The Institutions of the Enlarged European Union
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The Institutions of the Enlarged European Union

Continuity and Change

Edited by Edward Best, Thomas Christiansen and Pierpaolo Settembri

How have the main institutions and decision-making processes of the EU responded to the arrival of new member states? This book assesses the actual state of the EU institutions in the years after the 2004 enlargement, examining each of the main institutional actors as well as trends in legislative output, implementing measures and non-legislative approaches. The contributors outline the key changes as well as patterns of continuity in the institutional politics of the EU.
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Chapter 2: The European Council: A Bigger Club, a Similar Role?

Wolfgang Wessels


Wolfgang Wessels It seems not inappropriate to start any assessment of the institutional impact of enlargement at the top, by looking at the European Council, the body bringing together the heads of state or government of the member states with the President of the European Commission at the political apex of the European Union. No other body has shaped the fundamental developments of the European construction as profoundly as this institutionalized summitry (cf. de Schoutheete 2006, p. 57; Hayes-Renshaw and Wallace 2006, p. 173). Not an organ of the European Community, this elite ‘club’ has its legal basis in the Treaty on European Union. According to the treaty formulation, ‘the European Council shall provide the European Union with the necessary impetus for its development and shall define the general political guidelines thereof’ (Art. 4 TEU). This general and ambiguous description, however, fails to fully recognize the body’s political relevance in constructing and running the EU system. It has been called a ‘provisional government’ (‘gouvernement provisoire’) (Monnet 1976, p. 598), a ‘joint decision centre’ (Tindemans 1975), ‘constitutional architect’ (Wessels 2005b, p. 55), a ‘system of collective leadership’ (Ludlow 2005, p. 3) and the ‘high guardian’ (‘haute tutelle’) (Louis and Ronse 2005, p. 57). It has also been described as not an ‘institution’, but a ‘locus of power’ (de Schoutheete 2006, p. 45). The formulations of its role in the Constitutional Treaty and the subsequent Lisbon Treaty have underlined in several ways the rise in importance of the European Council. This...

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