International Handbook on Informal Governance
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International Handbook on Informal Governance

Edited by Thomas Christiansen and Christine Neuhold

Acknowledging that governance relies not only on formal rules and institutions but to a significant degree also on informal practices and arrangements, this unique Handbook examines and analyses a wide variety of theoretical, conceptual and normative perspectives on informal governance.
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Chapter 19: Informal Governance and the Decision-making of the Council of Ministers

Dorothee Heisenberg


19 Informal governance and the decisionmaking of the Council of Ministers Dorothee Heisenberg INTRODUCTION The Council of Ministers of the European Union (the ‘Council’) is arguably one of the oldest examples of informal governance1 in the developed, democratic world. The evolution of consensus decision-making in the Council dates back to the Luxembourg Compromise in 1966, and although the Luxembourg Compromise was officially abolished in the Single European Act in 1986, the decision-making style of the Council remains consensus. This system of informal governance has been stable over both multiple enlargements and a huge increase in the scope of EU competences. It has been recognised by participant observers as an institutionally unique decision-making style and its effects have been acknowledged by both critics and proponents. As such, the informal governance in the Council provides fertile ground for studying the subject of informal governance more generally. Officially, the Council is the only institution in the EU where member state interests should legitimately dominate. The Council’s formal voting system, requiring a supermajority for legislation, acts as a member state check on the otherwise (formally) supranationalist, that is, federalist, institutions of the EU, the Commission and the European Parliament. Yet, as the following section shows, the Council has evolved to be far more accommodating to the exigencies of passing legislative acts than the formal rules would have led its creators to expect. Member state interests are definitely heard, but do not always dominate, in the alternative decision-making mode that the Council actually uses. There...

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