The intergovernmental European Council provides or fails to provide the necessary impetus and the political directions for the EU. The national governments are represented in the second most important institution as well, the Council of the European Union.
The Council is a unitary institution, but it meets in different configurations , which cover all the policy areas of the European Union, including those where the Commission and the European Parliament have little or no say.
We look at the legislative, budgetary and executive powers of the Council in more detail. (The executive powers of the Council are tactfully described as policy-making and coordinating functions; Article 16(1) TEU.)
We start with the European Union on the world stage ─ external relations in the wide sense ─ in the light of the Treaty of Lisbon.
Foreign Affairs Council (FAC)
The new Foreign Affairs Council is one of the two Council configurations mentioned in the Lisbon Treaty together with its tasks (OJEU 9.5.2008 C 115/24):
Article 16(6) TEU, third subparagraph
The Foreign Affairs Council shall elaborate the Union's external action on the basis of strategic guidelines laid down by the European Council and ensure that the Union's action is consistent.
The Empire struck back in the Lisbon Treaty negotiations, depriving the foreign affairs chief of the title Foreign Minister, but extending the Council’s grasp to the external relations managed by the Commission, by the “double-hatted” role of the High Representative acting both directly for the Council and as Vice-President of the Commission.
The High Representative is appointed by the European Council. He chairs the new Foreign Affairs Council (Article 18(3) TEU) and he is the work-horse of the Council in matters pertaining to the common foreign and security policy (CFSP) and the common security and defence policy (CSDP):
Article 18(2) TEU
2. The High Representative shall conduct the Union's common foreign and security policy. He shall contribute by his proposals to the development of that policy, which he shall carry out as mandated by the Council. The same shall apply to the common security and defence policy.
(See also Article 27 TEU.)
In addition to the guiding principles for the external action of the European Union (Article 21 TEU), consistency is emphasised between a) between the different areas of external action, and b) external actions and other policy areas:
Article 21(3) TEU, second subparagraph
The Union shall ensure consistency between the different areas of its external action and between these and its other policies. The Council and the Commission, assisted by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, shall ensure that consistency and shall cooperate to that effect.
Recommendations: Strategic interests and objectives
The European Council identifies the strategic interests and objectives for the European Union’s external action, with regard to countries, regions or themes, but it acts unanimously on a recommendation by the Council, and the implementation returns to the Council (FAC), the High Representative or the Commission.
The High Representative and the Commission (Vice-President) make proposals to the Council (FAC) (Article 22 TEU).
We will turn to the Council’s role in the common foreign and security policy (CFSP) in a future post.