The Decreasing Ministers’ Participation in the Council of the EU Meetings

Mr. Vaclav Vlcek

The Council of the European Union is one of the key EU decision-making bodies where, moreover, the member states exercise their control of EU politics. However, the decisions and oversight are often performed by national bureaucrats in working groups and COREPER. Knowing this, we ask to what extent national ministers really participate in the Council meetings meant primarily for them and what factors can explain a cross-country variation in the participation. Based on a new, uniquely large and detailed dataset, we find that national ministers tend to get substituted increasingly often. We trace this trend over time from 2004 to 2014. Furthermore, we develop a comprehensive theoretical model explaining a large cross-country variation in ministers' participation and test our hypotheses using an extensive quantitative analysis. The results prove that ministers, motivated by expected political gains from the participation, tend to get substituted if they come from a country with low quality of governance. The reluctance to participate is, however, overcome when the country holds the office of the Council presidency. During the six months long term, the ministers, motivated again by the exceptional opportunity to influence EU agenda, attend the meetings significantly more often. Finally, the analysis proves that public demand does not play any role in ministers' decision whether to go to Brussels or stay at home.