The European Union Example

In this work we shall be examining and analysing the major changes to the institutions of the European Union brought about by the Treaty of Nice. Although changes and adjustments have been made to the construction and operation of the lesser institutions, such as the Court of Auditors, we will be concentrating our efforts on examining the changes made to the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament, the European Commission, the European Court of Justice, the Court of First Instance. In relation to the latter two, we also need to examine the new institutions of the judicial panels.

The Council of Ministers has received a revamp in its voting procedures and the way in which votes are distributed. The larger states have received an increased quota under the Treaty. This was something that the larger nations had been seeking for some time as they felt that the voting arrangements needed to reflect the population of the each Member State. Certainly the theory behind it is sound. For there to be a true European Union without borders, all the peoples of the EU should be given an 'equal right' through their nation's membership.

One major problem facing the EU was the spectre of paralysis upon enlargement. The larger Member States were outvoted in their initial attempts for a more equitable distribution of votes, prior to Treaty of Nice. Their attempts had been blocked by the smaller nations. The situation was likely to worsen upon enlargement since many of the new members were small or very small States. The old voting arrangements as a whole would have given these states power disproportionate to their size or population.

Qualified Majority Voting has become the most commonly method of voting within the European Parliament and the Council. But the changes to the vote weighting of each Member State also necessitated some subtle, but important, changes to QMV. A vote under QMV is now a little more difficult to obtain. In addition, any State opposing the measures voted for can request confirmation that the States voting in favour of a measure represented at least 62% of the population of the EU. But this latter element of the new QMV arrangements is not without problems, particularly for the smaller states.

Only three of the larger countries would constitute a 62% population majority. It is a problem endemic of the EU that the larger nations always seem to throw their weight around in order to disrupt business if they do not get their own way1. In that light the new voting arrangements could be seen to be an attempt to appease these larger countries whilst at the same time seeking to ensure that, in the event of a dispute arising, these countries will not be able to block measures they don't like quite so easily.

A significant problem facing the European Parliament has been how to deal with the proposed rapid expansion of the Union during the next few years. An increase in the number of MEPs was obviously going to occur but, without some trimming of the numbers, that number could bring Parliament close to capacity. To address this issue it was decided that the number of seats available to the current member states would be reduced from 626 to 535. The only countries that have escaped unscathed from the swinging of the axe have been Germany and Luxembourg.

Again, the principle factor which has been used to determine the number of seats available to each member state has been the population of each state, with the more populous nations gaining the most seats. There was really no way of making matters mathematically correct, however. Up until the Treaty of Nice, the situation favoured the smaller nations. A German MEP, for example, represented about ten times as many people as one from Luxembourg. The difficulty here is that, as Luxembourg already has so few MEPs, any further reduction would have been highly unpopular and would not make any significant inroads to the imbalance.

Whilst at the same time, increasing Germany's quota of seats to address the issue perfectly would have meant Germany having almost 1,000 MEPs. Whilst the overall number of seats available to current member states has been reduced to make room for enlargement of the EU, the upper limit to the total number of MEPs in Parliament upon enlargement has been increased from 7002 to 7323. From 2005, the European Commission will consist of one member per member state. At present, the five major states of Germany, Italy, Spain, France and the United Kingdom have up to two Commissioners.

It is not much of a hardship for these countries to 'give up' their extra Commissioner as it was little more than a historical accident dating back to the time of the original six members, when it was deemed that six Commissioners were not enough. These adjustments to the composition of the Commission are required to ensure that it does not become bloated upon further enlargement. Once the number of member states reaches 27 then the Commission will decide upon the maximum number of Commissioners and introduce a system of rotation.

Following Nice, Commissioners will now only be nominated by the Member States and not appointed by them. The responsibility of appointing both the Commission President and the College of Commissioners now rests with the Council, who will vote upon appointments by a qualified majority. An interesting side-effect of this new arrangement is that Council decisions are subject to possible challenge by judicial review. Although the composition of the Commission would be made at a head of Government level, the Council of Ministers is subject to decisions of the ECJ4.

A second minor issue is that previously, as the Commission was appointed by Member States, the Commission could be seen as not being subordinate to the Council, under the new arrangement it may well be the case that it now is. The powers of the Commission President have been increased. This is in response to the crisis that hit the Commission in 1999 where allegations of mismanagement and serious irregularities by two Commissioners in particular eventually resulted in the resignation of the entire Commission.

The problem here was that nobody had the power to dismiss the individual Commissioners involved. The only way it could be done was if the entire Commission resigned. They were only 'persuaded' to do so following a damning report by a Committee appointed by the European Parliament to investigate matters. Although the Committee fell short of accusing any individual member of wrongdoing, it reported that it could not find anyone in the Commission with any sense of responsibility. Nice introduced some new powers to assist the Commission President and to avoid a repetition of this farcical situation.

The Treaty now provides that the President can assign portfolios to individual Commissioners. He or she can also ask for the resignation of a Commissioner with the College's approval. That Commissioner is then obliged to comply. The net result of the changes to the President's powers is that the Commission President now has some of the powers national heads of Government enjoy. Needless to say this is likely to cause some discomfort amongst the ranks of euro-sceptics who would surely point to this as another sign of the impending European super-state.

The President is also now able to assign as many Vice-Presidents as he wishes. Although quite why this might be deemed necessary is not clear. Certainly it may allow for greater devolution of power and responsibility, thus easing the President's workload. However, this is already catered for in that powers can now be devolved to individual Commissioners, who then act under the direct authority of the President. It could be argued that this negates much of the requirement for the appointment of more than one Vice-President.

In the early 1970s it took the European Court of Justice some six months to dispose of a preliminary reference. By the end of the century that time had increased to an average of two years. It was clear that the European Court system had overreached its capacity. The ECJ and CFI prepared a joint report warning the Commission of the problems the EU justice system was facing5. It was under this pressure that it was decided that some reform was required. Nice introduced a third tier to the European Justice System by way of Judicial Panels, although that name is a bit of a misnomer.

They are courts in their own right. They are attached to the CFI in the same way that the CFI is attached to the ECJ. The panels are designed to take the weight primarily off the CFI, thereby giving some slack by which the CFI can take additional cases from the ECJ. The new courts will concentrate on several areas of specialism that have yet to be determined, although likely candidates include separate panels for dealing with intellectual property right, asylum and immigration, competition law and judicial co-operation in civil and criminal matters.