Sunday, January 11, 2004

Hi you all. Kerry, I promised you to pick up the thread on your Dec. 31 questions and here it is. Permit me to quote you:

“Michael, upon re reading the agreement, it says that unanimity (one country blocking is enough) is reserved for among other things foreign policy and defense. This caused some interesting feelings, my first was, "oh no worries, they'll NEVER get anything done that way"--then it hit me, "OH NO, that's exactly it!". If there were an event such as Iraq, in this layout, it would take only ONE state (France, say?) to say "Mais non, les Americains, malheureusement, je regret...." well you get the picture. One state could block help from the entire of Europe under auspices of "defense" or foreign policy.”

Well, this was the bottomline of your worries. It shows that you have been reading the resume on an earlier posted link quite well. Before addressing your topic, allow me to elaborate:

The EU’s “government” consists basically of two parts, namely:

For those people remotely aware of the EU’s functioning this is the part of the executive body that mostly shows up in newsreels. From May 2004 on, there will be 25 commissioners (ministers), one for each country. I don’t know yet if and how their terms will be affected by the enlargement but until now each commissioner served a four-year term and one of them is President. Right now this chap is Romani Prodi, a Centre-Left former Italian PM with a good record. Well, until now and in order to not complicate things too much for you Americanos, I said that this Commission was the EU’s government. Hmmm, that’s not exactly the whole truth. Let us rather say that the entire executing body is comprised of, indeed, this Commission, AND the so-called Council of Ministers (see b.). Not gonna make this post top-heavy and indigestible, if you want to know more about a.) check this out.

Well, this Council of Ministers, the part of the EU’s executive body that’s less often in the spotlights, has the final say on legislation. Unlike the Commission, membership is fluid, with each government mandating an appropriate minister depending on the subject to be treated. E.g. the issue is border control, then the Foreign Ministers form the Council.

The presidency of this Council of Ministers rotates among the member states with each state being “Council Host” for a 6-month period. Want to check out more about this, click here.

And another good link on the Council is this.

Have I got you this far? Unbelievable. Take a cigar.

Now, if you want to get the final clue hold on for a sec. Are you puzzled by the appearance of Berlusconi suddenly popping up last summer as “head of the EU” but don’t you know how his function relates to Prodi’s? And now Berlusconi has been succeeded by the slightly less colourful Bertie Ahern, Ireland’s Taoiseach (gaelic for PM) but his fella Prodi is still around??? How come???

Well, it’s all about the EU’s governing body being made up of the Commission on the one hand and the Council of Ministers on the other hand. It’s really not that strange, compare it with a Board of Directors and an Executive Committee if you want. The Commission handles the day-to-day business but the Council prepares and takes the strategic decisions. So Prodi who is President of the Commission just serves out his four-year term, Ahern on the other hand is President of the Council and will be replaced again in six months. Prodi does the shopping and cooking, Ahern plans installing a new kitchen (ahem ahem).

Now that I assume that you got the stuff above locked and loaded, let me elaborate again on Kerry’s concerns. As said, it’s the Council of Ministers which has the final vote on strategic issues and for that the following voting system was put in place (on the 2002 Nice Summit):

a.) UNANIMITY is required among the Council’s Ministers for, yes, the key matters defence, foreign policy, all kinds of taxation, culture, education, health, border control etc… And indeed Kerry, if ONLY ONE of the 25 member states opposes a decision this decision cannot pass!

b.)QUALIFIED MAJORITY VOTING, the two formulas are:

* Decisions taken on a proposal of the Commission (e.g. the internal market):

From May 2004 (25 member states): require 255 votes of the 342 PLUS must be approved by simple majority of the member states (one country = one vote, in this case 13!)

• Decisions taken in all other cases:
Require 255 votes of the 342 PLUS at least two-thirds of the member states (in this case 17).

Well Kerry, in a way you are right with you concerns. On really important matters France’s vote can block any decision even if all 24 others are in favour of it. Truth to tell, I’ve been worrying too because it indeed does not bode too well for when gut-requiring issues are at stake. On the other hand we should not be too pessimistic. After all, the EU’s Council of Ministers is a democratic entity, with envoys from democratic countries. Any decision-making is ultimately subject to the approval of European citizenry. On that we must stake our hopes for reason and sound judgment ruling the EU’s decision-making. This is not some kind of process like the UN’s Security Council voting system you know, where – let’s call a spade a spade – a dictatorship like China, or an increasingly pro forma democratic Russia can block all the goodwill on the Earth. You can be quite sure that when France is too stubborn on any given subject there’s going to be a lot of talking and negotiating behind the scenes. And contrary to the UN, the EU’s countries’ economies are getting so intertwined there’s plenty of room for bargaining, so that if again France would refuse to bend, it has to reckon that e.g. other countries won’t be that indulgent when at a next meeting Frances interests would be more directly involved.

Hmmmm, think I will post somewhat on the EU Parliament and its judiciary, then something on the EU’s military plans and then it’s time for some other stuff. Your servant, Michael.

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