Friday, 20 March 2009

Lisbon Treaty & European Council: Changing participation

Although only the President of the European Council is added as a member (without a vote) and the High Representative as a participant, the Treaty of Lisbon has both direct consequences and potential implications for summit participation.

The formal changes appear in Article 15(3) of the amended Treaty on European Union (TEU), which replaces the corresponding provisions of the current Article 4 TEU.


Convened by President

Under the Lisbon Treaty, the European Council is convened by its President, not the member state holding the rotating Council Presidency.



The European Council started by holding one (ordinary) meeting during each six month Presidency, with the current treaty setting the minimum at twice a year. But long ago the European Council moved to two meetings, so the Lisbon Treaty only codifies existing practice. (Nowadays the meetings are normally held in Brussels, breaking with the tradition to hold one meeting in the country of the Council Presidency.)

The Lisbon Treaty adds that the President can convene a special meeting when the situation so requires. Currently the ‘at least’ offers room for additional meetings, as seen during the French and Czech Council Presidencies.


High Representative

The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy participates in the meetings.

The existing General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) mentioned in Article 2 of the Council’s Rules of Procedure is most closely linked to the European Council through its coordinating functions and its subject matter, external relations.

The Treaty of Lisbon splits the GAERC into two different Council configurations: the coordinating General Affairs Council (GAC) and the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) (Article 16(6) TEU Lisbon).

(Preparatory work is needed for the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty.)

The High Representative chairs the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC), which means that it would be represented at the meetings of the European Council without the Foreign Ministers of the member states (Article 27(1) TEU Lisbon).


Foreign Ministers

The Foreign Ministers are the losers.

According to the current Article 4 TEU, the Foreign Ministers of the member states and a member of the Commission assist the members of the European Council.

The Treaty of Lisbon abolishes the automatic representation for the Foreign Ministers and the ‘extra’ Commissioner.

The members of the European Council can meet without ‘outsiders’. Under Lisbon, it is even the default option. If the agenda so requires, the members may decide to be assisted by a minister (and Commissioner).

The Foreign Affairs Council is represented by the High Representative anyway. The so called Europeanisation of EU affairs has increasingly made them part of internal policies in the member state and the activities of the European Union go well beyond the traditional area of foreign policy.

The current GAERC has had some difficulty in fulfilling the expectations concerning coordination of the European Council meetings. There are hopes that the new General Affairs Council (GAC) would be better equipped to concentrate on this task.



Europe Ministers

Ministers for Europe (and the like) have often been junior ministers (formally or informally) in comparison with Foreign Ministers.

If the new GAC becomes more influential, partly because the Council Presidency in turn finds it an outlet for its ambitions, it could mean that the Europe Ministers’ posts start moving towards more heavyweight divisions when new Cabinets are formed in the member states.

If the coordinating functions internally and externally accrue to the Europe Ministers over time, they may become the natural choices to assist their Prime Minister of President during the European Council meetings.

Prime Ministers

Usually the Prime Minister (or President) has the final word on EU affairs. It would probably be unrealistic to expect them to haggle over details at GAC meetings, then to continue the same discussions in the European Council.

But the Prime Minister of the Council Presidency may feel homeless, when the President of the European Council takes over leading its meetings. It is imaginable that the Prime Minister is tempted to chair the meetings of the GAC, at least ahead of the European Council meetings, perhaps even during the six months at the helm of the Council.

Article 15(3) TEU (Lisbon Treaty)

3. The European Council shall meet twice every six months, convened by its President. When the agenda so requires, the members of the European Council may decide each to be assisted by a minister and, in the case of the President of the Commission, by a member of the Commission. When the situation so requires, the President shall convene a special meeting of the European Council.

(OJEU 9.5.2008 C 115/23)

Ralf Grahn