European Union: Power and Policy-Making

By Jeremy J. Richardson | Go to book overview
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National sovereignty vs integration?

The Council of Ministers

Geoffrey Edwards

The Council of Ministers (the Council of the Union since November 1993) is at the heart of decision-making in the EU. From the beginning, the decision-making formula was that the Commission proposed and the Council disposed. While that may have become more complicated with moves towards co-decision with the European Parliament, the Council clearly remains the forum for interstate bargaining and the representation of national interests (Moravcsik: 1993). It is often held therefore to epitomise an integration process that leaves the political order in Europe essentially one of states (Hoffmann: 1991). But although academic realists and intergovernmentalists (with whatever prefix or suffix) continue to set store by the Council in upholding the concept of the nation state, others, whether developing further some of the ideas of the neo-functionalists, or utilising other 'new' institutionalist concepts have laid stress on the changed framework within which member governments interact and negotiate (Wessels 1991; Bulmer 1996; Lewis 1995). As Wessels put it: 'the Council is not an “interstate body”…but a body at the supranational level' (Wessels 1991:137). The distinction is critical. Through constant interaction at a myriad of levels, from heads of state and of government in the European Council to the most highly technical of Council working groups, member governments are a part of a complex network of institutions and procedures that makes up EU decision-making. That interaction, indeed, the institutional network itself, inevitably plays a part in determining government strategies and in influencing the goals and objectives of governments both at the national as well as the European levels.

From the beginning of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), neo-functionalists raised questions about adopting any simplistic view of either integration or the Council. In 1958, for example, Ernst Haas posed the question of why it was that the Council of the ECSC was different from other organisations in Europe such as the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC later OECD), and why such a clearly intergovernmental body so continuously produced decisions which endorsed progress towards economic integration (Haas: 1958). Part of the answer he saw in the concept of 'engagement', by which he meant:

if parties to a conference enjoy a specific and well-articulated sense of participation, if they identify themselves completely with the procedures and codes within which their decisions are made, they consider themselves completely 'engaged' by the results even if they do not fully concur with them.

(Haas 1958:522)

It was a conclusion regarded as increasingly misplaced during the 1960s with General de


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European Union: Power and Policy-Making


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