The Council of Ministers (CoM) is at body of the European Union (EU) that has the right to produce legislation. It is at the very centre of the EU and could be called its heart. For a bit of history, since November 2003, the CoM has been called the Council of the European Union or Council of the Union.
There is a rift, in terms of which direction the EU is taking, with academics, politicians and political observers. There are those who believe that the EU will eventually lead to a single state with a single government, coming from that, a single currency, economic market and laws for all of the current member states, with an a further integration, allowing for even more states to merge into the EU. Britain, in particular, has a history of being part of Europe, whilst at the same time not wanting to integrate to the extent of the mainland European states. Eurosceptics like Margaret Thatcher have talked about specifically not wanting this single European state to occur and indicating that it might well do, in the process, eroding the sovereignty of the state. There are a group who believe that the single European state will not transpire and that the sovereignty of the state will not be dissipated, but rather enhanced, through the increased powers of the individual, through the collective.
The CoM is held in order to epitomise an integration process that leaves the political order in Europe essentially one of states (Hoffman: 1991). The actual council convenes in Brussels, with each of the twenty-five member states of the EU sending a representative to meetings (Edwards:1996). The initial role and the role still played by the CoM is that of the European Commission (EC) drawing up and submitting proposals and then the CoM deliberating over these proposals, to then accept or reject them accordingly. In the past, the EC has appeared to be at loggerheads with the CoM over certain issues, with the EC proposing and the CoM disposing. Increasingly more so , the European Parliament has moved towards co-decision with the CoM in the study of EC proposals, but the CoM is still seen as the clear interstate, intergovernmental forum for bargaining and representation of national interests (Moravcsik: 1993, European Union: Power and Policy Making: 1996).
Each member state does not simply send their head of state, but they send a representative who they deem most qualified to address the issues or discussion in question. If the proposals are something to do with Carbon Dioxide emissions, for example, then each EU state will send their person who deals with national environment issues (Stevens: 1996). There are such a large number of different bodies in the EU, who each deal with different facets, with their names and job allocations changing every few years, with more bodies being brought in with new treaties, in order for certain national interests to be adhered to. The governance of the EU is disputed regularly, at many levels, in particular, the introduction of qualified majority voting in the EU, has been a hot topic in the CoM (Bellamy: 2001)
It has been said that the bargaining processes and conflictual situations that arise in the CoM can all be attributed to being either federal or confederel. The EU and all of the bodies and processes that constitute the EU are bound through federal and confederel terms. The EU has a federal legal structure and institutions for this role, along with principles and constitutional norms. It is as though the EU is bound by its own set of laws, which can be seen as an effect of integration. Weiler has argued that the institutionalisation of the legal structure clods off the option for states to avoid treaty obligations. The formulation of EC regulations have more of a direct impact on EC law and so members states have to respect their objectives to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) more so. In this way, the member states of the EU have expanded the role of the CoM at the expense of the EC though (Weiler: 1991, The Social Construction of Europe: 2001).
It has been said that the CoM is not an interstate body but a body of supranational status. The governments of the member states are said to be made up of a labyrinth network of institutions, bodies, groups and forums that make and analyse the decisions and decision-making processes of the EU. There are currently nine different sections of the Council. It is seen as a single entity but it actually consists of these nine formations, each one dealing with a different field. These formations include areas such as agriculture, environment, telecommunications and employment. As I have previously mentioned, the member states governments send their minister who represents each of these fields, as opposed to sending out their head of state of highest figure (Wessels: 1991, European Union: Power and Policy Making: 1996).
The CoM deals with a wide range of issues, shown by the amount of so-called formations that it has. It has been said that the CoM is the “guardian of Europe’s political culture of pluralism, democracy and respect of human rights”. This was said by the CoM themselves on their official website. It is their job to put together schemes in order to make Europe more united. The North-South Centre is one such scheme that aimed to bring Europe together.
The process for the North-South Centre started in 1984, in a Portuguese parliament hosted conference for the CoM. Here, a European pubic campaign, in order to promote North-South interdependence and solidarity, was established. There are now twenty member states in this scheme. The background of this scheme is one of the fates of the countries of southern Europe being closely bound by the future of the northern European states. The concepts of interdependence and solidarity were the ones that were emphasised most prominently. In 1988, in Madrid, the Madrid appeal was launched. This called on the CoM to prioritise these issues and set up a concrete scheme for cooperation between north and south Europe. In 1989, the Portuguese government called for a European Centre for Global Interdependence and Solidarity, which was subsequently supported by the CoM parliamentary assembly and the North-South Centre was created, as the world would benefit from this better European unity. This operation is spoken of as an “unprecedented” cooperation of non-governmental organisations (NGO), parliamentarians, governments and international organisations, who will come together with the aim of promoting and increasing the bonds between the north and south. (www.coe.int)
The council is constantly working on different projects under themes like violence and democracy. It generally looks at making Europe a better place in terms of its structure and way of life, in all aspects. One more recent scheme is called “Making Democratic Instutions Work” and looks, in particular to analyse the democraric situations of countries in Europe, with the aims of implementing policies and developing key practical tools to assist member states.
Another new scheme looks at the topic of violence and is entitled “Responces to Violence in an Everyday Life in a Democratic Society”. Here the CoM looks at helping member states with the help of international organisations and NGOs. Basically it is looking to help the governments of member states of the EU to combat violence whilst at the same time still upholding laws and human rights. The ways that the CoM helps in this respect is through its “vast experiences” in these fields to set up monitoring centres, guidelines, discussion forums, data banks and looking to form new legislations to tackle the issues in point. (www.coe.int)
The CoM works in partnership with a variety of other bodies to make most decisions. It works with NGOs, international organisations, lobbyists, parliamentarians and others to help member states to come together and tackle a myriad of issues. It is also part of a complex set of bodies in the EU, with which it has to deal and liase with in terms of making broader decisions in the EU, like with the EC with which it has to look over legislation and business and accept or reject notions. It is one of the foremost if not the most foremost and well-known, decision making bodies in the EU.
List of References
European Union: Power and Policy Making (1996)
Edited by Jeremy Richardson, Routledge, London
The Social Construction of Europe (2001)
Edited by Thomas Christiansen et al, SAGE Publications, London
Citizenship and Governance in the European Union (2001)
Edited by Richard Bellamy and Alex Warleigh, Continuum, London
About Europe (1997)
Robert Stevens, The Bluebell Press, London
Council of Europe Offical website