New post of European Council president would be created by treaty

 

LISBON EXPLAINED: Under the treaty EU leaders would nominate the president for a 2½-year term, but states differ over the exact role of the office-holder

THE LISBON Treaty would create a new post of European Council president and beef up the existing role of the high representative for common foreign and security policy.

Under the existing EU treaties the presidency of the council of ministers passes every six months, on the basis of equal rotation, between member states. At the moment Sweden chairs the European Council, which means its government and diplomats organise the work programme of the union and represent the EU at major international events.

Under the Lisbon Treaty it is envisaged that the new European Council president would be nominated by EU leaders for terms of 2½ years. His/her function would be to chair meetings, co-ordinate work and represent the EU internationally. A president of the council could serve a maximum of two terms.

The rotating six-month presidency would continue, although under Lisbon it is unclear exactly what responsibilities the diplomats and politicians of the country holding the presidency would continue to enjoy. EU states are divided over the exact role of the president. Sweden favours a low-profile chairman of the council, who simply organises the European Council meetings, while France favours a high-profile candidate, who can boost the EU’s profile abroad.

Supporters of the council president post say the rotating presidency leads to discontinuity in the union’s work programme with states prioritising initiatives that are in their national interest. For example, Sweden is currently pushing a new Baltic Sea initiative while the Czech Republic pressed for a new eastern partnership during its six-month presidency in the first half of the year.

They also point to the example of the recent Czech presidency, where a change of government mid-presidency undermined the EU’s effectiveness.

No campaigners criticise the post because it is unelected, as the winning candidate will be nominated by EU leaders. Some also argue it could undermine the existing post of president of the European Commission, who often acts to protect the interests of smaller member states within the EU.

Lisbon also beefs up the existing role of the union’s foreign policy supremo, currently Javier Solana, the “high representative of the union for foreign affairs and security policy”, by giving the incumbent a seat on the commission on top of his existing role in the council of ministers.

By wearing two hats, the high representative will be better able to co-ordinate the EU’s international policies by drawing on the civilian capabilities under the control of the commission and the military and crisis management forces under the jurisdiction of the council, say Lisbon advocates.

He/she would also oversee the creation of a new EU external action service, which would be made up of EU officials and member state diplomats. The service would direct EU diplomatic missions abroad in an effort to create a more coherent European foreign and security policy.