Chapter 2 Suggested approaches to end-of-chapter questions

The Union institutions

1. Who do the European Commissioners represent?

Although appointed by the member states (in Council but subject to EP approval) and there is currently one per member state which gives the impression that they represent the member state by whom they are nominated, this should not be and is not the case. They are there not to represent the national interests of the member states from which they are nominated but to represent a Union view and to act in the interests of the Union overall and give an oath of independence.

2. Why was there such a fuss about the number of votes per country and the combination of votes under QMV?

The fuss goes to the core of the degree of power enjoyed by each of the states but not only that but also the relative power in comparison with other states or combination of states. Whilst states are relatively happy to sign up to the EU, they do not want to see their own sovereign state power diminish as a result, particularly the larger states which have enjoyed in the past at least, considerable power on the world stage. Each country is crudely apportioned voted according to the size of its population and its general economic strength. The smaller countries do not want to be dominated by a few large countries and the few large countries do not want to be outvoted by a combination of small countries whose combined population represent only a small minority of the overall EU population. A lot of political bargaining has to take place to obtain the agreement of the now 28 member states.

3. What role is played by the European Council?

The European Council was set up originally by the SEA to provide a political steering role for the Communities and now Union, which was felt at times to be lacking direction and impetus. Meeting in summits and consisting of the heads of state and government it decides on the broad policy issues to be followed by the Union or to be contemplated for future inclusion within the Treaty set up. It also tries to act to present a common political front and position in world politics with the rest of the world although as was seen with Iraq, this has not always been particularly successful. Note that after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the European Council is now officially one of main Union institutions (see Art 13 TEU).

4. Do the changes made by various Treaty amendments to the powers of the European Parliament go far enough to address the Community's alleged ‘democratic deficit’?

Before the SEA, the Parliament had largely advisory and consultative powers, which meant that the EP need only be consulted before a decision could be adopted by the Council. Its participation in the legislative process was increased by the Conciliation procedure of 1977, the co-operation procedure by the SEA and the assent of the EP is a prerequisite to the accession of new Member States. Its legislative role is still limited, to such an extent that the term "democratic deficit" is used to describe this state of affairs. The TEU gave Parliament a more extensive role in the legislative process by giving its consent (co-decision) or by delivering an advisory opinion (co-operation).

The EP is the only directly elected body but only having a minor role in the legislative process whereas increasing powers are being transferred from the member states out of the reach of nationally elected parliaments. Thus a deficit in democracy is argued to be introduced. However, following the Lisbon Treaty, the EP plays a much greater role in law making with few areas now remaining outside the ordinary legislative procedure which incorporates the co-decision procedure.

Additionally there is the question of delegation of legislative power to Committees controlled by the Council and not the EP. This whole argument is described as the democratic deficit , i.e. because the EP is the only directly democratically elected element, in order to maintain the democratic right or justification of EU laws, the legislative process must be democratically justified and therefore promulgated. If this democratic deficit is real then something needs to be done.

The Council is made up of ministers of governments who are often elected members of each member state so there is an indirect representation here but you should point out there is a lack of openness/accountability and that they are not dismissible.

These additional powers go some small way towards correcting the democratic deficit in the EU, but is this far enough?

This depends on your view. Criticisms are that the new powers still do not go very far and only give the EP a negative power of veto and still only apply to limited specific areas, and further complicates matters by the addition of another legislative procedure which is also quite lengthy. If you want more federalism this can only be done democratically if the EP is given more representative power. Increasing the powers of the EP has to be at someone's expense, not the national parliaments but the Council of Ministers and, or, the Commission. The Lisbon Treaty now provides that national parliaments also be involved in scrutinising EU legislative proposals which has certainly increased the democratic input but possibly at the expense of some efficiency in the law making procedures (see Art 12 TEU).        


5. Who or what is the European President and what function is played by the European President?

The European President is an independent person elected for a renewable period of office for 2½ years and is provided with the tasks of chairing the European Council, and driving forward and organizing its work in cooperation with the Commission and General Affairs Council. He or she shall seek to obtain consensus by the European Council and report to the EP after each of the meetings (Article 15(6) TEU). He or she shall also oversee the external representation of the Union, without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative.

6. Who or what is the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and what does he or she do?

The High Representative is chosen from amongst the proposed Commissioners, then elected by the European Council by qualified majority, and automatically becomes a Commission Vice-President (Article 18 TEU). He or she conducts the CFSP, attends relevant European Council meetings, chairs the Council foreign affairs meetings and leads the Commission in external relations.


7. What are the merits or otherwise of: (a) the Court of Justice delivering a single opinion when giving judgment (as opposed to separate and dissenting opinions); (b) the system of Advocates General?

a) Single Opinion

For: Authority of court, new legal system, build up new European law and not national laws, solidarity of decision taking for the future, helps independence of judges from those who appoint in the members state, also may be criticised for a genuine opinion where it coincides with the view of the member state.

Against: Terse, cryptic, often little evidence of reasoning, stifles true legal argument, may inhibit judges and the development of law, some judges may take too much of a lead and not allow others their views.

b) Like an instant appeal, Advocates General can take the public view of things, can take all parties views, not supposed to represent any particular view but in truth likely to look for the European hence Union view, helps develop EU law, like a first instance court but opinion not binding so equals a persuasive precedent.

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