Wednesday, February 16

Of Councils and Confussion

The European Council

The Prime Minister is concerned about so called 'urban myths' regarding the European Union (EU). The real problem is not so much 'myths' but an ongoing misunderstanding of the institutions of the EU.

Misunderstandings are actually understandable since the descriptions and definitions of the EU's principle segments all have confusing and similar titles. Since the EU is a fundamental, arguably the most fundamental, part of the governance of the UK an appreciation of the structures - however confusing - is essential to all but those that prefer to remain blissfully unaware, which actually does have advantages but it is not a desirable condition.

This is the first of a series of weekly briefs, this communication looks at The European Council
- not to be confused with other European segments of a similar name.

To explain:

The European Council was informally established in 1970 as an institution of the then EEC, but it did not become formally recognised until the Maastricht Treaty - Title I Article D, whence it became a formal institution of the European Union. Its tasks, as set out in the Treaty, are "to provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development" and to "define the general political guidelines thereof".
The European Council must be distinguished from the Council of the European Union - otherwise known as "the Council", and is of course entirely separate from The Council of Europe, the latter of which is not a segment of the European Union and is separate from the EU, even though it established the now familiar EU flag and adopted Beethoven's coral sympathy which is now the anthem of the EU. As they say in the East End of London both were 'alf inched' by The Council of the European Union. I suppose that should be half 10 centimetres but it would not rhyme (nor reason).

Confused, don't worry, so are a lot of journalists who often get it wrong. So dear British Subject, one can be forgiven for being both confused and apathetic.As regards its formal role in treaty making, the European Council has no competence (i.e., power). It's sole role is to convene an Inter Governmental Conference (IGC), which it can do by a majority decision which is the formal body which negotiates the treaties such as Maastricht , Niece and Amsterdam, the details of which impact on all 'citizens' of Europe.
What is further confusing is that the European Council and the IGC have the same membership - heads of states and governments. The difference is that, constituted as the European Council, they represent the collective will of the European Union (in theory at least) while as an IGC they represent the interests of their member states. That's important and my dear reader may wish to re-read that point.The European Council has no formal powers to impose its decisions on member states, and its decisions are not "judicable" under the European Court of Justice. It certainly cannot make or amend treaties, and cannot impose a treaty - or any of its provisions - on any party to an IGC.

Blissful ignorance may still remain an option, this is understandable. However, since the EU is apart of the governance of the UK ones conclusions as to the desirability or otherwise of the status quo are better made with an understanding of who and how we are governed, as confusing as all it may be.

Next Wednesday we will look at the European Court of Justice, not to be confused with the European Court of Human Rights.

The following week the subject will be the EU Parliament or is it an Assembly ?

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