A real compromise on the EU presidency, part 3

Kalypso Nicolaïdis
5 October 2007

Does the EU need a Caesar?

The design of the future EU Council Presidency is deemed to create confusion among European citizens. The forthcoming IGC can still do better without reopening the fundamentals of the new blueprint. Clarifying the notion of "EU presidency" could help safeguard the EU's founding principle of shared leadership, argue Director of the European Studies Centre at St Antony's College Oxford Kalypso Nicolaïdis, and Simone Bunse, Assistant Professor of Politics at the INCAE Business School. (See also Part 1, Part 2)

Should we not rejoice that the current deal seeks to retain the best of both worlds? Article I-24 stipulates that the presidency of all Council configuration, except foreign affairs, is to be held by member state representatives on the basis of equal rotation (the Foreign Affairs Council, in turn, is chaired by the new High Representative). Thus, we may have a president at the European Council level between heads of governments, but rotation continues at the Council of Ministers level for the thousands of meetings and decisions taken by ministers, ambassadors, representatives, and bureaucrats.

What is the problem then?

First, confusion. As stated above, the new arrangement hardly brings the EU closer to its citizens. The rotating Council presidency at the level of the ministers will now either be invisible except by bureaucrats, or on the contrary, national presidencies will continue to be proclaimed in order to boosts governments' prestige and agendas.

So we will have: the EU Council President, the rotating Council Presidency, the High Representative for foreign policy as the Vice-President of the Commission (itself with its president), alongside of course the European Parliament's president.

It is by no means clear who will represent the EU under this new arrangement. Maybe this is par for the course in our multi-centred Union but it would be nice if such multi-centredness could be expressed more clearly.

Second, legitimacy. As European leaders express a sigh of relief at the prospect of finally passing a reform treaty, they should not overlook the ratification debates, including in smaller and newer member states who could do with retaining the spirit of rotation. They should retain some perspective, less they forget that the current arrangement was only accepted grudgingly by the coalition of 19 states.

Should member states not all feel comfortable with the reform envisaged for the European Council? Is it not possible to reach a real compromise that would be endorsed enthusiastically in the forthcoming Treaty?

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