Nationally elected officials ─ heads of state or government in the European Council and government ministers in the Council ─ meeting in Brussels set the pace and the limits for a European Union primarily based on member states.
Expansion, internal and external developments and the proposals of the Treaty of Lisbon point to the rising importance of the European Council and its main feeding mechanism, the Council.
Currently, the Council is mentioned as an institution (after the European Parliament) of the European Community in Article 7 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC). Article 13 of the Treaty on European Union, in the Treaty of Lisbon, inserts the European Council as an EU institutions above the Council.
To the extent that the intergovernmental bodies are able to decide by (qualified) majority, their effectiveness (output legitimacy) improves. In this sense, the Treaty of Lisbon would be a step forward, when we increasingly see the need for European solutions and European contributions on the world scene.
But the democratic (input) legitimacy of the European Union remains a vexed question, with national politicians deciding European level questions and the EU citizens directly represented only through the European Parliament.
In this blog post we recap the main provision on the EU Council as agreed by the member states in the Treaty of Lisbon.
Original Lisbon Treaty
Article 1, point 17 of the original Treaty of Lisbon inserted a new Article 9c into the Treaty on European Union (TEU); Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) 17.12.2007 C 306/18.
Cf. Articles I-23, I-24 and I-25 of the Constitutional Treaty (OJEU 16.12.2004 C 310), Article I-22, I-23 and I-24 of the preceding draft Constitution, as well as Articles 202 to 207 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC) in force.
Consolidated Lisbon Treaty
The new Article 9c was renumbered Article 16 TEU in the consolidated version of the Treaty of Lisbon (OJEU 9.5.2008 C 115/24):
Article 16 TEU
1. The Council shall, jointly with the European Parliament, exercise legislative and budgetary functions. It shall carry out policy-making and coordinating functions as laid down in the Treaties.
2. The Council shall consist of a representative of each Member State at ministerial level, who may commit the government of the Member State in question and cast its vote.
3. The Council shall act by a qualified majority except where the Treaties provide otherwise.
4. As from 1 November 2014, a qualified majority shall be defined as at least 55 % of the members of the Council, comprising at least fifteen of them and representing Member States comprising at least 65 % of the population of the Union.
A blocking minority must include at least four Council members, failing which the qualified majority shall be deemed attained.
The other arrangements governing the qualified majority are laid down in Article 238(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
5. The transitional provisions relating to the definition of the qualified majority which shall be applicable until 31 October 2014 and those which shall be applicable from 1 November 2014 to 31 March 2017 are laid down in the Protocol on transitional provisions.
6. The Council shall meet in different configurations, the list of which shall be adopted in accordance with Article 236 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
The General Affairs Council shall ensure consistency in the work of the different Council configurations. It shall prepare and ensure the follow-up to meetings of the European Council, in liaison with the President of the European Council and the Commission.
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.
7. A Committee of Permanent Representatives of the Governments of the Member States shall be responsible for preparing the work of the Council.
8. The Council shall meet in public when it deliberates and votes on a draft legislative act. To this end, each Council meeting shall be divided into two parts, dealing respectively with deliberations on Union legislative acts and non-legislative activities.
9. The Presidency of Council configurations, other than that of Foreign Affairs, shall be held by Member State representatives in the Council on the basis of equal rotation, in accordance with the conditions established in accordance with Article 236 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
Article 16 TEU is packed with information relevant to the functioning of the European Union. We are going to look at the individual paragraphs in future posts.
Even if the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty remains at least as uncertain as before (due to the Czech Republic and Ireland, but also Germany and Poland), the pan-European challenges are on the increase, and the proposed improvements and their severe limitations of the amending treaty have lost nothing of their importance for EU citizens.