Tuesday, May 27, 2003
The Union's Institutions - 27th May 2003, 23.03

The draft Constitution has not advocated radical change amongst the existing institutions of the Union (helpfully listed in Art.1-18) and confers on all of these bodies the responsibility of practicing “full mutual cooperation”. That will see off any potential constitutional crisis, not.

(Art. 1-19) The European Parliament: This will be directly elected every five years from all Member States (with a minimum of four members for each Member State). The Parliament elects the President of the European Commission and jointly, with the European Council, enacts legislation.

(Art 1-20) The European Council: This is composed of the Heads of State and provides the “general political directions and priorities” of the Union. All actions, unless specified in the Constitution, must be taken by consensus, and it is led by a President. (Art. 1-21) The President will be elected by the Council for a period of 2 ½ years. He will represent the Union and ensure that the common foreign and security policy is put into practice. He cannot be a member of another European institution or hold a national mandate. The Council also has the option, by consensus, of appointing a board of three using a system of “equitable rotation”.

The Presidency could be strong or weak depending upon whoever is appointed to the role. He has no formal power and represents a report to the Parliament on the Council of Ministers. On past practice, one could speculate that his role will follow that of the current foreign policy holder, and weaken in relation to the Heads of State, effectively doing their bidding.

(Art 1-22, 1-23) The Council of Ministers and Council Formations: These, as set out, specify the ambitious reach of the New Union. A General Affairs Committee would underpin the work of the European Council and the Council of Ministers. The Legislative Council, in partnership with the European Parliament, would draft and enact new European laws. The Foreign Affairs Council, chaired by the Foreign Affairs Minister, would “flesh out” the foreign policy set by the European Council. There would also be Councils for Economic and Financial Affairs and Justice and Security.

(Art 1-24) Qualified majority voting on the Council of Ministers or the European Council requires a majority of the Member States representing three-fifths of the population. The European President and the President of the Commission are not allowed to vote (a further testament to the weakness of the former).

(Art 1-25) The European Commission will “safeguard the general European interest”. In its functional role as a bureaucracy, its independence from government or institution is enshrined and the body retains the monopoly on proposing new acts of the Union. All the powers of the Commission and their relationship with the European Council and the European parliament remain the same.

(Art 1-27) The Foreign Minister is responsible for conducting the common foreign and security policy. He is appointed by qualified majority voting on the European Council in agreement with the president of the Commission, acts as a Vice-President of the Commission, and is responsible for setting out proposals and enacting foreign/ security/defence policy for the Union. The position is a curious hybrid since the holder will be bound by Commission procedures (including dismissal by the European Parliament?) for those responsibilities taken on as part of the Commission. Due to the importance of the CSFP and the influence of the role covering the Commission, the European Council and the Council of Ministers, this position has the potential to accrue a lot of power and sideline those Member States that do not subscribe to the consensus view, articulated naturally after soundings by him- or herself. If this is put into place, it will institutionally prove far more difficult to take a dissenting view from the majority since the consequences of a rupture would be far more serious. The success of the CSFP will depend, in part, upon the ability of the Foreign Minister to support his own proposals, aided and abetted by the Commission.

(Art 1-28) The Court of Justice of the European Union remains the same.

(Art 1-29) The European Central Bank gains a constitutional role directing the European system of Central Banks. It s goal is to support the economic policy of the Union, provide price stability and “define and implement the monetary policy of the Union”. It has legal personality and independence. Fortunately, it states in cl.6 that those countries which have not adopted the Euro retain certain powers over their monetary affairs.

There are also two advisory committees, for consulting over pork: the Committee of the Region and the Economic and Social Committee. One sounds like an estates-general; the other, a holdover from the corporatist representative bodies so beloved of fascism.

The proposed institutions are not radically altered, but whilst D’Estaing has constructed a weakened Presidency that would not threaten the vanities of the Heads of State, he has strengthened the independence of the ECB and provided the new Foreign Affairs Minister with power bases beyond the control of the governments. The Common foreign and security policy would be far more difficult to oppose under this new arrangement and it provides an institutional base for those who wish to provide Europe with its own defence force, ie France and Germany.


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