The Institutions of the Union
The reform of the Council, the body representing the Member States in the Union's
institutional triangle, was at the centre of the
debates of the Convention
Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC)
. The Constitutional Treaty introduces significant changes affecting this institution.
First of all, the Constitutional Treaty makes a clear distinction between two institutions:
- the European Council , which consists of the Heads of State and Government of the Member States (Articles I-21 and I-22);
- the Council of Ministers (referred to as the Council), which consists of representatives of Member States at ministerial level (Articles I-23 and I-24).
Secondly, the Constitution makes a number of changes to how the Council works.
Thirdly, the Constitutional Treaty requires the European Council to adopt new arrangements for the Council Presidency, based on a system of equal rotation among the Member States. However, it follows from an IGC declaration that, at least in the short term, the current system of half-yearly rotation will be retained.
Finally, the Constitution changes the voting system within the Council to qualified majority voting (Article I-25). This important subject is covered by the factsheet on the double majority.
[ Top ]
Article I-23 of the Constitution specifies the main tasks and the composition of the Council.
The Council, jointly with the European Parliament, exercises legislative and budgetary functions. It also has policy-making and coordinating functions. The executive powers conferred on it by existing treaties are not mentioned in this article but are found in Article I-37 on implementing acts. In fact, as a general rule, the responsibility for the implementation of acts lies with the Commission; it is the Council's task only in duly justified cases and in the area of common foreign and security policy (CFSP).
Except where the Constitution provides otherwise, decisions of the Council are taken by qualified majority. At present, where the treaties do not provide otherwise, the Council takes decisions by a simple majority of its members. This is rarely the case, however, as in the vast majority of instances the treaties refer to unanimity or qualified majority. The Constitutional Treaty has therefore reversed the approach, with qualified majority voting becoming the general rule. As a result, the reference to qualified majority voting is removed from all the articles concerned, which constitutes a major simplification.
The Constitution adopts the existing provisions on the composition of the Council, which thus consists of a representative of each Member State at ministerial level. Only this representative may commit the Member State in question and cast its vote (except for the possibility of delegating the voting right to another Member State, as provided for in Article III-343).
[ Top ]
The Constitution reorganises the work of the Council. Article I-24 of the Constitutional Treaty states that the Council shall meet in different configurations, which corresponds to existing practice but has never before been written down in the Treaties. Two Council configurations are specifically mentioned in the Constitution: the General Affairs Council and the Foreign Affairs Council. This represents a subject-based splitting of the present General Affairs and External Relations Council, which has been adopted at Constitution level.
The Constitution makes the General Affairs Council responsible for ensuring consistency in the work of the various Council configurations. When meeting in this configuration, the Council prepares and ensures follow-up to meetings of the European Council.
The Foreign Affairs Council elaborates the Union's external action on the basis of strategic guidelines laid down by the European Council and ensures that the Union's action is consistent. This Council configuration is chaired by the Union's Minister for Foreign Affairs .
Article I-24 of the Constitutional Treaty also provides for a European decision adopted by the European Council to establish a list of other configurations in which the Council may meet (e.g. Ministers of Finance and Economic Affairs).
The Constitution requires the Council to meet in public when it deliberates and votes on a draft legislative act (Articles I-24 and I-50). The Convention's proposal to set up a separate Legislative Council was abandoned by the Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC). However, the Constitutional Treaty requires each Council meeting to be divided into two parts, dealing respectively with deliberations on Union legislative acts and non-legislative activities. This means the Council's legislative and executive functions are more clearly separated, and its work is rendered more transparent.
[ Top ]
The Constitutional Treaty stipulates in Article I-24 that the Presidency of all Council configurations, other than Foreign Affairs, is to be held by Member State representatives on the basis of equal rotation. The Foreign Affairs Council is chaired by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The Constitution does not specify how this rotation system is to work, but states that rules will be established in a European decision adopted by the European Council acting by a qualified majority. This solution has the advantage of flexibility. The system may be changed, if appropriate, without having to amend the Constitution.
The IGC agreed on the details of such a decision. These are included in a declaration appended to the Final Act of the IGC, stating that:
The Presidency of the Council shall be held by pre-established groups of three Member States for a period of 18 months. The groups shall be made up on a basis of equal rotation among the Member States, taking into account their diversity and geographical balance within the Union.
Each member of the group shall in turn chair for a six-month period all configurations of the Council. The other members of the group shall assist the Chair in all its responsibilities on the basis of their common programme. Members of the team may decide alternative arrangements among themselves.
The European Council should start to prepare this decision as soon as the Constitution is signed and should reach political agreement within six months.
[ Top ]
Articles III-342 to III-346 of the Constitutional Treaty contain other provisions concerning the Council and its internal workings (voting procedures, internal organisation, the General Secretariat of the Council, etc.). These articles mainly bring together the provisions in Articles 202 to 210 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (EC Treaty), while adapting them to the changes introduced by the Constitutional Treaty.
It is important to note that the weighting of votes at the Council, currently
set out in Article 205 of the EC Treaty, has been done away with. The Constitution
sets out a
new system for adopting acts by qualified majority
, the double majority of Member States and of the population, applicable from 1 November
For the transitional period between the entry into force of the Constitution and 1 November 2009, the Constitution refers to the protocol on the institutions and bodies of the Union, which retains the system established by the Treaty of Nice.
[ Top ]
|I-23||The Council of Ministers||Major changes|
|I-24||Configurations of the Council of Ministers||Major changes|
|I-25||Definition of qualified majority||Major changes|
|I-50||Transparency of the proceedings of the institutions||New rules|
|III-342 to III-346||Institutional provisions - the Council of Ministers||-|
|Protocol on the transitional provisions relating to the institutions and bodies of the Union||Weighting of votes in the European Council and the Council of Ministers until 2009||Transitional rules|
|Declaration concerning the European Council decision on the exercise of the Presidency of the Council||Council Presidency rotation system||New rules|
These factsheets are not legally binding on the European Commission. They do not claim to be exhaustive and do not represent an official interpretation of the text of the Constitution.