The EU-institutions: the Court of Justice of the EU

COURT OF JUSTICE OF THE EU

Today I have decided to go back to the series that I have started about a year ago regarding the functioning and attributions of the EU-institutions: after having reviewed the Council, the Parliament and the Commission, we are going to talk about the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), currently composed of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and the European General Court (EGC).

The functioning of the CJEU (originally called the Court of Justice of the European Communities CJEC) is determined by the treaties. The protocols setting its status are annexed to the treaties and must hence be taken into account since protocols have the same status as treaties since the judgement „Groupement des Industries Sidérurgiques Luxembourgeoises v High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community“ dating from 1956. The treaties also contemplated the creation of a jurisdiction of first instance, and so on October, 24th 1988, a decision of the Commission set the record straight by creating the Court of First Instance (CFI). As you may have understood, there were hence two different jurisdictions (the CJEC and the CFI), and the EU was hence forced to define a set of links and rules regarding the powers of each of these instances: the Treaty of Maastricht inserts provisions related to the CFI via art. 254, and the CJEC was modified by the Lisbon Treaty to become the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) – remember that the Lisbon Treaty first replaced the term „European Communities“ with „European Union“. However, it does not exactly represent the same jurisdiction: the CJEU encompasses the former CJEC (now called European Court of Justice ECJ), the CFI (now European General Court EGC) and the European Union Civil Service Tribunal (dissoluted in 2016, so we will leave it aside) – yes, the Lisbon Treaty was meant to make things simpler. There are hence two jurisdictions within the CJEU that we will study: the ECJ and the EGC.

Now, regarding the inner organization of the jurisdictions of the EU, there is one basic principle that you need to bear in mind: the principle of independance, which stems from the treaties.

Let’s start with the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Normally, there is one judge per Member State. Now, it is not a problem when the EU is made of an odd number of countries – which was the case until Croatia joined the club in 2013 – but now that we are 28 – and soon 27 again with the Brexit, really the EU is hard to keep track of – things are slightly different: when one more judge is needed to achieve an odd number, the Member States take turns by alphabetical order – as it is the case with many things regarding the EU. Every three years, half of the judges change. However – and oddly enough – treaties do not refer to the nationality of the judges, and a non-written agreement enables the repartition. The goal, however, is that every legal system of the Member States be represented. That still looks suspicious to us: the ECJ is supposed to be independent from the States, so who cares where they come from, right? And if we care where they come from, why the heck not enshrine it in the treaties? Anyways, there are in addition to the judges 11 advocates general: every big country has one, and the six other ones take turns between the remaining 23 States by alphabetical order. These advocates are also independent and impartial and give conclusions that are very detailed, to say the least. They are elected for six-years (renewable once), and until Lisbon they were designated through the reaching of a common agreement of all Member States – even though they were supposed to be independent. Nowadays, there is a previous examination phase by a committee composed of former members of the ECJ and the European General Court (EGC), members of national supreme jurisdictions and legal experts known for their EU-laws skills. EU-wide, only France does not possess an organ competent for sorting the applications. Furthermore, each advocate and judge is assisted by a few advisers, and their status implies a few conditions: competency, since they have to gather all conditions that are necessary in their home country to practice the highest jurisdictional functions OR be a legal adviser that has inarguable competencies; independence because they are not allowed to request or accept instructions; no other job; principle of reserve; taking of an oath; and obligation to reside in the city where the ECJ is located – that is in Luxemburg. Their mandate can end prematurely in case of death or required end of term (the other judges can observe that a judge does not comply with the necessary conditions any longer). As far as the EGC is concerned, the election of a judge is linked to his quality of magistrate. There are no advocates general – so to speak, for it can happen that a judge needs to call on a specialist when a case is particularly complex.

The presidents of the ECJ and the EGC are designated by their respective jurisdiction, meaning that there should be no interference from outside. The judges designate a president for a mandate of three renewable years, and the voting system used is the secret ballot with relative majority-vote. The President of the ECJ is currently Koen Lenaerts from Belgium, while the President of the EGC is Marc Jaeger from Luxemburg (a lot of power for Luxemburg between him and J.C. Juncker). The president bears responsibilities related to the jurisdictional function, as well as attributions linked to the procedure proceedings: he presides over the hearings, allocates the cases to the chambers, sets the dates of the hearings and adopts provisional measures and particular measures called orders.

The way the ECJ and the EGC work is pretty simple: the principle is to attribute a case to the chambers – sometimes during a plenary session. It has always been so as far as the EGC is concerned, and since the Maastricht Treaty, it also works that way for the ECJ. The ECJ meets in chambers of three up to five judges most of the time, and of 11 judges whenever the case is more complicated – the smaller the chambers, the more chambers have to gather together. The ECJ sits collegially when it wants to dismiss the European Ombudsman or when it must announce the deposition of a European Commissioner – which (unfortunately) quite frankly never happens. The EGC usually sits in chambers of three to five judges too, the difference being that the EGC can sit with only one sole judge when the case is really easy.

All services are independent from the Registry, which is presided by a registrar – duh! – for six years. The voting system, again, is the secret ballot with relative majority-vote. The registrar is responsible for assisting during jurisdictional activities: he attends the hearings, ensures the reception, transmission and custody of the judicial documents, is guardian of the Seals and is responsible for the Court’s archives and publications. The EGC can make use of the services of the ECJ for it practically has none – the services of the ECJ have 1,200 employees, while those of the EGC only have 80.

Let’s come to the links between the ECJ and the EGC. The Treaty of Nice has established some satisfying criteria by setting that the EGC was competent in four cases: actions for annulment, for failure to act, for damages and regarding litigations of the European public service. All of these actions must be filed at the EGC itself except when the case is given to a specific jurisdictional chamber by the Council unanimously. The EGC is supposed to know the decisions of the jurisdictional chambers. Normally, prejudicial matters (questions asked by a national judge to the European jurisdiction) are also within its scope of attributions. In 2010 for example, 268 judgements have been given, and the average length to solve a case was two years – which is similar to the ECJ.

An appeal to the ECJ must be based on the violation of a legal rule, whose starting point runs from the moment the EGC has ruled a decision. Member States and institutions are allowed to file an appeal, even when they did not intervene in front of the EGC. An appeal can be valid when a judgement is not sufficiently motivated – that is if the solution is not sufficiently explained – or if the EGC did not answer a point risen by one of the parties. If the appeal is valid, the ECJ nullifies the decision of the EGC: either it gives a new ruling itself, or it returns the case to the ECJ so that the latter can rule again

Now let’s jump to the last part of our article: the procedure proceedings to the jurisdictions of the EU. The jurisdictions are multilingual, and there are 24 official languages within the EU (four countries speak the same languages as others: Cyprus, Austria, Luxemburg and Belgium). The language of the procedure is normally chosen by the claimant, with a couple of “exceptions”: if the defendant is a State or a private person, the language used is the one of the State or of the State where the person resides. The general principle only applies if the defendant is an EU-institution – meaning that the general principle is the exception and the exception is the general principle, but who cares? Second exception: the language can stem from an agreement between the two parties. Statements of cases, decisions, etc. must be given into the chosen language. A deliberation (the procedure that precedes a decision) is given either in English or in French since these are the two working languages of the jurisdictions. A publication has to be made in all 24 official languages, while an appeal is given in the language of the procedure of the appeal to the Court.

Now, as far as the representation of the parties is concerned, the EU-institutions are represented by a member of their legal service, the States by a public servant from the Ministry of foreign affairs, physical and moral persons by a lawyer or a teacher of law that is a citizen of a State, whose legislation allows him to plead (this is the case in France for instance).

The legal costs are the sums of money that are invested and recoverable (amounts due to the witnesses and the experts, the necessary costs for the parties, etc.). In case the institution is represented by an agent, this does not count as a legal cost; however, if it is represented by a lawyer, then it does. The losing party has to pay all of the legal costs, “except” for the Member States and the institutions, which always pay for their own legal costs; however, the jurisdiction can sentence the winning party to refund the “vexatious” costs to the losing party. Legal costs are calculated according to the level of difficulty of the case, to the current economy situation, etc. Usually, no more than €-100/hour are granted to a witness or an expert.

Regarding the outcome of a legal procedure, the jurisdiction issues judgements or orders. Judgements are given after a three-step process: the presentation of the facts, arguments and conclusions, the reasoning of the jurisdiction, and the decision of the jurisdiction. If you try to read some of them, you will probably find that they are way too long, but there is a fair explanation to that: EU-laws are very recent and complicated, so that the jurisdictions feel like they have to justify and motivate their decisions – all the more so as some Member States argue with their competencies. Orders are given whenever they are provided for by the rules of procedure of the relevant jurisdiction. They are given by the president himself and are justified more succinctly.

 

This is how we finish our article regarding the Court of Justice of the European Union. It can seem like it is a bit complicated by reading this text, but bear in mind that I gave you the detailed version and that it is not much more complicated than national courts. The EU-jurisdictions are presented with more and more cases, which is why it is important that you understand how it works and what it is they are doing. Generally speaking, they are doing quite a good job to be honest, and no one can really argue with its usefulness to settle disputes between entities or persons from two different countries.

The EU-institutions: the European Parliament (Part II)

On July 21st 2016, we published a first article on the structure, organization and functioning of the European Parliament as part of our series dedicated to the EU-institutions. It has been a while since we last published something about the functioning of the EU-institutions, so it is high time we continue what we have started. This week’s article will thus deal with the second part of the European Parliament, i.e its attributions. I prefer apologizing right now for what I am going to write because that is very complicated. I tried to make it fun, but I gave up because the Parliament’s attributions are not fun.

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First, we need to know that the Parliament’s powers have been developed by the treaties and by interinstitutional agreements – meaning agreements between institutions. At the beginning, it merely possessed deliberation and political control powers. Nowadays, it is also part of the legislative process regarding external relations and budget matters. Its role has gained importance over the years, and we strongly believe it will continue in the coming years since the EU is facing a major trust crisis among its citizens, jeopardizing the future of the EU – and even threatening its core existence. Since the Parliament is supposed to represent the interests of the citizens, we reckon it is inevitable that it acquires more powers if we are to save the European Union.

First, let’s talk about its power of political control. Originally, it was exerted on the Commission. Nowadays, its influence is also valid regarding the Council. It possesses various means to do so: it can adopt resolutions regarding the activities of the Commission and the Council, which is a way of influencing their work. For instance, when one of these institutions adopts its yearly work program, the Parliament adopts a resolution on these programs afterwards. Unfortunately, a resolution has no legal force, meaning they are more or less opinions. Second means: it can ask questions to the Commission and the Council, either written or oral. However, since nothing is easy with the EU, do not go on thinking that asking a question does not go along with groundrules, such as the fact that the initiative must stem from a parliamentary commission, a political group or a minimum of seven MEPs. Third means: it can start legal proceedings through the European Court of Justice.

The Parliament also possesses a power of control that only applies to the Council since the Council must present a report to the Parliament after each and every meeting it holds, as well as a yearly report. As far as its powers on the sole Commission are concerned, the Parliament can make the Commissioners quit through the vote of a motion of no confidence that can only be filed by a political group or a minimum of 1/10th of the Members of the Parliament. In this scenario, a period of 72 hours from the submission of the motion is set, after which the motion must gather 2/3 of the votes. Obviously, the Parliament does not use that power very much: it happened in 2014, when the Luxleaks affair involving the at-the-time-and-still-President Jean-Claude Juncker happened. But it eventually failed, obviously: you do not make this kind of people go away that easily – and if this was not enough, we can only wonder what is! Another “power” (let’s keep that into brackets) that the Parliament has over the Commission is that it intervenes in the nomination procedure of the President and the Commissioners, and it can hence veto a nomination – however mostly in theory since the Parliament has refused one Commissioner only throughout the years (for more information, see article “The EU-institutions: the European Commission” from June 14th 2016) and the mystery still holds: how on Earth could they only refuse one candidate?! However, if the EU is to be saved, the Parliament will definitely need to use them a bit more – the citizens are rightfully angry at the EU and hence thirsty for corrupt and incompetent blood.

The budgetary power of the Parliament resides in the making and execution of the budget. It represents about €145 billion (in 2015) – it seems like a lot, but it actually represents only 1% of the wealth generated by the Member States every year. The attributions of the Parliament have spread over the years: the first treaties only granted it a consultative power. A proposition was handed by the Commission to the Parliament, which could make amendments that were not legally binding. The Council could then adopt the budget. However, the Parliament wanted to weigh in a bit more, and it was then established in the Treaty of Brussels of 1975 that the Parliament be the co-holder of the budgetary authority along with the Council.

Now, there are two types of expenditures: the compulsory expenditures (CE) and the non-compulsory expenditures (NCE). Until the Lisbon Treaty, the process related to the CE did not change: the Council adopted them. The CE were set by both the Treaties and the subsequent legal acts adopted for their implementation (the expenditures of the Common Agricultural Policy for instance result from a policy set by the Treaties, so they are compulsory). Regarding the NCE, the Parliament could give a first opinion to the Council, which could then differ and send it back to the Parliament and hence force the decision (within the limits of its envelope that is). However, this all changed with the enforcement of the Lisbon Treaty: the Parliament co-holds the budgetary power since the Council can no longer adopt a budget without the consent of the Parliament, may it be for CE or NCE.

When it comes to the implementation of the budget, the Parliament had no part at all before 1975, only the Commission and the European Court of Auditors did (in order to control the good management of the budget). This changed after that year for the Parliament was given the power to intervene and give a discharge to the Commission regarding the budget implementation. This discharge bears a political meaning because it means that the Parliament basically has to approve the Commission’s work, as well as a legal meaning because the Parliament’s decision is needed to close the accounts. This power of the Parliament is real, and we actually witnessed it for the year being, when the Parliament did not agree with the budget that it was presented with and forced the Commission to make significant modifications, especially regarding the EU competitiveness policies.

Now let’s jump to a harder part – yes, what we said about the budget was a piece of cake compared to what is coming – namely the legislative role of the Parliament. As we said in our first article about the Parliament, it does not hold the same powers as a national Parliament: it does not have the initiative power (which solely belongs to the Commission) nor does it own the power of decision on its own (it is shared with the Council). The Parliament can only give opinions that have no real legal value. What is the point you may think? I know, knowing it is as useful as knowing that pteronophobia is the fear of being tickled by feathers or that every time you lick a stamp you consume 1/10 of a calorie – no one really understands why these facts exist, but knowing it makes you interesting, so let’s see how these opinions work!

The initial legal consultation procedure set by the Treaties bears both a compulsory and an optional component. It is mandatory when it is enshrined in the treaties. If the Parliament’s opinion has not been asked for, it can go to the Court of Justice and ask for the annulment of the act. The optional consultation is valid in any other case (that is those not imposed by the treaties), it is voluntary and the Court of Justice cannot be consulted. The modalities within the Parliament regarding a compulsory consultation procedure are set by the treaties as well, and there are four main stages: the Commission’s proposal is sent to the President of the Parliament, which then transmits the proposal to the competent parliamentary commission that can suggest modifications. The Parliament then reviews the report of its parliamentary commission during a plenary session and votes: either it approves the initial proposal or it rejects it, or else it accepts the amendments of the parliamentary commission. Fourth step: the President of the Parliament hands over the proposal in the version adopted by the Parliament to the Council. Following the Parliament’s opinions is not binding for the Commission and the Council, but do keep in mind that the Parliament’s opinions have a certain political influence on the European Commission since it is under official political control by the Parliament through the threat of a motion of no-confidence. Finally, please note that the Commission and the Council have committed themselves to filling-in the Parliament on their decision to follow or not its opinions.

The concertation procedure aims at seeking an agreement between the Parliament and the Council. This does not appear in the treaties but in an inter-institutional declaration between the Parliament, the Council and the Commission dating back from 1975 that applies to the “Community acts of general application which have appreciable financial implications”. The process is triggered as soon as the Parliament and the Council ask for its opening: the Council adopts a common orientation stating whether it is in compliance with the parliamentary opinion. If it is, the Council pronounces the irrevocable adoption of the act. In case it is not, a concertation takes place within a concertation committee gathering representatives from the Parliament and members of the Council. They have three months to come to an understanding. If no understanding is met, the Council can adopt the act, which makes it very difficult for an agreement to be found since the Council knows it will always have the last word. This whole procedure is hence particularly useless and time-consuming for no reason. Bureaucracy, yay! It now applies to very few matters, such as the internal market exemptions and competition law.

The cooperation procedure was the longest and most complex one, but it disappeared with the Lisbon Treaty. You may think it is a waste of time talking about it, and you are absolutely right, but it shows how preposterous some EU-rules can be. You think the way the EU works nowadays could not be sillier? Well, think twice! This so-called cooperation procedure appeared with the European Single Act and granted a double reading system to the Parliament that enabled it to have “more influence” by giving two opinions – one opinion, although pretty useless as we saw, was not enough uselessness, so a double amount of uselessness was necessary. At the beginning, it applied to pretty much all fields and matters, but the Amsterdam Treaty turned it into the concertation procedure, except for the Economic and Monetary Union. The first step was the Commission making a proposal, and the second was the Parliament giving its opinion in first reading and without any delay. The third phase was the Council reviewing the Commission’s proposal in first reading and adopting a common position by unanimous vote in case it wanted to modify the proposal and by qualified majority if it did not touch it. The Council then submitted the proposal to the Parliament, which then gave its stance in second reading within a three-month period of time. Now it gets even trickier: first hypothesis, either the Parliament approved the common position, or it abstained deciding (which however was worth an approval, so what was the point abstaining), or else it adopted amendments. If it approved or abstained (which was the same), then the Council could adopt the act by qualified majority or unanimous vote depending on the situation. If amendments were adopted by the Parliament in second reading, the Commission had to review its proposal within a month: either it rejected the amendments made by the Parliament and the Council could still adopt the text unanimously, or it took them into consideration so that the Council could adopt it by qualified majority, or else it withdrew the text and the Council could not help it. Second hypothesis (yes all that we just saw was only the first hypothesis): in case the Parliament completely rejected the common position of the Council, the latter could still adopt the text unanimously (nothing anti-democratic about that, no time wasted either). The good news about this procedure is that it only applies to a limited number of cases, such as economic and monetary policies. So, happy you know how it used to work? The good news is that if you made it that far into getting to know the Parliament, please go on – your suffering is almost over.

The co-decision procedure, which was renamed as ordinary legislative procedure by the Lisbon Treaty to give it a legal meaning (the other procedures are called “special procedures”), was created by the Maastricht Treaty and modified by the Amsterdam Treaty. It simply means that the European Parliament shares the power of decision with the Council. A novelty was introduced in the Parliament’s second reading: a mediation committee has to be put together to seek an understanding within six weeks. If there is no final agreement, the proposal is rejected for good. This is the most common procedure and it applies to about 80 fields (transportation, energy, immigration, environment, etc.). It basically means that neither institution can adopt legislation without the other’s assent in those fields.

Finally, in the assent procedure (renamed consent procedure by the Treaty of Lisbon, words are important), the Parliament can give its opinion only once about an act project given by the Council. The lack of assent prevents the adoption of the text. This applies to matters such as the membership of new States, the withdrawal of a Member State (um um Brexit), the decisions on European elections, discrimination, etc.

Please also note that, although it does not have an initiative power since it cannot propose a law, it can still ask the Commission to submit a proposal for law to the Council. When the Parliament is presented with the annual work program of the Commission, it can also say which laws it would like to see introduced in priority. It is not much, but it is a start. One example is the latest idea that the Parliament has had: it wants to give away a free Interrail pass to every teenager on his 18th birthday (we will write a special article about that awful idea soon), and it will soon ask the Commission to present  a law about it.

Finally, let’s move on to the role of the Parliament regarding Foreign Affairs. Its involvement comes in the shape of a consultation at a given time. This procedure is called the Luns 1 procedure (after the name of the President at the time in 1964) and means that the Parliament can ask for a debate with the Commission or an appointment with the Council prior to an agreement. The other institutions must keep the Parliament updated on the agreements status through the parliamentary commissions. A second progress was introduced by the European Single Act: the conclusion of certain partnership agreements is subject to the Parliament’s approval when it comes to economic and trade foreign affairs. This procedure is called the Luns 2 procedure. Thanks to the Maastricht Treaty, some further changes have been adopted through article 218: the Parliament’s approval is necessary for all partnership agreements.

Now as you can see, the attributions of the Parliament are not easy to understand, but the good news is that they tend to develop – at a slow pace. However, we can still regret that most of its powers are either not of much use or that when it has real powers, it rarely uses them. When we read the newspapers, we see the Commission everywhere, but we do not see the Parliament that much. When we see corruption and incompetence cases within the Commission, we blame the Commission and the Commissioners for being corrupt and incompetent, but what about the Parliament? It has the power to destitute the Commission and it never does, it has the power to refuse a Commissioner and a President before they are appointed and it never does, making it almost equally responsible as “partner in crime”. The Barroso Commission and the Juncker Commission have not done anything to help the citizens and to save the EU, they have made the situation worse and worse, we know it, the Parliament knows it, but it is too afraid to lose its privileges. Its role is to represent the citizens and protect them, but we have the impression that it mostly protects the EU-functionaries and elites, which includes the Commissioners and the MEPs themselves. After all, they are also citizens who need protection to maintain their social status, right?

The EU-institutions: the Council of the European Union

This article is the first of a series that aims at exploring the EU-institutions as we know them nowadays. We often hear that the functioning of the EU is complicated, which is why I have decided to write about it. I will both try to show you how it works, and how rigid and bureaucratic its framework sometimes is.

To sum up, there are several main institutions in the EU, and they all represent different interests. This first article will be dedicated to the Council of the European Union (not to be mistaken with the European Council), which represents the interests of the Member States at ministerial level (the interests of the 28 governments that is). It is, as most institutions, located in the capital city of the EU, which corresponds to Brussels, Belgium. So, remember that Belgium has fries, waffles, (some) (very) bad jokes, (some) (very) good beers, two official languages (French and Dutch), and EU-institutions. The aim of the Council of the EU is to ensure the insertion of the member States within the community process.

For the records (and for you history freaks), the Council of the EU was originally created in 1958 under the name “Council of the European Economic Community (EEC)”, and was renamed as “Council of Ministers” after the 1965 Treaty of Brussels (also known as Merger Treaty) since the fact that each government shall send one of its members was provided for in this treaty. Then of course, the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 added that the Council shall be integrated by a representative of each Member State authorized to engage the government of this State, which implies that infra-state members could sit at the Council (which happens mostly in theory). You have probably realized it, but it was then impossible to call it “Council of Ministers”, so “Council of the European Union” seemed more adapted. Very subtle, right? I know it is a bit confusing at first – all the more so that there is another institution called European Council as said before – but so are the laws of cricket and new feminism. Anyways, it now works like a college of permanent representatives from the 28 Member States governments, which eventually is what really matters.

The Council of the EU does not meet on a regular basis: meetings are not weekly, or monthly, they depend on what needs to be discussed at a certain time. We can classify these Council meetings into three possible configurations:

1) The general configuration encompasses the representatives who know the European issues and functioning generally speaking (the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Member States for instance);

2) The sector-specific/specialized configuration is divided into nine sub-formations: Foreign Affairs; Agriculture and Fisheries; Competitiveness; Economic and Financial Affairs; Education, Youth, Culture and Sports; Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs; Environment; Justice and Home Affairs; and Transport, Telecommunications and Energy. That means that the specialized representatives will sit according to the agenda of the day: if the meeting is about Environment, then the Ministers of Environment will sit. The problem with the specialized configuration is pretty obvious: some policies and areas are linked to others: the so-important Common Agricultural Policy (configuration “Agriculture and Fisheries”) for instance is related to the economic policy (configuration “Economic and Financial Affairs”). Now, you can’t really expect a Minister of Agriculture to know much about European economic policies, can you?

3) The joint configuration: this is the least common configuration, during which a specialized representative and the representatives for Foreign Affairs sit together. These meetings are called “jumbo sessions”. This could basically be the answer to the specialized configurations problem, except that it is quite heavy, so it cannot be used as often as necessary because it would paralyze pretty much everything. In other words: it isn’t much of a lifesaver.

The organs of the Council of the EU are determined by two different sources: the treaties, and the rules and regulations of the Council itself.

First, let’s take a look at the Council Presidency: it rotates every six months between the 28 Member States. The Member State holding the Presidency has to work closely with the two next Presidencies, which is called the Presidency trio.The Netherlands currently hold the Presidency (until the 30th of June), then Slovakia will be up, and then Malta, meaning the three of them currently have to work together. The Presidency trio of the Council sets the general agenda for the next 18 months.

Over the years, the Presidency of the Council has gained power since it now has the role of coordinator of EU-community policies. In addition, the President can sit in meetings of other institutions and propose amendments, but he cannot cast a vote.

Of course, it was quite predictable that the rotation of the Member States would also follow rules: originally, the Presidency was decided upon alphabetical order according to the names of the Member States in their original language, but with the enlargements of 2004, there were actually much more small States than big States. That was too risky for big countries’ interests, which did not want to stay away from the Presidency for too long, so it has hence been decided that the rotation of the Member States holding the Presidency should be decided as follows: among the current country having the Presidency, the one that had it just before and the one that will have it right after, one should be a “big” country (Germany, the UK, France, Italy, or Spain). Now we are on a counter-example: the Netherlands have it, then it will be Slovakia, and beforehand it was Luxemburg. This rule is a bit silly since it is not really manageable (there are only five big countries, so it is basic mathematics – and yes maths come in very handy when it comes to EU-laws in case you were wondering) and there are almost more counter-examples than valid examples, but hey, it is the rule!

The General Secretariat of the Council is made up of eight general directions, where about 3500 civil servants work. The General Secretariat is led by a Secretary-General, who is appointed by the Council unanimously for five years (currently, Danish Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen is the Secretary-General). The role of the General Secretariat is to assist the Council in its organization on two levels: the financial level (it manages the funds of the Council), and the logistics level (it helps preparing the agendas and the reports of the meetings). It kind of works as a Council Cabinet.

The COREPER stands for “Committee of the Permanent Representatives of the Governments of the Member States to the European Union” (no joke, this is the actual name, so let’s stick to COREPER). It represents the States to the other institutions permanently. But it is not that easy: one COREPER would not be enough, so to confuse people there are two of them: COREPER 1 consists of the deputy permanent representatives and deals with less important matters, so let’s not waste our time with it. COREPER 2, however, is a much bigger deal since it consists of the permanent representatives and handles fundamental issues such as Foreign Affairs, Economic and Financial Affairs, Justice and Home Affairs, and General Affairs. Only specialists designated by the States (one per State) can sit in it, so it is kind of an exclusive club in Brussels.

The COREPER is a place of dialogue for the various permanent representatives of the States with each others, and between the permanent representatives and their capital city. That gives some sort of a sense of community. Its second role is to maintain a certain control on the activities of the Council as it works as a filter between various pending dossiers within the Council, and decides whether these dossiers (which altogether make up for the agendas of the day when there are meetings) should be known by the Ministers. For more democracy, Member States or the European Commission can require that a point be integrated within the agenda of the day. But the integration of a point is not so easy obviously: it has to be required at least 16 days ahead of the meeting so that it can be decided whether it will appear on the agenda of the day.

On top of that and to once again make things even more difficult than they really need to be, the COREPER bears another name regarding Agriculture and Fisheries: the Special Committee on Agriculture.

As far as the rules and ways of voting are concerned, the Council votes on matters that have been written on the agenda of the day. There are two parts on the agenda of the day: in part A are all the points that require an approval of the Council without any further debate, however if there are debates the dossier is sent back to the COREPER; in part B we can find all the points that require a debate, but if the Ministers are unable to agree with each other, the dossier is sent back to the COREPER as well.

There are rules regarding the votes: the States vote in alphabetical order, and the State that votes first is the one that follows alphabetically (in the language of the country) the country that has the Presidency of the Council. I know, that is not very important, but it is too tempting to show how preposterously bureaucratic the EU really is. Please note that it is possible for a country to delegate its vote to another State in case its representative cannot be there, providing that the country to which it gives its delegation does not already have a delegation from another country since only one delegation per country is allowed – I mean, that country could actually cheat with two delegations, and not with one, right?

Now, various types of votes exist depending on the matter, for which the meaning of the word “majority” is different. These different types are provided for in the treaties. In fact, three majority types exist: the simple majority (believe me, this is as simple as it gets) means that the number of positive votes must be superior to the number of negative votes (currently, that means 15 positive votes out of 28 Member States). This is a common way of voting, and the States appeal to it whenever the treaties do not specify otherwise – which of course they do most of the time. This applies mostly to procedure decisions. The unanimous vote means that every single State has to agree with each other, which implies that countries do have a veto (abstention is not considered as a veto in this case). After the Single European Act, this way of voting was extended to two fields in particular: those considered “sensitive” (taxation, culture for instance), and those deemed to be “essential” (some aspects of the economic and monetary Union, of institutional-related matters, etc.). Finally, the qualified majority vote (or double majority as it is now known) is the most frequent method (about 80% of all EU-laws follow this procedure): before 2014, the bigger the State, the more power it had since every State was granted a certain number of votes (29 for France, Germany, Italy and the UK, 3 for Malta, and 260 votes out of 352 were required to obtain a qualified majority), which was unfair since most States were small after the 2005 enlargements and big States basically only had to get together to pass a law; however, since 2014, the rules have changed, and for a proposal to be accepted, 55% of the Member States, representing at least 65% of the EU-population, have to vote in favor (hence the “double majority” name). The goal of this new system is to make the EU more democratic and to encourage States-alliances. Now, that shows how hard it is for the EU to move towards more democratic principles, because this adds up to the complexity and the bureaucracy that no one actually understands. If making things impossible to understand is democratic, then the EU is great at its job. However, until 2017, Member States can require that the vote system that was in place before 2014 still prevail.

At the beginning, the role of the Council of the EU was minor since the voting method was unanimity. However, this changed, and its role is now dominant. It is a bit of a hybrid organ within the EU since its attributions range from the legislative power to the executive power.

Its legislative power revolves around three categories of legal instruments: it can adopt directives (States-oriented legislative act, meaning that the States must transpose the directive in their own internal legal frameworks so as to achieve a goal set by the EU), regulations (binding legislative act that is directly applicable across the EU), and decisions (directly applicable to the recipients specified in the decision, also binding).

Its executive functions are slightly more complicated: before the Lisbon-Treaty (2009, which updated the functioning of the EU-institutions), the Council of the EU had executive competences, but it could also delegate them to the European Commission – which it actually did a lot. In order to control the delegations of competences that it had made, it could use committees of management and regulation. There were so many of these committees that it eventually gave birth to the term “comitology”. Since Lisbon, this system has been revoked – in theory only: in certain fields, the Council must execute the decisions itself (free competition, Foreign Affairs). But for the rest, it still is up to the Council whether to delegate or not and hence go on with the “comitology” or not.

In addition, it is worth adding that the Council is responsible for coordinating the policies of the Member States by adopting recommendations (suggestion of a line of action that does not impose any legal obligation on those to whom it is addressed) to bring national points of view closer.

Finally, I would like to share my personal point of view. Yes, there are a lot of (silly) rules in place, and yes one can wonder who on Earth gets paid to come up with some of them, but we need not to forget that there are 28 members and 508 million people, and that if there are not enough rules, then the EU cannot work. It seems to be exaggerated sometimes (vote system with the first country to vote being the one that follows alphabetically the State holding the Presidency, unanimous vote blocking many decisions, etc.), but these rules eventually come from demands from the Member States. They are in place because they do not want to go far enough as far as solidarity is concerned, because Member States do not trust each other. Now, I am one of those people who firmly believe that the EU cannot work efficiently with 28 countries that are all so different and that want to put their national interests first, and sure the Council of the EU does not represent the citizens directly, but either way these rules are in place because the practice has needed them at some point to be in place. The Member States and the peoples of the EU need to understand that things would be worse without the EU, and that it is not a threat to their interests but rather the solution to their problems – solution that they have come up with themselves, because we need to remember who takes all those decisions eventually: the Member States themselves and their representatives (at least in the Council), not the EU as an entity. That is why as long as the societies won’t be included by the Member States themselves, the EU won’t be able to respond to their needs and they will grow more and more apart. The problem is the same at EU-level and at national-level, so I will once again come to the same conclusion: do not wait for a change in the EU, wait for a change in your respective countries, because this is the only way that the EU will ever change. Be this change.