The council of the European union as mentioned previously holds half of the responsibility within the law-making process. As with the Parliament the Council was also founded on the founding treaties. Council meetings are attended by one minister from each National Government within the European Union. The minister who attends is dependant on which subject mater is at hand, for example if it was an environmental issue then it would be the environment minister. This gathering would then be known as the environmental council, there are 9 councils altogether, there is also the general affairs and external relationships, economic and financial affairs, justice and home affairs, employment social policy, health and consumer affairs, competitiveness, transport, telecommunications and energy, agriculture and fisheries and education, youth and culture. Presidents and Prime Ministers of member states meet every 4 years, this form is known as the European Council. These meetings resolve any issues that couldn’t be done by ministers at normal council and parliamentary meetings. These meetings often generate a great deal of media attention and are often held right through to the early hours of the next morning.
The council has a variety of different responsibilities however there are 6 main roles that the council must maintain. As mentioned they pass European laws along with parliament, they also coordinate policies of the member states, conclude international agreements, approve the E.U budget, development of common foreign and security policy, and finally they need to ensure freedom, security and justice for their citizens.
Coordinating policies it is carried out by the economic and finance ministers which form the economic and financial affairs council. All the Countries of the EU have decided to have a close coordination between their national economic policies. This includes creating new jobs and improving education, health and social protection standards. Each country may have there own standards but in these meetings they try to agree on united goals and use others experience to gain these goals, this process is known as an “open method of coordination”.
The council has to conclude any international agreements between EU and non EU countries. They also have to decide apon the E.U budget this is done correspondingly with the European Parliament. All of the member states within the EU are working together to develop a common foreign and security policy. However foreign, security and defence matters remain to be independent of the EU, so natural governments hold that responsibility. It is seen as beneficial to work together as they will learn others from others tactics and errors, when the governments come together like this it is known as “intergovernmental cooperation”. A “rapid reaction force” has been created by the council so that any major issues and crises that arise they can deal with them immediately and effectively.
The final of the 6 tasks council holds is to ensure that EU citizens are free to work and live where they wish through out the EU. Freedom of movement is very beneficial to all EU citizens however it is exploited by non-law abiding citizens, such as terrorists. In order to tackle this problem the EU so that the same understanding of law is applied to all its countries, this provides the maximum support that they require. Law officials also pass on any relevant information of suspected criminals trying to move to different country, such as, drug dealers or people smugglers.
In order to make sure that one county is becoming over influenced by power the presidency of the council is rotated every 6 months. This means that every 6 months a different country will gain control over the council agenda and chairs the meetings for the next 6 months until presidency rotates again.
When making decisions in council, they follow the same routine as parliament, they all vote to indicate their opinion. The larger the population the more votes they receive for example Netherlands receive 13 votes however Malta only receives 3. In order for the legislation or motion to be passed by council it has to win the qualified majority of the votes, this is usually 72.3% of the total vote. A qualified majority is the number of votes required in the Council for a decision to be adopted. Today majority voting is applied to most decisions made by the council, it is used for a bulk of decisions even as far as legislative leaving only key sensitive issues to be decided unanimously (including tax, social policy, defence, foreign policy and treaty revision). A Qualified or weighted majority means that larger more populous states and given more voters than smaller states. How they determine who gets how many votes as a complex issue, the most recent changed the system was agreed act the nice European council in the year 2000. You Due to the nice treaty, decisions will require a triple majority as of 2005. This means that decisions will need to gain the support of a qualified majority of states, at least 62% of the EU’s state population backing it, and at support from at least half of the member state regardless of size. To pass a vote by Qualified majority the proposal must be backed by 232 out of the 321 votes, the countries supporting the proposal must make up at least 62% of the EU population.
From 2007, in the EU, it is envisaged to be 258 out of 345 votes in order for it to be passed by a qualified majority. In the a system of double majority is proposed. This means that at least 4 countries are needed to block a decision while at least 15 countries must back up a decision for it to come into force.
The commission is different from the parliament and council as it is totally independent of the national governments. The commission is thought of as the European union’s “executive arm” this means that it is responsible to ensure that policies are implemented, run the EU’s programmes and Spend its Funds. The Commission was built up upon the founding treaties the same as parliament and the council. Members of the commission are informally known as “commissioners”.
Commissioners usually have a background in politics in their country, but they are required to be independent of their countries national government and be completely committed to being commissioners and act in the best interest of the union as a whole. Commissioners are newly appointed every 5 years, this s usually 6 months after the parliamentary elections. The state governments designate a commission president, the designated president is then approved by parliament, once approved the commission presidents first duty is to choose the other members of the commission they do so along with the state governments. The designated commissioners are then individually interviewed by parliament and parliament then give feedback on the selected group, once accepted the commission can officially begin working.
The European commission fulfils 4 main roles, they propose legislation to parliament and council, they manage and implement EU policies and budget, they enforce European law along with the European Unions court of justice, and they are the international representation of the European Union. The Commission holds the responsibility of supervising the budget and ensuring good financial management. The commission also holds the right to take action if an EU country is found not to be upholding European Law. They contact parliament and confront them with the matter this is usually carried out in written documentation, and is called the “infringement procedure”. If no action is taken from this procedure then the commission has the option to present the case to the court of justice, the court can then choose to destribute penalties providing they are found guilty. The commission holds the very important role of representing the E.U internationally. Within this role they are the negotiators on behalf of the EU.
Commissioners meet at least once every week this is generally on a Wednesday and these meetings are held in Brussels. The topics on agenda are presented by the commissioner that deals with that area and then the commission as a whole makes a collective decision on the matter. Commissions staff is organised into different departments due to their area of expertise, these departments are known as “Directorates General” and services. Each DG is given a policy area and is then answerable to one of the commissioners dealing in that area. It is actually the DG’s that are behind any legislation proposals, they draft and prepare them but these proposals are only recognised as being an official proposal when a commissioner adopts it to a commission meeting. At least thirteen out of twenty-five commissioners are required to approve it in order for it to be passed onto Parliament and Council as an official proposal.
The job of the European Court of Justice is to entitle that EU law is understood and adopted equally by all EU countries in order that the Law is the same in all European member countries. The court makes sure that the law is upheld and if it is not they hold the power to act and resolve these issues. There is one judge per member state so all the EU’s countries are equally represented. However the court vary rarely sits as a full chamber, usually the “grand chamber” which is thirteen judges they may also sit in chambers of lower numbers of just three or five judges. The size of the chamber is a direct result of how difficult and serious the matter is. Judges of the court are appointed by the member state governments, each judge is in power for six years but this may be renewed at the end of their career. To help the Court of Justice manage the court of first instance was created in 1989. This court is responsible for giving rulings on certain matters, such as individual cases and company matters. Both courts choose their own president and they reign for a term of three years.
Any case that is brought to the courts attention is first submitted to the registry and then a specific judge is assigned to that individual case. At first all parties are involved and the judge creates a summary of the statements made, then there is a public hearing, lawyers of the parties argue there cases and can be questioned by the advocate-general. The advocate general then gives their opinion on the case and is followed by judge’s final judgement.
The four most common cases that are brought before the Court of Justice are, the preliminary procedure, failure to fulfil an obligation, annulment and failure to act. The preliminary procedure is when the national court gathers to ensure that all countries are interpreting the EU law in the same way. So if any country has any doubts about any law then they will ask the court of justice for advise and this advise is returned as a preliminary ruling. If there is any suspicion that a country is not upholding the law then the court is called to investigate the matter and issue penalties if it is not sorted then the court has the power to issue penalties. Also if any of the member states find any of the laws to be illegal or against the treaties then they hold the right to take it to have an annulment from the court. If the parliament, commission and council do not make all the decisions they are required to make, the court can officially document the complaints made.
The European Union is built up of many different parts and they all work in conjunction with each other to ensure the highest form of life for its citizens. Parliament and Council work together to bring around new laws that will benefit the EU’s citizens and the commission proposes these laws and through the use of their DG’s have different proposals to be introduced. The court of justice is the institution that deals with complaints and other complications within the system, one of which is to ensure that the law is practised in all member countries and all have a gathered interpretation of it. All of these different institutions are important within the European Union as if they didn’t all exist then the Union would not be as successful and democratic.