Thursday 3 December 2009

European Council’s new Rules of Procedure

Too boring? Not if you are interested in how the European Union really works.

The European Commission still proposes and administers in the policy areas of the late European Community, and the European Parliament likes to quote how it has gained the role of a co-equal lawmaker in almost all areas of legislation (roughly the same patch as the Commission).

Still, the European Union is based on the member states. They are represented in the Council and the European Council, which in tandem form the most important institutional force. They have reserved the powers to act or to prevent action in decisive areas (beyond legislation), such as treaty change; resources (long term budget); foreign, security and defence policy.

Even where the Commission and the EP are more or less excluded, various unanimity rules (consensus) often prevent Council action, at least beyond the convoy principle, going at the pace of the slowest, while the European Union remains a giant on clay feet, a “hobbled giant” to use the words of the US National Intelligence Council (NIC).

European Council

The European Council, where the heads of state or government meet, formally became an institution of the European Union, when the Lisbon Treaty entered into force on 1 December 2009.

The basic treaty provisions are Article 13(1) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), which lists the European Council among the EU institutions, and Article 15 TEU, which contains the tasks and main rules with regard to the European Council.

Impetus, general political directions and priorities (paragraph 1) describe the crucial role of the European Council, the pinnacle of what the European Union does and fails to do. The main tasks of the semi-permanent President of the European Council are to drive forward the work and to give it continuity:

Article 15 TEU

1. The European Council shall provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development and shall define the general political directions and priorities thereof. It shall not exercise legislative functions.

2. The European Council shall consist of the Heads of State or Government of the Member States, together with its President and the President of the Commission. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shall take part in its work.

3. The European Council shall meet twice every six months, convened by its President. When the agenda so requires, the members of the European Council may decide each to be assisted by a minister and, in the case of the President of the Commission, by a member of the Commission. When the situation so requires, the President shall convene a special meeting of the European Council.

4. Except where the Treaties provide otherwise, decisions of the European Council shall be taken by consensus.

5. The European Council shall elect its President, by a qualified majority, for a term of two and a half years, renewable once. In the event of an impediment or serious misconduct, the European Council can end the President's term of office in accordance with the same procedure.

6. The President of the European Council:

(a) shall chair it and drive forward its work;

(b) shall ensure the preparation and continuity of the work of the European Council in cooperation with the President of the Commission, and on the basis of the work of the General Affairs Council;

(c) shall endeavour to facilitate cohesion and consensus within the European Council;

(d) shall present a report to the European Parliament after each of the meetings of the European Council.

The President of the European Council shall, at his level and in that capacity, ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy, without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

The President of the European Council shall not hold a national office.


European Council’s new Rules of Procedure

We humans seem to be highly susceptible to personality contests and the drama of great political controversies. Even in more serious literature “boring” documents, such as Rules of Procedure, tend to get scant notice, even if they form the basis for thousands of decisions, conclusions and policy positions annually.

In other words, the new European Council’s Rules of Procedure are among the important pieces of secondary legislation in the European Union, even if the decision and the annexed rules – five pages in all – offer only a bare outline of how European Council business is conducted.

With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, it became necessary to adopt Rules of Procedure for the European Council (Article 235(3) TFEU). Signing the decision was one of the first official acts in office for the president Herman Van Rompuy:

EUROPEAN COUNCIL DECISION of 1 December 2009 adopting its Rules of Procedure (2009/882/EU) was published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU 2.12.2009 L 315/31).

Later we are going to take a look at the contents of the European Council’s Rules of Procedure.

Ralf Grahn

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  1. Ralf, there is comfort for many who hate the "personality/power" games that have seemed to dominate Council meetings so far. That is the appointment of M Van Rompuy. If anyone is a skilled conciliator it is he.

    Quite whether he has had to conciliate between such power-mad people as Sarkozy and Berlusconi, though ....?

  2. French Derek,

    If the media tales are true, Van Rompuy had to be asked to take on the premiership of Belgium and now the presidency of the European Council.

    Quite the opposite to some other leaders.

    How's the phrase: Ready to take on new challenges?


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