Thursday, June 16

Of Councils and Confussion

The European Council

There is a lot of confussion and misunderstanding regarding 'The European Council'. Perhaps this blog can help, since the ''Council'' today and tomorrow will be featured a lot on news programmes.

Misunderstandings are very understandable since the descriptions and definitions of the EU's principle segments all have confusing and similar titles.

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". It 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 it was '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.
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.

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