Monday, 23 March 2009

Lisbon Treaty & European Council: “Presidential elections”

The Treaty of Lisbon would endow the European Union with a new office-holder: the President of the European Council.

The new President would be elected by the European Council, by a qualified majority.

The President’s term in office would be two and a half years, renewable once.

The relevant provision is Article 15(5) of the amended Treaty on European Union (TEU), published in the consolidated version of the Lisbon Treaty OJEU 9.5.2008 C 115/23:


Article 15(5) TEU

5. The European Council shall elect its President, by a qualified majority, for a term of two and a half years, renewable once. In the event of an impediment or serious misconduct, the European Council can end the President's term of office in accordance with the same procedure.


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Declaration 6

In Declaration 6 the heads of state or government (intergovernmental conference) agreed on the following guidance for the election of the President of the European Council (OJEU 9.5.2008 C 115/338):



6. Declaration on Article 15(5) and (6), Article 17(6) and (7) and Article 18 of the Treaty on European Union

In choosing the persons called upon to hold the offices of President of the European Council, President of the Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, due account is to be taken of the need to respect the geographical and demographic diversity of the Union and its Member States.


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Development of Council Presidency

In The Treaty of Lisbon: Implementing the Institutional Innovations (joint study by CEPS, EGMONT and EPC, November 2007), the chapter The Presidency of the Council: The paradox of the new presidency (from page 39) paints a background picture of how the Council Presidency has evolved, and presents an analysis of weaknesses of and the requirements for the potential success of the proposed system.

Under the Treaty of Lisbon, the Council Presidency will be split up into no less than five different and somewhat unconnected levels of responsibility namely (page 46):

(1) the President of the European Council,
(2) the group of three Member States in the eighteen-month Presidency Team,
(3) the Member State in the team holding the six-month Presidency,
(4) the High Representative for foreign policy, President of the Foreign Aff airs Council, and
(5) the President of the euro group.


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Pros and cons

Another discussion of the pros and cons of the permanent President of the European Council is presented in the UK House of Lords report The Treaty of Lisbon: an impact assessment, Volume I: Report (HL Paper 62-I, 13 March 2008), from page 41.

The witnesses presented quite different views on how difficult the coordination between the President of the Commission, the President of the European Council, the High Representative and the member state holding the rotating Council Presidency would turn out to be.

Conclusion 4.34 acknowledged the significance of the post and the disputed role of the President of the European Council (page 48):

“The creation of a full-time European Council President, in place of a six-monthly rotation among heads of government, is a significant move, and is likely to make the European Council more effective at creating direction and action. This could mean a more active/activist European Council—a consequence which would be welcomed in some quarters but not in others.”


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European elections

In Think global, act European (published by Notre Europe), thirteen European think tanks gave their views to the upcoming trio, the EU Council Presidencies of France, the Czech Republic and Sweden, against the background of the planned entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon.

Gaëtane Ricard-Nihoul and Elvire Fabry advised against including the President of the Commission in a crude package deal within the European Council (page 19):

“The troika must also take care to ensure that the European Council does not agree to any upstream intergovernmental deal concerning the nominations of the Council president, the Commission president and the High Representative. The appointment of the new President of the Commission should depend upon the outcome of the European elections of June 2009. More than ever these elections need a genuine political agenda in order to mobilise voters, since turnout has been declining since 1979.”


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Interinstitutional agreement

The thirteen think-tanks made further recommendations on the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty. The trio of Council Presidencies should negotiate an interinstitutional agreement with the Commission and the European Parliament (page 25):



“To negotiate with the Commission and the European Parliament a sort of “code of conduct” (Europeum), an inter-institutional agreement to define the principles that should prevail not just in the choice of individuals to fill key posts, but also in the way these new functions will be incorporated into the existing institutional framework (impact on COREPER, working groups, rotating Presidencies, role of the General Affairs Council, conciliation of co-decision, etc.) (SIEPS, DemosEuropa).”


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Selection of President

The think tanks made the following recommendation for the selection of the President of the European Council (page 26):


“To select a President of the European Council who does not become, in any form whatsoever, a rival to the President of the European Commission. The Council President should be a prominent European figure respected by all member states, capable of having authority vis-à-vis the exterior and, at the same time, of building a consensus within the community. This implies someone from the heart of the current European integration process, that is from a member of the euro-zone and of the Schengen Agreement (CEPS, Eliamep, Notre Europe).”


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Interinstitutional relations


The post of the President of the Commission and the new posts of President of the European Council and the double-hatted High Representative are linked, as shown by Declaration 6 (above). It is possible that the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty coincides more or less exactly with the start of the next Commission’s term of office, and the Treaty of Lisbon creates the two other posts.

On 9 March 2009 the Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) of the European Parliament voted on the draft report by Jean-Luc Dehaene on the impact of the Treaty of Lisbon on the development of the institutional balance of the European Union (2008/2073(INI)).

The AFCO report proposes a procedure and a timetable for the nominations, with a wish to see them applied already after the June 2009 European elections:

“42. In this context, proposes as a possible model the following procedure and timetable for the nominations, which could be agreed by the European Parliament and the European Council:

– weeks 1 and 2 after the European elections: installation of the political groups in the European Parliament;

– week 3 after the elections: consultations between the President of the European Council and the President of the European Parliament, followed by separate meetings between the President of the European Council and the Presidents of the political groups (possibly also with the Presidents of the European political families or restricted delegations);

– week 4 after the elections: indication by the European Council, taking into account the results of the consultations mentioned in the previous indent, of the candidate for President of the Commission;

– weeks 5 and 6 after the elections: contacts between the candidate for President of the Commission and the political groups; statements by that candidate and presentation of his/her political guidelines to the European Parliament; vote in the European Parliament on the candidate for President of the Commission;

– July/August/September: the elected President of the Commission agrees with the European Council on the nomination of the High Representative and proposes the list of Commissioners-designate (including the High Representative/Vice-President);

– September: the European Council adopts the list of Commissioners-designate (including the High Representative/Vice-President);

– September/October: hearings of the Commissioners-designate and of the High Representative/Vice-President-designate by the European Parliament;

– October: presentation of the college of Commissioners and their programme to the European Parliament; vote on the entire college (including the High Representative/Vice-President); the European Council approves the new Commission; the new Commission takes up its duties;

– November: the European Council nominates the President of the European Council;


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EP President

Against the background of the link between the posts and the Deahaene report, at the spring European Council the President of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Pöttering spoke about the nomination and the election of the next President of the Commission, but with implications for the whole “package”:

“What we need in this difficult situation is a clear timetable. On 14 July the newly-elected European Parliament will hold its constitutative part-session.

No matter what, we want that the election of the President of the Commission takes place on 15 July 2009. This election must reflect the outcome of the European elections. For this to happen, consultations between the Council Presidency and the European Parliament will be necessary.

This consultation procedure need not be exclusively related to the choice of person for Commission President, but must also include upcoming legal, political and personnel questions.

Parliament would be willing to conduct them after the elections and before the June meeting of the European Council. We must also make arrangements to ensure that the new Commission can still take office this year.”


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Reflections

Instead of a European Union based on representative democracy, with a directly elected European Parliament and a politically accountable executive built on the existing Commission, the leaders of the member states have opted for the strengthening of the intergovernmental European Council, where they direct union affairs.

A permanent President of the European Council serves this interest by bringing continuity to the post and by full-time employment.

As an internal choice of the European Council, without direct input from the EU’s citizens or the other institutions, the new President has little democratic legitimacy. He or she is selected behind closed doors by an electoral college of 27. These are “Presidential elections” European style.

Against this background, the President of the European Council is not and cannot be the President of Europe. Possibly, the new position will sow confusion outside and create complications inside.

If the six month rotating presidency is felt to be inadequate for the European Council, the post could be merged with the post of the President of the Commission, which would give it a modicum of democratic legitimacy at the current stage of development, as well as continuity. This has been proposed by the WhoDoICall.eu campaign.



A future directly elected President of the European Council, as some have speculated, would in my opinion be a wrong turn, leading to a presidential system alien to most of the EU member states, with the notable exception of France. The vast majority of the member states are parliamentary democracies, and there is reason to simplify the structures at EU level, not to add complications.

In the long run, if the European project is to survive and prosper, it has to be re-founded on its citizens, with a democratically legitimate government.



Ralf Grahn