Notes of “An Introduction to European Law” by Schutze
- August 24, 2015
Notes based on the book “An Introduction to European Law” by Schutze, for the subject European Law. A course given on the University of Groningen.
In this chapter, each institution of the EU will be briefly described. Thereafter, the cooperation between each of them will be explained regarding legislation. Lastly, the limits of these institutions will be given.
Article 13 of the TEU lists all the institutions, which are:
- European parliament
- European council
- European Commission
- Court of Justice
- European Central Bank
- Court of Auditors
The book will describe the classic four: EP, Council, European Commission and the court.
At the start, the EP did not have a lot of power. Increased from the 1970’s. It is the most supranational institution of the EU.
The book goes into two aspects: the election and its powers.
Currently, members are directly chosen. But it started with indirect election. At that time, members were delegated members from the national parties. Even though it was indirect at the start, it was special in international context for two reasons: states accepted the loss of sovereign equality by recognizing a different amount of EP members per state. Secondly, the (old) treaty envisaged that the EP would be directly chosen. In 1976 the ‘election act’ was adopted (meaning: direct elections).
The EP has a maximum of 751 members. The amount of members per state is unanimous decided by the Council. However, a state has a minimum of 6 and maximum of 96 members. These quotas are based on two principles: a democratic and federal principle. Democratic: one person, one vote. Federal: existence of states. This resulted in a digressively proportional system, causing for example that a vote in Luxembourg 10 times more voting power has than in for example the UK.
Electing a member should go “in accordance with principles common to all Member States”, article 223 TFEU. There is however one important exceptional rule, European citizens must be able to vote and stand elected for their home country in any State Member.
At first, the purpose of the EP was having “supervisory powers”. This was extended with advisory powers in 1957 EEC Treaty. This has been extended even further, see article 14 TEU. It gives legislative, budgetary, supervisory and elective powers.
Making European laws is the primary power of the EP. They play a role on two occasions. First, they can informally propose new legislation. Formal proposal lies with the Commission. The second aspect is accepting new legislation. Normally this happens in cooperation with the Council by proposal of the Commission. In special cases it can be that the EP must give its consent to the Council.
The EP decides the expenditure. They cannot decide aspects regarding the income. The expenditures can be divided into compulsory and non-compulsory expenditures. The EP does this this together with the Council. However, they only gained powers surrounding the compulsory expenditure since 2007.
The supervisory powers consist of: debating, questioning and investigating.
Debating means the EP can order a report on the activities of the EU and discuss it publicly. Also, the presidents of the ECB and Council are obligated to present a report after each meeting to the EP.
Although the ‘real’ power to investigate lies with the Commission, both the European Council and Council are willing to be questioned by the EP.
The EP can set up committees to investigate possible contraventions or maladministration in the implantation of legislation. EU citizens have the right petition the EP. Through tradition, an Ombudsman will be elected. He shall then receive and handle the complaint.
Article 17 TEU describes the involvement of the EP in appointing positions within the Commission. The Council presents the president while the Member States presents the other members. The EP must give its consent for each one. The EP is also responsible for electing other European officers, with the exception of judges for the Court of Justice.
When the EP loses trust in the Commission, they can adopt a motion of censure. Obliging the Commission to resign as a whole. This is also possible for individual members. In that case, the president shall require resignation of that person or explain the refusal to the EP.
The original task of the Council was to ensure the goals of the treaty are attained by using legislative and executive powers. Over time, this changed due to the rise of the EP and the European Council. Where the EP limited the legislative powers of the Council, while the European Council limited the executive powers.
The council consists of representatives of each Member States from ministerial level. Which minister depends on the subject handled by the Council.
The Council created several committees to aid it in its functioning. One of the main committees is called “Committee of Permanent Representatives”, or commonly referred to as “Coreper”. This committee has been officially made permanent since the 1957 EEC Treaty. This committee consists of representatives from the Member States, the ambassador of a Member State at the European Union, seated at the Permanent Representation of the European Union. Coreper consists of two parts. One represents the meetings of the ambassadors while the other represents the meeting of their deputies. Depending on the subject, the first or second part will act. The Treaty describes their job as preparing the work for the Council.
Decisions by the Council are made in Brussels. Such meetings are divided into two parts. One handles the legislative aspects while the other does the rest. The legislative part is required to be public. The Commission is present during Council meetings, merely to watch.
Decisions can be made in two ways. By unanimity and by majority. Unanimity is required for sensitive subjects. A majority vote can be done through two methods. One is rare and barely used, which is a simple head count of the present members. The regular usage is the weighted vote, where each Member State is appointed a certain amount of votes. Traditionally, the voting requires a majority in these weighted votes, majority of the Member States and the majority of the European Union population. This has changed however since 1 November 2014, although, on request, the old way can still be used. The new way is very simple explained in Article 16(4) TEU.
Together, as stated before, with the EP, the Council can exercise its right to create legislation and use its budgetary powers. And although the Treaty mentions “policy-making” as a task for the Council, the European Council has taken over this function. Lastly, the Council has a coordinating function. For example, Member States are required to present the Council matters regarding economic policies with a common concern.
The Commission is the main executive power within the EU.
In terms of five years, one national per Member State is seated in the Commission. In this period, the official must be independent, meaning it may not take or seek orders from its nation.
The elections happen in two steps. First the European Council present a president for the Commission. This president should represent the political majority of the EP. The EP can then approve or reject the proposition. In the second step, the President shall together with the Council develop a list of possible Commissioners based on the candidate of each state. Once again, the EP must give its approval. If everything is finished, the European Council will officially present the Commission.
All the commissionaires act under the authority of the President. The tasks of the President are explained by article 17(6) TEU: creating guidelines for work flows, decide the internal organisation and appoint vice-presidents.
The tasks of the Commission are listed in article 17 TEU. The first task is to promote general interest. Mainly be using the nearly exclusive right to formally propose legislation. The second aspect the Treaty mentions is the task where the Commission is to ensure application of the Treaty. This includes both legislative and executive powers. The last power is nearly the same, but here the Commission acts rather as police or prosecutor. It I the task to oversee application of the Treaty.
Nothing new of what to expect from a court. The court is responsible for application and interpretation of the legislation.
The court is actually not just ‘one’ court, but rather multiple.
The court uses a three-tier system. First you have the Court of Justice itself. Beneath it you have the general court, which hears and determines actions or proceedings brought against decisions of the specialized courts. The specialized courts are the last tier. Currently they only consist of the ‘Civil Service Tribunal’.
The powers are listed in 19(3) TEU. These three powers include the power to take actions when a case is brought directly to a court, indirectly through national courts and other cases provided by the Treaty.