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One Europe: The Dream of Unity : The Machinery of European Decision Making : EC Council of Ministers

February 04, 1992

The decision-making representatives from the 12 member countries of the European Community. The Council sets Community strategy and makes final decisions on whether proposals become Community law. On some issues, the heads of the 12 countries make decisions themselves; on most they delegate decision-making authority to their relevant ministers--foreign affairs, trade, agriculture, etc. Voting within the council is by majority on most issues, with the votes of the bigger countries (Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain) getting extra weight. On the most important issues, unanimity is necessary.

European Commission The European Community's civil service, composed of Commission President Jacques Delors and 16 other commissioners, each with a different portfolio.These include international relations, competition policy, environment, etc. There are two commissioners from each of the five biggest Community member countries and one each from the other seven. The commission initiates proposals for Community regulations and legislation. While its work is subject to the Council of Ministers' final approval, the commission, like any bureaucracy, exercises considerable influence through its ability to define issues and control the flow of information to the council.

European Parliament A largely advisory body of 518 members elected by popular ballot in the member countries. The full Parliament meets one week each month in Strasbourg, while its committees meet in Brussels. European Commission proposals are sent to the relevant parliamentary committee for review and suggested changes. Parliament then takes a non-binding "first reading" vote to reject, accept or amend the proposal, informing both the commission and the council of its decision. The goal of this back-and-forth process is ultimately to have the council adopt a "common position" on a proposal.

European Court of Justice The 13-member court (one member per Community country plus one extra), based in Luxembourg, theoretically has the power to rule on the validity of Community laws. That power remains largely untested, although the court recently ruled that an agreement between the Community and the European Free Trade Assn. to create a "European economic area" was invalid because it set up a new court that would conflict with its own prerogatives.

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