The Council of Ministers

In This Review

The Council of Ministers

By Fiona Hayes-Renshaw and Helen Wallace
St. Martin's Press, 1997
340 pp. $55.00

The European Council, whose powers are shared with other organs, has, according to the authors, developed a collective identity and blurred the distinction between intergovernmentalism and supranationality. But it is "reaching the limits of performance as an effective organ of collective action" as the number of members and controversial issues increases, and it suffers especially from a "legitimacy deficit." Poor coordination and slowness in reaching decisions are frequent; the lack of transparency "raises problems of trust." The authors list different scenarios for reform but are skeptical about their chances of success because "mechanical devices can[not] take the place of substantive agreement on policy means and ends or replace mutual trust as a necessary ingredient of sustainable consensus." This is a sober judgment, which the states currently engaged in the conference to reform the EU's institutions should ponder. Indeed, what emerges most forcefully from this analysis is the Byzantine nature of the institutional system. Some of the tables and boxes in the book are truly awesome -- none more so than Box 2.2, on the voting rules in the council, and Figure 3.2, on the operation of the "Art. 113 committee," which supervises the European Commission's negotiations with third countries. Not to mention Box 10.2, on a "sample multi-issue proposal": for a directive to harmonize technical standards for dentists' drills.

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