The former EC, which formed the core of the EU, originally referred to the group of Western European nations that belonged to each of three treaty organizations—the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Economic Community (EEC), and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). In 1967 these organizations were consolidated under a comprehensive governing body composed of representatives from the member nations; further modifications since then have established the institutions of the EU as the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council of the European Union, the European Commission, and the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Central Bank (see European Monetary System), and the Court of Auditors.
Although the EU has no single seat of government, many of its most important offices are in Brussels, Belgium. The European Commission is headquartered there, as is the European Council and the Council of the European Union; it is also where the various committees of the European Parliament generally meet to prepare for the monthly sessions in Strasbourg, France. The European Central Bank is in Frankfurt, Germany; the Court of Justice and the Court of Auditors are in Luxembourg, Luxembourg.
The history of the EU began shortly after World War II, when there developed in Europe a strong revulsion against national rivalries and parochial loyalties. While postwar recovery was stimulated by the Marshall Plan, the idea of a united Europe was held up as the basis for European strength and security and the best way of preventing another European war. In 1950 Robert Schuman, France's foreign minister, proposed that the coal and steel industries of France and West Germany be coordinated under a single supranational authority. France and West Germany were soon joined by four other countries—Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Italy—in forming (1952) the ECSC. The EEC (until the late 1980s it was known informally as the Common Market) and Euratom were established by the Treaty of Rome in 1958. The EEC, working on a large scale to promote the convergence of national economies into a single European economy, soon emerged as the most significant of the three treaty organizations.
The Brussels Treaty (1965) provided for the merger of the organizations into what came to be known as the EC and later the EU. Under Charles de Gaulle, France vetoed (1963) Britain's initial application for membership in the Common Market, five years after vetoing a British proposal that the Common Market be expanded into a transatlantic free-trade area. In the interim, Britain had engineered the formation (1959) of the European Free Trade Association. In 1973 the EC expanded, as Great Britain, Ireland, and Denmark joined. Greece joined in 1981, and Spain and Portugal in 1986. With German reunification in 1990, the former East Germany also was absorbed into the Community.
The Single European Act (1987) amended the EC's treaties so as to strengthen the organization's ability to create a single internal market. The Treaty of European Union, signed in Maastricht, the Netherlands, in 1992 and ratified in 1993, provided for a central banking system, a common currency to replace the national currencies (the euro), a legal definition of the EU, and a framework for expanding the EU's political role, particularly in the area of foreign and security policy. The member countries completed their move toward a single market in 1993 and agreed to participate in a larger common market, the European Economic Area (est. 1994), with most of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) nations. In 1995, Austria, Finland, and Sweden, all former EFTA members, joined the EU, but Norway did not, having rejected membership for the second time in 1994.
A crisis within the EU was precipitated in 1996 when sales of British beef were banned because of "mad cow disease" (see prion). Britain retaliated by vowing to paralyze EU business until the ban was lifted, but that crisis eased when a British plan for eradicating the disease was approved. The ban was lifted in 1999, but French refusal to permit the sale of British beef resulted in new strains within the EU. In 1998, as a prelude to their 1999 adoption of the euro, 11 EU nations established the European Central Bank. The euro was introduced into circulation in 2002 by 12 EU nations; additional EU nations have since adopted it.
The EU was rocked by charges of corruption and mismanagement in its executive body, the European Commission (EC), in 1999. In response the EC's executive commission including its president, Jacques Santer, resigned, and a new group of commissioners headed by Romano Prodi was soon installed. In actions taken later that year the EU agreed to absorb the functions of the Western European Union, a comparatively dormant European defense alliance, thus moving toward making the EU a military power with defensive and peacekeeping capabilities.
The installation in Feb., 2000, of a conservative Austrian government that included the right-wing Freedom party, whose leaders had made xenophobic, racist, and anti-Semitic pronouncements, led the other EU members to impose a number of sanctions on Austria that limited high-level contacts with the Austrian government. Enthusiasm for the sanctions soon waned, however, among smaller EU nations, and the issue threatened to divide the EU. A face-saving fact-finding commission recommended ending the sanctions, stating that the Austrian government had worked to protect human rights, and the sanctions were ended in September.
In 2003 the EU and ten non-EU European nations (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Cyprus, and Malta) signed treaties that resulted in the largest expansion of the EU the following year, increasing the its population by 20% and its land area by 23%. Most of the newer members are significantly poorer than the largely W European older members. The old and new member nations at first failed to agree on a constitution for the organization; the main stumbling block concerned voting, with Spain and Poland reluctant to give up a weighted system of voting scheduled for 2006 that would give them a disproportionate influence in the EU relative to their populations. In Oct., 2004, however, EU nations signed a constitution with a provision requiring a supermajority of nations to pass legislation. The constitution, which needed to be ratified by all members to come into effect, was rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands in 2005, leading EU leaders to pause in their push for its ratification.
Meanwhile, in 2003 the EU embarked, in minor ways, on its first official military missions when EU peacekeeping forces replaced the NATO force in Macedonia and were sent by the United Nations to Congo (Kinshasa); the following year the EU assumed responsibility for overseeing the peacekeepers in Bosnia. EU members also took steps toward developing a common defense strategy independent of NATO, and agreed in 2004 to admit Bulgaria and Romania in 2007. José Manuel Barroso succeeded Prodi as president of the European Commission late in 2004. Accession talks with Turkey were partially suspended in Dec., 2006, over the issue of Turkish relations with Cyprus because Turkey was unwilling to open its ports to Cypriot trade unless the EU eased its trade restrictions on North Cyprus.
The EU opted for incremental reforms over a new constitution in 2007, when member nations signed the Lisbon Treaty. The treaty reorganized the European Council, established an elected president of the European Council and a single EU foreign policy official, and reformed the EU's system of voting, among other changes. (The reforms will be phased in through 2017.) In June, 2008, however, Irish voters—the only national electorate given the opportunity to ratify the treaty—rejected it in a referendum, a potentially fatal setback. A year later, however, EU nations agreed on a number of guarantees to the Irish Republic that were designed to lead to a new Irish referendum on the treaty (several other nations also received various exemptions). Irish voters approved the treaty in a revote in Oct., 2009; ratification was completed the following month; and the treaty came into force in Dec., 2009.
Weaknesses in an EU system in which economic and monetary integration was not bolstered by political unity were revealed by the economic crisis of 2008, when measures such as bank-deposit guarantees adopted by some euro nations forced most EU nations to adopt similar measures in order to avoid bank runs and eurozone nations were unable to agree on a common approach to the crisis and resulting recession. At the same time, however, many non-euro European nations, whether members of the EU or not, found their financial systems stressed to a far greater degree by the crisis than most euro nations did.
See W. Diebold, The Schuman Plan (1959); R. L. Heilbroner, Forging a United Europe (Public Affairs Pamphlet, 1961); B. Morris and K. Boehm, ed., The European Community (1986); H. Wallace and A. Ridley, Europe: The Challenge of Diversity (1986); M. Burgess, Federalism and European Union (1989); and D. Dinan, A Historical Dictionary of the European Community (1993).
The Council of the European Union is the principal decision making institution in the European Union (EU). It is often informally called the Council of Ministers or just the Council, the name used in the treaties; it is also called Consilium as a Latin-language compromise. Within the competencies of the Community pillar, it is the more powerful of the two legislative chambers, the other being the European Parliament. This Council should be distinguished from the European Council, which is an assembly of EU heads of state or government, and the Council of Europe, which is a non-EU organisation of 47 states.
The Council is composed of twenty-seven national ministers (one per state). However the exact membership depends upon the topic being discussed, for example; when discussing the agricultural policy the twenty-seven national agriculture ministers form the Council. The Union's law is limited to specific policy areas, however it does override national law. As the Union operates on supranational and intergovernmental platforms, in some areas the Council is superior to the Parliament, having only to consult to get assent from the body. In many areas, however, the Union uses the legislative process of codecision procedure, in which the two bodies are equal in power.
The Council does not have a single president in the traditional sense, but the role is rotated between each member state every 6 months (known as the "Presidency"), with the minister from that state then able to set the agenda. Another powerful position is the Secretary General who is also the representative of the Union's foreign policy.
The Council first appeared in the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) as the "Special Council of Ministers", set up to counterbalance the High Authority (the supranational executive, now the Commission). The original Council had limited powers as issues relating only to coal and steel were in the Authority's domain, whereas the Council only had to give its consent to decisions outside coal and steel. As a whole, it only scrutinised the executive. In 1957, the Treaties of Rome established two new communities, and with them two new Councils: the Council of the European Atomic Energy Community and the Council of the European Economic Community. However due to objections over the supranational power of the Authority, their Councils had more executive powers with the new executive bodies being known as "Commissions".
In 1965 the Council was hit by the "empty chair crisis". Due to disagreements between French President Charles de Gaulle and the Commission's agriculture proposals, among other things, France boycotted all meetings of the Council bringing work to a halt until it was resolved the following year by the Luxembourg compromise. Although initiated by a gamble of then-President Walter Hallstein, who lost the Presidency after the crisis, it exposed flaws in the Council's workings.
With the Merger Treaty of 1967, the ECSC's Special Council of Ministers, and the communities, and their councils, were merged into a single Council of the European Communities. In 1993 the body became the Council of the European Union with the Maastricht Treaty, reflecting the wider change in name. That treaty strengthened the Council with the addition of more intergovernmental elements in the three pillars system. However, at the same time the Parliament and Commission had been strengthened inside the Community pillar curbing the ability of the Council to act independently.
The development of the Council has been characterised by the rise in power of the Parliament as, while the Council has not lost power, the Parliament has provided a greater and greater opposition to the Council's wishes. This has in some cases led to clashes between the two bodies with the Council's system of intergovernmentalism contradicting the developing parliamentary system and supranational principles.
Under this procedure, the Commission presents a proposal to Parliament and the Council. Following its first reading the Parliament may propose amendments. If the council accepts these amendments then the legislation is approved. If it does not then it adopts a "common position" and submits that new version to the Parliament. At its second reading, if the Parliament approves the text or does not act, the text is adopted, otherwise the Parliament may propose further amendments to the Council's proposal. It may be rejected out right by an absolute majority of MEPs. If the Council still does not approve the Parliament's position, then the text is taken to a "Conciliation Committee" composed of the Council members plus an equal number of MEPs. If a Committee manages to adopt a joint text, it has to still be approved by both the Council and Parliament or the proposal is abandoned.
However there are some older procedures still in use which give the Parliament less say than the Council over legislative bills. These are the consultation and assent procedures. The former means the Parliament is consulted by the Council, and it can ask for amendments, on legislation but it is unable to block it. The latter means the Council has to obtain the approval of the Parliament on legislation before it can become law, but the Parliament cannot make amendments. The procedure used also depends upon which type of institutional act is being used. The strongest act is a regulation, an act or law which is directly applicable in its entirety. Then there are directives which bind members to certain goals which they must achieve. They do this through their own laws and hence have room to manoeuvre in deciding upon them. A decision is an instrument which is focused at a particular person/group and is directly applicable. Institutions may also issue recommendations and opinions which are merely non-binding, declarations.
The Council votes in one of three ways; unanimity, simple majority or qualified majority. In most cases, the Council votes on issues by Qualified Majority Voting, meaning that there must be a minimum of 255 votes out of 345 (73.9 %) and a majority of member states (sometimes a two–third majority). A majority representing 62% of the EU's population may also be taken into account. Unanimity is nearly always used where foreign policy is concerned, and in a number of cases under Police and Judicial Co-operation.
At present, the EU is divided into three pillars, the European Community (EC) (the main and historic element), the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters (PJC). The latter two operate under a more intergovernmental fashion in that the Commission, Parliament and Courts have little input. It is also reflected in that the Council, rather than the Commission, has the right to legislative initiative on matters concerning those areas. Hence, the Council has a major role in these areas. It works to develop the CFSP, for example in creating military forces and signing international agreements for the whole EU. In the PJC, it seeks to ensure co-operation between national courts and police forces due to cross-border crime arising from free movement across internal borders. It also manages policy concerning external borders and immigration.
The legal instruments used by the Council for the CFSP are different from the legislative acts. Under the CFSP they consist of "common positions", "joint actions" and "common strategies". Common positions relate to defining a European foreign policy towards a particular third-country such as the isolation of Burma, a region such as the stabilisation efforts in the African Great Lakes, or a certain issue such as support for the International Criminal Court. A common position, once agreed, is binding on all EU states who must follow and defend the policy, which is regularly revised. A joint action refers to a co-ordinated action of the states to deploy resources in order to achieve an objective, for example for mine clearing or to combat the spread of small arms. Common strategies defined an objective and commits the EUs resources to that task for four years.
The role of the Presidency is administrative and political. On the administrative side it is responsible for procedures and organising the work of the Council during its term. This includes summoning the Council for meetings along with directing the work of COREPER and other committees and working groups. The political element is the role of successfully dealing with issues and mediating in the Council. In particular this includes setting the agenda of the council, hence giving the Presidency substantial influence in the work of the Council during its term. The Presidency also plays a major role in representing the Council within the EU and representing the EU internationally, for example at the United Nations.
Complementing these, the Political and Security Committee (PSC) brings together ambassadors to monitor international situations and define policies within the ESDP, particularly in crises
The European Council is similar to a configuration of the Council, it operates in the same way and shares the same Presidency system but is composed of the national leaders (heads of government or state). The body's purpose is to define the general "impetus" of the Union. The European Council deals with the major issues such as the appointment of the President of the European Commission who takes part in the body's meetings.
The General Secretariat of the Council provides the continuous infrastructure of the council, carrying out preparation for meetings, draft reports, translation, records, documents, agendas and assisting the presidency.
The Secretary General of the Council is head of the General Secretariat, currently Javier Solana. The post is a powerful position within the Union and its holder a notable figure; not simply because he or she holds that position, but because the same person is also the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and President of the European Defence Agency (along with leading the non–EU defence organisation, the Western European Union).
The Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) is a body composed of representatives from the states (ambassadors, civil servants etc.) who meet each week to prepare the work and tasks of the Council. It monitors and co-ordinates work and deals with the Parliament on co-decision legislation (along with leading the non–EU defence organisation, the Western European Union) It is divided into two groups of the representatives (Coreper II) and their deputies (Coreper I). Agriculture is dealt with separately by the Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA). The numerous working groups submit their reports to the Council through Coreper or SCA
Under the third pillar (Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters), there is little supranational influence. For example the Parliament has no say and the Commission does not have the right to initiate legislation in this field (whereas it has a monopoly in the Community). As a result, the Council is very powerful and when decisions are taken by qualified majority voting, the voting weights become decisive. This led to the creation of the G5, which has been expanded by Poland to the G6 in 2006. The G6 represent the 6 largest member states with a combined 49.3% of the total voting weight in the council. Therefore, the G6 comprise a lot of power in the Council, which leads to criticisms. However, they cannot pass legislation without the support of other countries.
Almost all members of the Council are members of a political party at national level, and most of these are members of a European level political party. However the Council is composed in order to represent the Union's states rather than political parties and decisions are generally made on these lines. The table below outlines the European party affiliations of the leaders of each country (those comprising the European Council), it should be noted that in many countries there are coalition governments and the ministers forming the various configurations may be of different parties.
By a decision of the European Council at Edinburgh in December 1992, the Council has its seat in Brussels but in April, June and October, it holds its meetings in Luxembourg.
Between 1952 and 1967 the ECSC Council held its Luxembourg meetings in the Cercle Municipal on Place d’Armes. Its secretariat moved on numerous occasions but between 1955 and 1967 it was housed in the Verlorenkost district of the city. In 1957 with the creation of two new Communities with their own Councils, discretion on location was given to the current President. In practice this was to be in the Castle of the Valley of the Duchess until the autumn of 1958, at which point it move to 2 Rue Ravensteinstraat in Brussels.
The 1965 agreement (finalised by the Edinburgh agreement and annexed to the treaties) on the location of the newly merged institutions, the Council was to be in Brussels but would meet in Luxembourg during April, June and October. The ECSC secretariat moved from Luxembourg to the merged body Council secretariat in the Ravenstein building of Brussels. In 1971 the Council and its secretariat moved into the Charlemagne building, next to the Commission's Berlaymont, but the Council rapidly ran out of space and administrative branch of the Secretariat moved to a building at 76 Rue Joseph II/Jozef II-straat and during the 1980s the language divisions moved out into the Nerviens, Frère Orban and Guimard buildings.
In 1995 the Council moved once more, into the Justus Lipsius building, across the road from Charlemagne. However, its staff was still increasing, so it continued to rent the Frère Orban building to house the Finnish and Swedish language divisions. Staff continued to increase and the Council rented, in addition to owning Justus Lipsius, the Kortenberg, Froissart, Espace Rolin and Woluwe Heights buildings; with acquiring the Lex building, the three afore mentioned buildings are not used by the Council services any more as from 2008; Résidence Palace building has been acquired and is currently being renovated; it will house the new press centre of the European Council, which uses the same facilities as the Council.
When the Council is meeting in Luxembourg, it meets in the Kirchberg Conference Centre and its offices are based at the European Centre on the plateau du Kirchberg. The Council has also met occasionally in Strasbourg, in various other cities and also outside the Union: for example in 1974 when it met in Tokyo and Washington while trade and energy talks were taking place. Under the Council's present rules of procedures the Council can, in extraordinary circumstances, hold one of its meetings outside Brussels and Luxembourg.
In terms of the Council's configuration, the fact there are different configurations is mentioned for the first time in treaties but only two are mentioned by name in the Constitution (others are agreed upon by the European Council), they are the General Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council, splitting the current General Affairs and External Relations Council. The latter will not be chaired by the Presidency, but by the new High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The Presidency being conducted in groups of three for 18 months is enshrined in the Constitution. Furthermore the Council is required to meet in public. Ecofin's Eurozone component would be more formalised and elect its own separate President, "Mr Euro".