When the Heads of State or Government convene in the European Council, they have the option to make strategic decisions for the citizens of the European Union, but every one of the leaders bears a lock which can lead to paralysis: veto power.
The Reform Treaty formally makes the European Council an institution of the EU (Article 9 TEU), arguably the most important one, which shall “provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development and shall define the general political directions and priorities thereof” in general (Article 9b TEU).
In the fields of foreign and security policy, including all external action, the Lisbon Treaty proposes to further underline the decisive role of the European Council.
The existing Treaty on European Union (TEU; latest consolidation OJ 29.12.2006, C 321 E) Article 13 TEU says:
“1. The European Council shall define the principles of and general guidelines for the common foreign and security policy, including for matters with defence implications.
2. The European Council shall decide on common strategies to be implemented by the Union in areas where the Member States have important interests in common.
Common strategies shall set out their objectives, duration and the means to be made available by the Union and the Member States.
3. The Council shall take the decisions necessary for defining and implementing the common foreign and security policy on the basis of the general guidelines defined by the European Council.
The Council shall recommend common strategies to the European Council and shall implement them, in particular by adopting joint actions and common positions.
The Council shall ensure the unity, consistency and effectiveness of action of the Union.”
The Convention proposed an Article III-194 underlining the strategic importance of the European Council. This was taken over as Article III-293 in the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (OJ 16.12.2004, C 310).
The Lisbon Treaty takes over the substance of this provision. The differences are caused by the terminology of the Reform Treaty: “Article III-292” has become “Article 10 A”, “European decisions” have become “Decisions” and the “Union Minister for Foreign Affairs” has become the “High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy”.
A few remarks by your glossator:
Potentially, 490 million inhabitants, who form the world’s largest trading block and greatest giver of development aid, and with the guiding principles mentioned in the new Article 10a TEU, could have a decisive impact on the world stage. The EU could enhance the security and prosperity of EU citizens as well as contribute to a better world.
Although the EU Member States themselves are democratic, they have not been able to agree to base their common external relations on democratic governance at the Union level. On the contrary, in the field of foreign and security policy (CFSP) they have chosen to strengthen the intergovernmental character of policy making, and to take over the external relations of the Commission (‘Community’).
They have felt the need for more effective decision making and implementation, but have been unwilling to cross the threshold. Even if the individual Member States are increasingly unable to deal with global challenges on their own, they continue to cherish their formal sovereignty.
The Lisbon Treaty is a result of these conflicting pressures. The European Council becomes the supreme foreign policy ‘government’ of the European Union, but it can act effectively only if every one of its members joins in a unanimous decision. Conversely, every Member State government can decide to let its perceived national interest override the common good. Even if compromises are patched together, suboptimal decisions are likely to result.
Dealing with the world’s unitary powers, the EU is at a disadvantage. More or less lacking “hard power” and with “soft power” often just a fig leaf for lack of consistent policy, the EU continues to be a yacht for fair weather sailing. ‘Liberum veto’ is an invitation to ‘divide et impera’ by other great powers.
The leaders of the Member States have designated their own institution, the European Council, as the prime mover, especially in all the fields of foreign policy. Consequently, the responsibility is theirs. When Europe fails, the failure is theirs.
According to the Treaty of Lisbon, it is up to the European Council to identify the strategic interests and objectives of the Union and to reach unanimous decisions based on the principles in Article 10a. The need for independent foreign policy analysis is going to be great.
The Treaty of Lisbon (OJ 17.12.2007, C 306) inserts an Article 10b TEU.
1. On the basis of the principles and objectives set out in Article 10 A, the European Council shall identify the strategic interests and objectives of the Union.
Decisions of the European Council on the strategic interests and objectives of the Union shall relate to the common foreign and security policy and to other areas of the external action of the Union. Such decisions may concern the relations of the Union with a specific country or region or may be thematic in approach. They shall define their duration, and the means to be made available by the Union and the Member States.
The European Council shall act unanimously on a recommendation from the Council, adopted by the latter under the arrangements laid down for each area. Decisions of the European Council shall be implemented in accordance with the procedures provided for in the Treaties.
2. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, for the area of common foreign and security policy, and the Commission, for other areas of external action, may submit joint proposals to the Council.
Next, we are going to look at the specific provisions on the common foreign and security policy.