Tuesday, 22 February 2011

EU General Affairs Council (GAC) communication: Wrong, stupid and a missed opportunity

Yesterday I published two blog posts in Swedish regarding the upcoming meeting of the General Affairs Council (GAC) the same day, 21 February 2011. The first entry looked at how the advance material published centrally by the Council managed to enlighten and engage the public. My conclusion was that despite coordinating heavyweight issues, the governments seem to exclude the citizens of the European Union on purpose: EU-rådet för allmänna frågor 21 februari 2011: Bedrövlig förhandsinformation.

I wondered how long the Nordic ministers participating in the GAC meetings would tolerate such lousy information before revolting, so in the second post I took a closer look at how the governments in Sweden, Finland and Denmark informed domestically about the issues on the agenda of the General Affairs Council. Sadly, even the Nordic governments seemed to have missed the GAC as an opportunity to communicate in any meaningful way or to invite valuable contributions from the wider society: EU-rådet för allmänna frågor: Vad gör Norden?

In my view, the GAC could be an important stock-taking and engaging milestone on the road towards improved guidelines from the European Council summits.

GAC conclusions

If the advance information was lousy, how much did the GAC meeting improve matters with regard to economic coordination and progress?

We now have the press release from the Council, with the GAC conclusions:

3068th Council meeting General Affairs; Brussels, 21 February 2011 (Council document 6762/11; 8 pages)

With regard to the follow-up of the February European Council, we are informed that:

The Council took stock of the follow-up to be given to the European Council's meeting on 4 February, which [only officially; my addition] focused on energy and innovation.

Not a word, not a document about substance, how guidelines are put into practice or preparations advancing.


With the eurozone crisis, economic governance, the ”competitiveness pact” and the Europe 2020 growth reforms, the future of European Union citizens hangs in the balance at the the March European Council.

How does the General Affairs Council improve our knowledge and reassure us about progress being made towards needed reforms?

Here are the GAC conclusions:

The Council examined a draft annotated agenda for the European Council meeting to be held on 24 and 25 March, drawn up by the President of the European Council in cooperation with the presidency and the Commission (doc. 6231/11).

The March European Council is due to focus on:

Economic policy: Conclusion of the first phase of the European Semester (annual monitoring of budgetary policies and structural reforms), adoption of a decision amending the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union with regard to the future European Stability Mechanism (ESM), finalisation of work on the ESM and on the strengthening of the European Financial Stability Facility, finalisation of work by the Council on legislative proposals on economic governance, and a decision on economic policy coordination in the euro area.

– Developments in the EU's southern neighbourhood and follow-up to the 4 February European Council declaration on Egypt.
Not a word, not a document indicating anything of substance, any indication of progress.

Does anyone find even a shred of new and valuable information compared with the already poor background note published before the GAC meeting or the old draft agenda?

GAC – missed opportunity

Despite the treaty based obligation to ensure a maximum of openness, the General Affairs Council and the European Council have, in tandem, adopted working habits and communication patterns designed to keep the public without any meaningful information about how crucial political issues are advancing.

Not only is this 'modus operandi' legally and morally wrong, it is stupid, counterproductive and a great opportunity missed to boot.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. What do Neelie Kroes, Andris Piebalgs, Maria Damanaki, Kristalina Georgieva and Cecilia Malmström have in common? They belong to the blogging minority among members of the European Commission. Kudos to them and to the Commission representation and services blogs you find behind the link.

P.S. 2: Political and macroeconomic guidelines emanating (or not) from the European Council and Council configurations at the top are important for our future, as are the questions of accountability and transparency from the viewpoint of EU citizens.

Details of internal market reform (Single Market Act) and the Europe 2020 strategy (EU2020 flagship initiatives) are going to be among my recurring themes as well.

On my Euroblogs I want to discuss legal and political issues relevant to European enterprises, jobs, employers and employees, consumers and citizens, especially in cross-border situations.

Hopefully my blogs succeed in educating and guiding readers towards relevant sources. For me the blogs offer continuous updating and disciplined study as basic training for my teaching and legal counseling activities.

My blogs are: Grahnlaw (in English), Grahnblawg (in Swedish) and Eurooppaoikeus (in Finnish), as well as downstream the trilingual Grahnlaw Suomi Finland (usually later, with more sediment). On topic comments are most welcome.

If we share an interest in the European economy, business, politics or law, we could get acquainted through Twitter @RalfGrahn or Facebook.