What's left of the ECSC's institutions

By Sissie Derdelin... | 16 December 2011

To quote this document: Sissie Derdelin..., “What's left of the ECSC's institutions ”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Friday 16 December 2011, http://www.nouvelle-europe.eu/node/1374, displayed on 02 April 2023

It is interesting to commemorate anniversaries, in the word of Robert Schumann “it's time to think about what we did”. In the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) Treaty, we will see what has been done since then in the field of the institutional system. The European Union, in its fundamental basis, hesitates between federalism, supra-nationality and intergovernmentalism, which may be seen through the creation and the evolution of its institutions.

A founding treaty

The institutions at the time of the Treaty of Paris are the basis of our contemporary European institutions. The Treaty of Paris establishes the powerful High Authority, checked by the Common Assembly, the Special Council of Ministers and the Court of Justice and the European Commission has the legal competence. At that moment, the High Authority is an independent collegial executive branch. It is the supranational decision-making power, it has the duty to achieve the objectives of the Treaty and has to act in the interest of the Community. It is composed of nine members, instead of the proposed five, eight are designated by governments and the ninth is co-opted. The High Authority makes decisions, recommendations and statements. A Consultative Committee has been established alongside it, representing counselling experts.

The Common Assembly has a power of control and is composed of seventy eight nationally delegated members . The Special Council of Ministers consists of six delegates representatives of national governments. The Presidency rotates every three months between each members. The role of the Special Council of Ministers is to harmonize the actions of the High Authority and the governments' general economic policy. Its assent is required for important decisions taken by the High Authority. The Court of Justice is composed of seven judges, nominated for six years, by a common agreement among the members states' governments. It ensures the respect of the law of the ECSC treaty regarding its interpretation ans its application.

About the Treaty of Rome: on what basis could we be still afraid of a supranational institutional system? / The treaty of Rome, a model of supranationality? / The jurists seem to have created a harmless and weak institutional system in the Treaty of Rome, regarding the fear of supra-nationality. Is it really so ?

The order of the institutions mentioned has been changed between the two treaties. In the ECSC Treaty, the High Authority is first mentioned, then the Assembly and thirdly the Council. In the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community, the Assembly is first mentioned, then the Council and thirdly the Commission. It shows the change of the precedence order. It remains, in the Treaty of Rome, an institutional system with an elected assembly and a Court of Justice, as counterweight to the Council. They are merged from the beginning and will be shared by the three European communities from 1958.

A unique set of institutions

In the institutional system of the Treaty of Rome, the High Authority no longer exists. The Commission is created as, in a way, its heir. It represents the supranational body par excellence in the Treaty of Rome. However, the Commission seems very different from the High Authority. The name is changed, « Commission » is the most common name that could be given to an institution, which does not seem authoritarian and powerful. The power and the composition have also been changed, the Commission does not hold the decision-making power, except in exceptional cases. It is still an independent and collegiate body but there is no more co-optation, the nomination of Commissionners is a national power, which finally shows the loss of supra-nationality. As the Commission hold the initiative legislation proposal, the institution can emphasize a particular policy more than an other.

The Council becomes the decision-making body of the Community, shall first vote unanimously, and then use the qualified majority if required. On this basis we can talk about supra-nationality, as the minority is obliged to submit, eliminating a part of the governments' sovereignty. Since the Council can decide on the basis of a proposal by the Commission, it is a supranational element in the decision-making process. This is an important bond between the two institutions which means that the balance between them is strengthened: if the Commission does not propose, the Council cannot decide. In the ECSC Treaty, the High Authority was the central body with the decision-making, but with the Treaty of Rome the Council becomes the central body and the power of decision-making of the Commission is denied.

The Court of Justice is the legal body of the Community and an unsuspectedly supranational institution. However it enacts European law in line with the treaty's interpretation. The Court may systematically interpret the Treaty of Rome in a more supra-national way. It is what the Court did, by imposing Community law primacy over the national law.

In the Paris system, the European Parliament still has no legislature or power of budget, it has the control of the motion of no confidence only. The Treaty of Rome provided the possibility to elect the assembly by direct universal suffrage; who could imagine that an assembly elected through direct universal suffrage therefore benefiting from democratic legitimacy, will stay at this powerless stage in which the Treaty of Rome put it? Then the European parliament may become a stronger supranational institution.

The Treaty of Rome could be considered as an ambivalent moment of the European construction. In fact, supra-nationality seems to take a step back within institutions, but they have the power to direct the foundations of the EU towards supra-nationality.

The major steps since the Treaty of Rome

In 1967, with the Merger Treaty, the High Authority, the Commission of the European Economic Community and Euratom Commission will merge. They will be replaced by a single Commission, in which there still is no co-optation. During a summit in Paris in 1974, the European Council was created, which represents the institutionalization of the summit of EU heads of states or governments. We might say it represents a counterweight to intergovernmentalism. However the European Council already has an authority and a international visibility. Thus it could improve the efficiency of the Community system, which gives a positive aspect of intergovernmentalism. At the same time, the European Parliament tries to gain new powers, and thus to gradually appropriate itself the legislature, control and budgetary powers.

There are two important events in 1985: a cyclical event with Jacques Delors' nomination at the head of the Commission and a structural event with the adoption of the Single European Act (signed in 1986). Jacques Delors, with his personality, will impulse the Commission, which will raise in importance and authority without any new treaty. With the Single European Act the majority voting system, which has been left out of the Luxembourg Agreement of 1966, representing more supra-nationality. The Parliament gains the right to use the Consent procedure.

In the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 there is a confusion among the weight and counterweight. Intergovernmental pillars are introduced meaning a more intergovernmental system, but there are also the Monetary Union, the European Central Bank (ECB) and co-decision introducing more supra-nationality. Consequently, supra-nationality is strengthened, and there is a democratisation of the institutional system through the consolidation of the Parliament, the right of petition, the Committee of the Regions and the European ombudsman. These change will be reinforced by the Lisbon Treaty of 2009, which completes the treaty of Maastricht.

So what remains ?

The original system of the ECSC Treaty remains unique, with an institutional system which has no equivalent in other international institutional organisations. As Jacques Delors put it, it is a “UPO”, an Unidentified Political Object, with a sui generis construction, something that belongs to the Union only. The sophistication of the institutional system, which increased over the decades. The sophistication is due to a constant search for balances, due to the treaties and how the institutions work. The instability in the institutional system in practice, which weakens it, could show the need of a strong leadership in the EU.

The system is becoming more democratic, with the rise of the European Parliament and all the mechanisms in place. Today's system is more federal than the supranational system in place back in 1951, even if we are not yet in a true federation. Integration includes more fields, such as EU development law development, enlargement, the almost generalized voting majority, lead to federalization.

Sixty years later, the recent debates remain around the question of federalization, including the hot topic that is the monetary system.