committed themselves to harmonising views on defence and security and developing a European security identity, while bearing in mind the importance of transatlantic relations. Portugal and Spain joined WEU in 1990, and Greece became a full member in 1995.
After much debate about the future of WEU, the EC Maastricht Treaty designated WEU as the future defence component of the EU and is the beginning of a process of strengthening the European pillar in NATO.
WEU foreign ministers agreed in the Petersberg Declaration 1992 to assign forces to WEU. On 20 November 1992, WEUıs role was enhanced when WEU ministers signed a declaration with remaining European NATO members to give them associate membership. Ireland and Denmark, Austria, Finland and Sweden are observer members. On 9 May 1994, WEU reached agreements with nine eastern European states, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, under which they all became associate partners. On 25 June 1996, Slovenia became the tenth Associate Partner of WEU.
WEU acts in accordance with positions adopted within the Atlantic Alliance, and relations between WEU and NATO are developing on the basis of transparency and complementarity. WEU foreign ministers stated in the Luxembourg declaration (November 1993) that WEU is ready to participate in the future work of the NATO as its European pillar, and to co-operate to prevent the duplication of WEU and NATO actions.
Building on vast experience of joint actions in the Gulf War, WEU and NATO operate a naval patrol force in the Adriatic Sea and an embargo enforcement mission on the River Danube as part of the European peace initiatives in the former Yugoslavia. In this context WEU provides a police force in Mostar, Bosnia, whilst the EU is looking after the administration of that town.
The formation of a 'Eurocorps' based on the Franco-German brigade as a force "answerable to" WEU was announced in May 1992. The "Eurocorps" was inaugurated in Strasbourg in November 1993 and will be fully operational by October 1995 with a strength of 40,000 to 50,000 comprising French, German, Belgian, Luxembourg and Spanish forces.
A Council of Ministers (foreign and defence) meets biannually. A Permanent Council of Permanent Representatives meets in Brussels twice weekly. The Permanent Council is chaired by the Secretary-General and serviced by the Secretariat. The Assembly of WEU is composed of 115 parliamentarians of member states and meets twice annually in Paris, where it is based, to debate matters within the scope of the modified Brussels treaty.
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