Institutional reform

On 24 April 2003, the Convention Praesidium
proposed that the enlarged Union should have a President of the
European Council and a Foreign Minister. Other proposals for a
new institutional architecture of the EU include downsizing the
Commission to 15 members, setting up a Congress of national and
EU parliamentarians, making the number of members of parliament
more proportional to the size of countries’ populations and
changing the qualified majority voting system so that such a
majority shall consist of the majority of Member States,
representing at least 60 percent of the Union’s
population.

The need to reform the EU's
institutions stems from the fact that they were designed
for the original Community of six Member States and are
clearly not suited to the needs of an enlarged Union of
25 or more members. It will be increasingly difficult to
reach a consensus once the number of participants
involved in decision-making increases from the current
15.

Attempts at reforming the EU's
institutions were made in the Treaty of Amsterdam and the
Treaty of Nice (in force since 1 February 2003). However,
the changes it introduced were insufficient and the
Convention was called on to propose a new institutional
architecture for the Union.

The current status of the EU's main
institutions:

  • European Parliament:

    Originally a deliberative assembly, composed of members
    of national parliaments, with mainly advisory
    functions, underwent profound change since the first
    direct elections in 1979. It now assumes legislative,
    budgetary and political functions. The total number of
    MEPs is currently 626. The Treaty of Nice raised this
    ceiling to 732 to take account of the planned
    enlargement. The composition of the Parliament is the
    result of a system of "degressive proportionality".
    This system distorts representativity so that a
    Luxembourg MEP currently represents 72,000 citizens,
    while a German represents 829,000.

  • Council:

    It has both legislative and executive functions. The
    legislative work of the Council is currently spread
    across a number of different formations. The General
    Affairs Council co-ordinates the work of other Council
    formations. The Seville European Council in June 2002
    decided to limit the number of Council formations to
    nine, and to hold separate meetings of the two main
    areas of activity of the General Affairs and External
    Relations Council. The Council is currently headed by a
    rotating system of presidencies, with all Member States
    taking turns every six months. After enlargement, the
    period between Presidencies will exceed 12 years,
    affecting the continuity. It will also be more
    difficult to reach agreement on the basis of unanimity
    after enlargement. The Nice Treaty adopted a new triple
    system requiring a majority of weighted votes, a
    majority of members of the Council, and a majority
    representing at least 62 percent of the Union's
    population. However, this system is very complex and
    the allocation of votes is degressive, giving smaller
    Member States greater weight relative to population
    than to bigger Member States.

  • Commission:

    It is appointed by the Heads of State or Government,
    acting by qualified majority, and subjected to a vote
    of approval by the European Parliament, by simple
    majority. The Commission originally consisted of 9
    members, and it currently has 20 (one national from
    each of 10 smaller Member States, and two from each of
    the 5 largest Member States). The Treaty of Nice
    provides for one Commissioner per Member State. Once
    the Union has reached 27 Member States, there shall be
    fewer Commissioners than Member States, on the basis of
    equal rotation.

  • European Council:

    It brings together the Heads of Government or State of
    the Member States and the President of the Commission.
    Its objective is to provide the Union with the impetus
    for its development and define general political
    guidelines.

 

On 24 April 2003, the Convention
Praesidium made a proposal on how to reform the Union's
institutions (draft articles 14-23 for Title IV of Part I
of the Constitution).

These are some of the main
proposals:

  • The Union's Institutions (Article 14):

    The Union will be served by a single institutional
    framework, consisting of the European Parliament, the
    European Council, the Council of Ministers, the
    European Commission, the Court of Justice, the European
    Central Bank and the Court of Auditors.

  • The European Parliament (Article 15):

    It will, jointly with the Council, enact legislation,
    as well as exercise functions of political control and
    consultation. It will elect the President of the
    European Commission. It will be directly elected by
    universal suffrage for a term of five years. Its
    members will not exceed 700 in number. Representation
    of European citizens will be degressively proportional,
    with a minimum threshold of four members per Member
    State.

  • The European Council (Article 16):

    The European Council shall meet quarterly, convened by
    its President. Decisions of the European Council shall
    be taken by consensus.

  • The European Council Chair (Article
    16a):

    The European Council shall elect its President, by
    qualified majority, for a term of two and a half years,
    renewable once. The person elected must be, or have
    been for at least two years, a member of the European
    Council. He will represent the Union on issues
    concerning its common foreign and security policy in
    the world. The European Council may decide by consensus
    to create a board consisting of three of its members
    chosen according to a system of equitable
    rotation.

  • The Council of Ministers (Article 17):

    It will, jointly with the European Parliament, enact
    legislation, and carry out policy-making and
    co-ordinating functions. It will consist of a
    representative of each Member State at ministerial
    level for each of its formations. Decisions of the
    Council shall be taken by qualified majority.

  • Council formations (Article 17a):

    There will be the General Affairs Council, the
    Legislative Council, the Foreign Affairs Council, the
    Economic and Financial Affairs Council and a Council on
    Justice and Security. The Presidency of a Council
    formation, other than that of Foreign Affairs (chaired
    by the EU Foreign Minister) is to be undertaken by a
    Member State for a period of at least a year, taking
    into account European political and geographical
    balance and the diversity of all Member States. The
    General Affairs Council is to ensure consistency in the
    work of the Council of Ministers and prepare meetings
    of the European Council. The Legislative Council is to
    enact European laws and European framework laws. The
    Council, in its General Affairs formation, may decide
    on further formations.

  • Qualified majority (Article 17b):

    Qualified majority is to consist of the majority of
    Member States, representing at least three fifths of
    the population of the Union.

  • The European Commission (Article 18):

    The European Commission will exercise executive and
    management functions. Union acts can be adopted only on
    the basis of a Commission proposal. The Commission will
    consist of a President and up to fourteen other
    members. It may call on the help of Associate
    Commissioners.

  • The President of the European Commission
    (Article 18a):

    Taking into account the elections to the European
    Parliament, the European Council, deciding by qualified
    majority, will propose to the European Parliament a
    candidate for the Presidency of the Commission. The
    candidate will be elected by the European Parliament by
    a majority of its members. Each Member State shall
    submit a list of three persons, of which at least one
    must be a woman, whom it considers qualified to be a
    Commissioner. The President-elect, taking account of
    European political and geographical balance, will
    select the members of his Commission and submit them as
    a body to a vote of approval by the Parliament. The
    Parliament may pass a censure motion on the Commission,
    forcing all members of the Commission to resign. The
    President may appoint Associate Commissioners, chosen
    according to the same criteria. Their number must not
    exceed the number of members of the Commission.

  • The Foreign Minister (Article 19):

    The European Council, deciding by qualified majority,
    with the agreement of the President of the Commission,
    will appoint the Union's Foreign Minister. He shall
    conduct the Union's common foreign and security policy.
    The Foreign Minister will be one of the Vice-Presidents
    of the Commission.

  • The Court of Justice (Article 20):

    It will ensure respect for the Constitution and Union
    law. The Court will consist of one judge from each
    Member State, and will be assisted by
    Advocates-General. The High Court will include at least
    one judge per Member State. They will be appointed by
    common accord of the governments of the Member States
    for a renewable term of six years.

In addition to that, the Convention
Praesidium proposed to set up a new
Congress of the Peoples of Europe

(Article X of Title VI on "The Union's Democratic Life").
The Congress will provide a forum for contact and
consultation in European political life. It is to meet at
least once a year, in public. It will be convened and
chaired by the President of the European Parliament. One
third of the Congress will be members of the European
Parliament, two thirds will be representatives of
national Parliaments. The total will not exceed 700.

Valy Giscard d'Estaing, the Convention
Chairman, forged a compromise on 6 June 2003 that might
form a basis for a deal. The main points of the
compromise are:

  • a new president of the European Council with
    limited powers to serve for a renewable term of 2.5
    years;
  • a new EU foreign minister;
  • a stronger president of the European
    Commission;
  • an equal rotation of posts in the Commission from 1
    November 2009, with a two-tier system of voting and
    non-voting Commissioners;
  • the Commission to propose the EU multi-annual
    programme;
  • the European Parliament to gain voting rights over
    34 new policy areas;
  • a rotating chairmanship of ministerial Council
    meetings;
  • decisions to be taken by double majority voting
    from 1 November 2009, consisting of a majority of
    Member States and 60 percent of the EU's total
    population.

 

The Convention's Chairman, Valy Giscard
d'Estaing,

with the support from Britain, France, Germany, Spain,
Italy and Poland, believes that the new Constitution
should change the balance of power in the Union, because
it will be heavily tipped in the favour of the smaller
Member States after enlargement. Under the current
system, the seven smallest EU members, with 2.4 percent
of the population, would have more seats and votes on the
Commission than the six biggest states, which represent
75 percent of the population. Mr Giscard said: "Taking
the number of states into account is one thing. We also
have to take into account their populations, because we
operate in a democratic way here."

The 18 current and future smaller Member
States

have rejected the plans, but the
UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and
Poland

support the plan that would give them more clout in EU
decision-making.

On 5 May,
Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg

presented their joint position on the Union's
institutional architecture to the European Convention in
response to the proposal by the Convention's Praesidium.
The main points of the
Benelux

proposal are:

  • The European Parliament elects the Commission
    President;
  • The Council takes decisions by qualified majority,
    which consists of a majority of Member States
    representing at least 60 percent of the Union's
    population;
  • The General Affairs Council, chaired by the
    President of the Commission, ensures the continuity and
    coherence of the Council's activities and prepares the
    work of the European Council;
  • The Foreign Affairs Council, chaired by the EU
    Foreign Minister, prepares and adopts the Union's
    foreign policy as defined by the European Council;
  • The European Council meets every three months and
    takes decisions by unanimity.
  • The Council is to be presided by all Member States
    taking turns every six months;
  • The Commission is to consist of maximum 15
    Commissioners, assisted by the same number of Assistant
    Commissioners. Each Member State cannot have more than
    one Commissioner. Commissioners are to be appointed by
    rotation, based on the principle of equality of all
    Member States. The Commission is to take decisions by
    the majority of Commissioners. Assistant Commissioners
    cannot vote.
  • The Foreign Ministers is one of the Vice-President
    of the Commission. He/She is to be responsible for the
    Union's external relations and the security and defence
    policy.

Dans sa premie r#tion aux propositions
du Praesidium, la
Commission

a d¬arñue les rormes propos3 áient en
porte ýaux avec la principe de transparence et
mettaient en danger l'5ilibre des pouvoirs tel qui praut
actuellement dans le fonctionnement de l'Union. La
Commission d¬are qu'au lieu d'accroòe la
confiance et la responsabilit les rormes propos3 auraient
un effet n¡tif sur
l'efficacitÊinstitutionnelle, elle endommagerait la
mèode communautaire et entraerait encore plus de
confusion "qui fait quoi" dans l'Union. Une telle
structure aboutirait probablement ýne duplication
des responsabilit`selon la Commission.

On 30 April 2003, the
Commission

adopted the following position on the institutional
reform of the EU:

  • There is no need for a full-time European Council
    President, assisted by a 'Bureau'. It is not clear who
    will take over the tasks currently performed by the
    national administrations in charge of the
    Presidency.
  • Each Council formation should designate a member as
    a President for a one year period.  
  • The Council should adopt legislation with a double
    majority, representing a majority of Member States and
    a majority of the population. The Praesidium's proposal
    to raise the threshold to 3/5 of the EU population
    would render decision-making more difficult.
  • External representation should be in the hands of
    the future Minister for Foreign Affairs/Vice-President
    of the Commission only for issues related to the Common
    Foreign and Security Policy. For all other fields,
    external representation should occur through the
    Commission.
  • The Commission is to consist of one Commissioner
    per Member State; all Commissioners should have equal
    status, but powers should be delegated to specific
    groups of Commissioners.

The
European People's Party (EPP) Convention
Group

rejected the proposals as "autistic". The EPP Convention
Group Chairman Elmar Brok (CDU, Germany) said: "President
Giscard is in no sense reflecting the views expressed in
the Convention. This is purely about reducing the powers
of smaller EU countries, the Commission, and the European
Parliament."

Daniel Gros and Wolfgang Hager from CEPS

propose that the chairman of the various Councils "be
(s)elected by its peers for a period of three years" by
qualified majority voting to ensure that the office
holder has a broad base of consensus. The rotating
Presidency could be kept at the Head of States level,
suggests CEPS.

Edward Best from the European Institute of Public
Administration (EIPA)

told EURACTIV.com: "We should be very careful about going
too far in the direction of 'leadership by the large' at
the expense of 'coordination by the common'". Mr Best
underlined that "management of EU external relations by
the Big Few is also sensitive, as is any questioning of
the equality of states". "To propose a Union which is
still more strongly led by the European Council, and even
presided by one of these Heads of State or Government,
could be to overlook some basic functions of Community
institutions," he warned.

Charles Grant, Director of the Centre for
European Reform (CER),

proposed the establishment of four 'super-councils': the
Ecofin, the General Affairs Council, a new Foreign
Affairs Council, and a Justice and Home Affairs (JHA)
Council. The Ecofin, General Affairs and JHA Councils
should each elect one of their number as chairman, for a
period of two-and-a-half years. The Foreign Affairs
Council should be chaired by the High Representative,
appointed by the heads of government. He should also
assume the external functions of the rotating presidency.
The existing sectoral councils would become
'sub-councils', and should be chaired by the sectoral
Commissioners, with the exception of the Defence
sub-council that should be chaired by one of the Defence
Ministers. The GAC would co-ordinate their work, except
when financial issues were to the fore, when Ecofin would
do the job. The chairmen of the super-councils should
become formal members of the European Council. They and
the Commission president would be the transmission
channels for implementing summit decisions and
guidelines, proposes Mr Grant.

The European Round Table of Industrialists
(ERT),

representing leading European industrialists, called on
the EU Convention to reinforce the powers of the
Commission. The ERT stated at the Convention's working
session on 25 June that a stronger Commission is key to
making the Union more competitive because it is "the
genuinely Europe-focused institution and the one most
capable of articulating the common European interest
above national and regional interests". The ERT backed
the Commission's call for more economic powers. It
expressed concern that the Commission's economic powers
would be eroded by transferring them to the Member States
or by creating a system of "shared responsibility". The
ERT also supported proposals by Romano Prodi, the
Commission President, to create an inner cabinet inside
the Commission to prepare for the enlargement, which will
increase the Commission size to 27 members. The
industrialists fear that enlargement will make the
decision-making in the Commission more difficult.

 

The reform of the Union's Institutions
will be debated by the Convention on 15 and 16 May
2003.

The Convention is due to present its
proposal for a draft EU Constitutional Treaty to the
European Council in Thessaloniki on 20 June 2003.

The Intergovernmental Conference (IGC)
that will follow the Convention is to adopt a new
Constitutional Treaty for the Union. The 10 future Member
States will fully participate in the IGC and the Treaty
is due to be signed after their accession to the EU.
 

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe

Want to know what's going on in the EU Capitals daily? Subscribe now to our new 9am newsletter.