Describe and illustrate the role of the council of the european union.

The Council is an essential EU decision-maker.

Grade: A-C | £0.00.


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The fact that we were late comers to the European Union may be one of the reasons why we appear to know little about the workings of the EU and its institutions. Many also make the point that it is another reason why we are often still at odds with the EU even though we are now members and have been since 1972. Will the next generation be more knowledgeable and more familiar with the EU and as such ensure that we understand and appreciate the benefits of membership instead of bemoaning its weaknesses?

To answer the question it is worth noting at the outset that the council is one of the official institutions of the EU having formal powers to act on behalf of the EU in so far as it has delegated powers. The Council is tasked with meeting from time to time to adopt laws and co-ordinate policies. It is, therefore, right to recognise the functions of the Council as being vital to the overall success of the EU. It consists of national ministers from each of the member states.

The Council should not be confused with two bodies with similar names – the European Council - which operates at summit level to discuss political priorities and does not have legislative functions and the Council of Europe – which, despite its official sounding name, is not an institution of Europe at all. It is an international organisation based in Strasbourg whose role is to 'strengthen democracy, human rights and the rule of law throughout its member states.'

Back to the Council of the European Union, we strive to find out what it does and how it works in response to criticisms that we are not 'good' Europeans in the sense that we do not try hard enough to appreciate the way other Europeans do business and therefore we appear to be constantly losing out. Cultural as well as language differences may explain why we do not excel when it comes to Europe – we do not lobby our interests well it seems.

The Council's remit is as follows:


  • It adopts legislative acts (Regulations, Directives, etc.), in many cases in "co-decision" with the European Parliament;

  • It helps coordinate Member States' policies, for example, in the economic field;

  • It develops the common foreign and security policy, on the basis of strategic guidelines set by the European Council;

  • It concludes international agreements on behalf of the Union;

  • It adopts the Union's budget, together with the European Parliament.

The Council and the European Parliament share the role of passing EU laws. The involvement of their Parliament is not surprising as we ourselves have a Parliament but the European Parliament has much more of a consultative and debating role than our own Parliament. As a result the significance and importance of this law making function needs to be appreciated and recognised as being a key function.

We must not forget that the European Commission also takes an active role in the formulation of legislation but equally the two should not be confused. The EU has rightly tried to ensure that power is not vested in one group or body and strive to share out responsibilities to reflect that there is a place for democratic processes to work. The Council can also request appropriate proposals to be submitted by the Commission.

One way of remembering the distinct roles of the institutions is to remember that the Commission 'proposes' and that the Council 'disposes' ( meaning that it decides whether to adopt new measures or not).

The Council is able to demonstrate that it is very much involved democratically in the work of the EU in the sense that it coordinates important policy such as the EU member countries' overall economic policy. The Council is very much involved in other policy areas such as education health and welfare but in light of economic troubles in Greece and the Greek government's difficulties in managing its' debt, the EU has had to step in and help stabilise their economy and the European single currency the Euro. Other countries such as Ireland and Portugal have also experienced difficulties concerning their ability to repay loans and consideration to their plight has also been made.

Another indicator of the power and influence of the Council is that it has the authority to sign agreements on behalf of the EU. Such agreements can relate to a whole host of matters such as trade and science and technology.

Another function of the Council is that it decides jointly with the EU Parliament the Union's annual budget.

In recent years the Council have been active in the formulation of a 'Common Foreign and Security Policy' and in this regard Baroness Ashton was appointed in recent times. Baroness Ashton was made EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in 2009. The role had been created in the Lisbon Treaty. Whether the Council assisted by any 'Foreign Minister' will succeed in any meaningful way remains to be seen. Whilst the EU has achieved a great deal – national interests still exist and cannot entirely be discounted. There are bound to be times when some member states will experience difficulties in reconciling EU as well as national interests.

In the field of justice and law and order, opportunities are taken for the Council to participate and encourage ministers to strive for greater uniformity and cooperation in relation to international policing. In particular co-operation is encouraged over terrorism and organised crime including the trading of drugs. In recent years the issue of the integrity and security of EU borders has been a matter of considerable concern as a result of economic pressures which have contributed to the movement of individuals from outside the EU across its borders.

Many may remember the controversy over the issue of the number of asylum seekers coming to Britain and doubts and concerns over the matter of migrant workers and whether these could or should be capped in the period leading up to the General Election in May 2010. The issue become even more confusing when arguments were raised over the reliability of figures and whether EU workers could be capped in any event.

One of the consequences of these efforts to achieve uniformity and greater co-operation between countries is the European arrest warrant. This enables suspects to be brought before the courts more quickly and is intended to bring about the speedier extradition of the suspect so that they are subject to the criminal processes in the countries where the alleged offence was committed.

However the use of such arrest warrants has not been without criticism, and concerns have now been expressed about the standards and practices encountered by suspects when they are returned to member state countries to face trial only to be met by delays and issues about procedures. Such concerns have raised issues of whether the suspect will receive a fair trial. There have been calls by such organisations as Fair Trials International for a reform of the European arrest warrant system which is intended to fast track the extradition process.


(Word count 1191)


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