Tuesday, 17 March 2009

European Council: Tasks

The current Article 4 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) uses a sweeping formula to describe the tasks of the European Council (OJEU 29.12.2006 C 321 E/12):


Article 4 TEU

The European Council shall provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development and shall define the general political guidelines thereof.


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General tasks

Impetus and general political guidelines cover all areas crucial for the development of the European Union. Without being an institution in the formal sense, the European Council is arguably the most important body setting the course for the European Union.

Its conclusions have set treaty reforms and other major developments in motion, but it also sets the limits to what the EU can achieve, taking into account the severe restrictions caused by consensus (unanimous) decision making.

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Specific tasks

Besides the general guidelines there are some provisions on specific tasks for the European Council.

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Reporting

According to the third paragraph of Article 4 TEU the European Council reports to the European Parliament after each meeting and annually:

The European Council shall submit to the European Parliament a report after each of its meetings and a yearly written report on the progress achieved by the Union.


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Meeting report

The Presidency Conclusions issued at the end of each European Council are the main instrument to communicate the results, but a livelier version is offered when the member state holding the Council Presidency reports to the European Parliament.

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Annual report

Subsidiarity and proportionality

According to the Protocol (No 30) on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality (1997) the Commission has an obligation to report annually on the application of Article 5 TEC. According to point 10 the European Council shall take account of the Commission report within the report on the progress achieved by the Union which it is required to submit to the European Parliament in accordance with Article 4 of the Treaty on European Union.

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CFSP and CSDP

The intergovernmental European Council makes the crucial decisions pertaining to the common foreign and security policy (CFSP), including the common security and defence policy (CSDP), according to Article 13(1) and (2) TEU:

1. The European Council shall define the principles of and general guidelines for the common foreign and security policy, including for matters with defence implications.

2. The European Council shall decide on common strategies to be implemented by the Union in areas where the Member States have important interests in common.

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European defence

If and when the progressive development of a common defence policy leads to a common (European) defence, the decision is taken by the European Council, according to Article 17(1) TEU:

1. The common foreign and security policy shall include all questions relating to the security of the Union, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy, which might lead to a common defence, should the European Council so decide. It shall in that case recommend to the Member States the adoption of such a decision in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.

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CFSP referral to the European Council

The decisions under Title V on the common foreign and security policy are basically taken unanimously by the Council, but with the possibility for a member state to abstain (Article 23(1) TEU).

Where the treaty foresees a decision by qualified majority, an opposing member state can use the so called emergency brake on grounds of important reasons of national policy. It must state its reasons and request that the matter be referred to the European Council for decision by unanimity (Article 23(2) TEU):

2. By derogation from the provisions of paragraph 1, the Council shall act by qualified majority:

— when adopting joint actions, common positions or taking any other decision on the basis of a common strategy,

— when adopting any decision implementing a joint action or a common position,

— when appointing a special representative in accordance with Article 18(5).
If a member of the Council declares that, for important and stated reasons of national policy, it intends to oppose the adoption of a decision to be taken by qualified majority, a vote shall not be taken. The Council may, acting by a qualified majority, request that the matter be referred to the European Council for decision by unanimity.

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Enhanced cooperation in criminal matters

A referral to the European Council is possible with regard to a decision to establish enhanced cooperation in an area of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters (Title VI). The detour delays but does not stop the decision, if the requirements are fulfilled (Article 40a(2) TEU):

A member of the Council may request that the matter be referred to the European Council. After that matter has been raised before the European Council, the Council may act in accordance with the first subparagraph of this paragraph.


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Enhanced cooperation generally

Enhanced cooperation between member states in an area referred to in the Treaty establishing the European Community can be referred to the European Council, but it does not stop the pioneering group from moving ahead after the discussion (Article 11(2) TEC):


A member of the Council may request that the matter be referred to the European Council. After that matter has been raised before the European Council, the Council may act in accordance with the first subparagraph of this paragraph.


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Broad economic policy guidelines

The European Council formulates conclusions on the broad economic policy guidelines (BEPGs), according to Article 99(2) TEC.

The spring (March) European Council is traditionally the venue for economic policy and reform, including the BEPGs and the Lisbon Agenda for Growth and Jobs.

In a union with a (partly) common currency, but with national fiscal and economic policies, the European Council meeting starting tomorrow 18 March 2009 has its plate full in the middle of the serious financial crisis and economic recession.

This time the conclusions would have to be ground-breaking, if the European Council wants to turn the tide:

2. The Council shall, acting by a qualified majority on a recommendation from the Commission, formulate a draft for the broad guidelines of the economic policies of the Member States and of the Community, and shall report its findings to the European Council.

The European Council shall, acting on the basis of the report from the Council, discuss a conclusion on the broad guidelines of the economic policies of the Member States and of the Community.

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ECB reporting

Article 113(3) TEC adds the European Council to the addressees of reporting by the European Central Bank (ECB), almost as an afterthought:

3. The ECB shall address an annual report on the activities of the ESCB and on the monetary policy of both the previous and current year to the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, and also to the European Council. The President of the ECB shall present this report to the Council and to the European Parliament, which may hold a general debate on that basis.


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Joint employment report

The European Council adopts conclusions (during its spring meeting) on the joint employment report by the Council and the Commission, according to Article 128(1) TEC:

1. The European Council shall each year consider the employment situation in the Community
and adopt conclusions thereon, on the basis of a joint annual report by the Council and the
Commission.


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Conclusion

The European Council has set in motion the major developments of the European Union during the last decades, but the construction is plagued by inadequate rules, highlighted by the recession.

Given that, what can we expect from the next two days?


Ralf Grahn