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The Institutions of the Union


The Council of Ministers


Introduction
General provisions
Formations of the Council of Ministers
Chairmanship of formations of the Council of Ministers
Other changes proposed
Summary table

INTRODUCTION

The Convention proposes that the Council be clearly separated into two institutions:

This separation is necessary because ordinary citizens are confused about the activities of the institutions. Thus, the Council of the European Union (often called the "Council of Ministers") normally consists of representatives of the Member States meeting at ministerial level but it may also refer to meetings of Heads of State or Government held to discuss matters of particular importance, such as the adoption of the euro by a Member State. If the Council of the European Union meets at Heads of State and Government level, it may be confused with the European Council.

The draft constitutional treaty removes this risk of confusion and makes a clear distinction between the European Council and the Council of Ministers.

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GENERAL PROVISIONS

Article I-22 of the draft Constitution specifies the main tasks and the composition of the Council of Ministers.

The Council of Ministers will, jointly with the European Parliament, exercise legislative and budgetary functions. It will also have 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-36 on implementing acts.

Except where the Constitution provides otherwise, decisions of the Council of Ministers are to be taken by qualified majority . At present, where the treaties do not provide otherwise, the Council takes decisions by a majority of its members. This is rarely the case however, as treaties mainly make reference to unanimity or qualified majority. Thus, the Convention is proposing to reverse this approach, with qualified majority voting becoming the general rule. As a result, the reference to qualified majority voting is to be removed from all the articles concerned.

For each of its formations, the Council of Ministers will consist 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 voting on behalf of someone else, as provided for in Article III-246).

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FORMATIONS OF THE COUNCIL OF MINISTERS

The draft constitutional treaty reorganises the work of the various Council of Ministers formations. Thus, Article I-23 introduces two formations: the Legislative and General Affairs Council and the Foreign Affairs Council.

The Legislative and General Affairs Council will ensure consistency in the work of the various Council of Ministers formations.
When it acts in its General Affairs function, the Council of Ministers will, in liaison with the Commission, prepare, and ensure follow-up to, meetings of the European Council.
When it acts in its legislative function, the Legislative Council will consider and, jointly with the European Parliament , enact European laws and European framework laws. In this case, each Member State will be represented by one or two additional delegates at ministerial level with relevant expertise, reflecting the business on the agenda. In addition, Article I-49 of the draft constitution, dealing with transparency of the proceedings of the institutions, provides that the Legislative Council should meet in public when adopting a legislative proposal.
The Legislative Council, which is to be set up as part of the General Affairs Council, therefore represents an important innovation which demonstrates the legislative powers of the Council of Ministers.

The Foreign Affairs Council will, on the basis of strategic guidelines laid down by the European Council, flesh out the Union's external policies and ensure that its external actions are consistent. This Council of Ministers formation will be chaired by the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs .

Article I-23 of the draft constitutional treaty also provides for the establishment, by means of a European decision adopted by the European Council, of further formations in which the Council of Ministers may meet (for example, the Council of Ministers of Finance and Economic Affairs).

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CHAIRMANSHIP OF FORMATIONS OF THE COUNCIL OF MINISTERS

The draft constitutional treaty stipulates that all the Council of Ministers formations, other than that of Foreign Affairs, are to be chaired by Member State representatives on the basis of equal rotation for periods of at least one year.

The draft Constitution does not specify how this rotation system is to work but proposes that rules should be established by adopting a European Decision, taking into account European political and geographical balance and the diversity of Member States. This proposal therefore maintains the practice of a rotating chairmanship for almost all the Council of Ministers formations.

However, the chairmanship will no longer be given to a single country but to several Member State representatives so that each country will have an opportunity to chair a Council formation for a certain period.

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OTHER CHANGES PROPOSED

Articles III-245 to III-249 of the draft constitutional treaty contain other provisions concerning the Council of Ministers and its internal workings (voting procedures, internal organisation, the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, 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 proposed by the Convention.

It is important to note that the weighting of votes at the Council, currently set out in Article 205 of the EC Treaty, is to be done away with. The Convention's proposal sets out another system for adopting acts by qualified majority , applicable from 1 November 2009 onwards.
For the transitional period between the entry into force of the Constitution and 1 November 2009, the Convention proposes that the protocol on the weighting of votes in the Council of Ministers should apply. This retains the system established by the Treaty of Nice .

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SUMMARY TABLE

Articles Subject Comments
I-22 The Council of Ministers Significant changes
I-23 Formations of the Council of Ministers Significant changes
I-49 Transparency of the proceedings of the institutions New provisions
III-245 to III-249 Institutional provisions -- the Council of Ministers -
Protocol Protocol on the representation of citizens in the European Parliament and the weighting of votes in the European Council and the Council of Ministers. Transitional provisions

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The fact sheets 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 Convention.


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