The Council of Ministers
The Council of Ministers, or cabinet, is the state's highest executive institution. The council consists of the prime minister and fifteen to eighteen cabinet ministers. Most ministers come from the parliament, but they are not required to do so. In coalition cabinets, the majority of ministers usually belongs to the coalition's largest party, that of the prime minister, and the remaining ministers come from other coalition parties. Once in the cabinet, a member of parliament has to relinquish, at least temporarily, his or her seat in that body.
The Council of Ministers has both administrative and policymaking functions, is responsible for national security and defense affairs, and is in charge of the day-to-day implementation of government policy. In addition, Portugal's cabinet has extensive legislative powers by virtue of its power to pass decree-laws within areas of its responsibility. It can also be granted the right by the Assembly of the Republic to pass legislation in areas of responsibility usually reserved to parliament, its "relatively reserved legislative powers." Because getting a bill through the assembly was often a slow process, the Council of Ministers often made use of this right. The council is responsible both individually and collectively for its actions, first to the prime minister and ultimately to the parliament.
In Portugal, the minister with the greatest power was the minister of finance, who prepared the budget and oversaw the finances of the other ministries. Ministers were assisted by politically appointed secretaries of state, who vacated their positions when their ministers left the council. As allowed by Article 203 of the 1989 revised constitution, a number of ministers sometimes met together and formed what the constitution terms "councils of specialized ministers" to work on matters of mutual concern. They could call on their secretaries of state and civil servants for assistance and could submit the results of their collaboration to the entire cabinet for review.
Additional bodies were later created to assist individual ministers on the council as a whole. In 1984 the Office of Techno-Legislative Support, under the minister of justice, was formed to assist the council in drafting legislation. A number of superior councils assisted ministers with studies and planning. Examples of this kind of body were the Superior Council of Finance or the National Board of Education. In addition to advising ministers, these bodies met with groups being affected by government decisions.
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