Thursday 1 October 2009

European Council President: Blair in and out in weeks?

Open Europe’s press summary today 1 October 2009 illustrates that political discussions are taking place in Europe with regard to the EU’s Lisbon Treaty. It is not the fault of Open Europe if the reports are contradictory:


The Sun quotes British government sources saying that European leaders could nominate Tony Blair as the President of the European Council within weeks, if Ireland votes Yes to the Lisbon Treaty tomorrow.


Read on and Open Europe’s press summary mentions The Times telling us that France and Germany unite to push Britain to EU sidelines. Franco-German backing for Tony Blair as President of the European Council is reported as a casualty of the deal.


“Pushing Britain to the sidelines” sounds a tad dramatic, given the country’s track record in European integration and the repeated announcements and actions by the leadership of the UK Conservative Party, David Cameron and William Hague, predicted to form the next government.

The Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende would probably be greeted more favourably than Tony Blair by large sections of EU citizens.

This is getting interesting.

Ralf Grahn


  1. Ralph, this question is off topic, but I've looked through your blog and can't find any relevant entry, so I hope you don't mind me posting it here.

    Can you tell me if and how changes to the European Council laid down in Lisbon will manifest themselves?

  2. JO,

    A comment box is not the ideal place for lengthy views, so in brief:

    The European Council will become an institution officially.

    Politically it has increasingly become the guiding forum for the development of the EU; start, stop, stand still.

    The Lisbon Treaty tends to strengthen this development, for instance with regard to the Commission, although the Commission is not weakened by the treaty per se.

    The new president will give the European Council visibility.

    In certain cases the European Council starts making formal decisions, although it does not take over normal legislation.


    If I remember correctly, I looked at all the decision-making instances of the European Council during the summer.

  3. Right .. so once Lisbon comes into force, the European Council will go from being an 'informal' gathering of the heads of state of EU countries - where ostensibly each head of state speaks for the interests of their respective nations - to a full-blown EU institution?

    Does this mean it will be subject to the same aims and objectives which already apply to other EU Intitutions i.e to "promote its (EU) values; advance its objectives; serve its interests, those of its citizens and those of Member States; and ensure the consistency, effectiveness and continuity of its policies and actions" ??

    Of course, serving the EU is, de facto, what the European Council already does, but once Lisbon is in force, will this become de jure?


  4. JO,

    I am answering off the cuff.

    The principle of loyal cooperation between the member states already exists, so as a guiding principle it continues to be in force.

    I am not aware of any qualitative shift due to the European Council becoming an institution formally; it has roughly the same tasks in the existing treaty.

    One regularly sees interpretations of the kind you mention, more or less cloned on each other, about the heads of state or government becoming subservient to the superstate about to take over.

    In my humble opinion, these are gross exaggerations with a specific purpose.

    I would think more in terms of team play, loyal cooperation, interdependence - the EU is a structure in need of a high level of cooperation between member states in order to function properly, partly because of the sovereignty of its members (multiple unanimity rules = veto powers); these require good faith.

  5. Final question:

    It was not a formal institution, and now it is, bound by treaty to further the objectives of the European Union. If that does not matter, has no effect, does not represent a "qualitative shift", then why is it in the treaty?

  6. JO,

    The European Council as a body matters a lot. In tandem with the Council it forms the most important part of the European Union (representing the member states).

    The European Council has evolved slowly, from unofficial but regular summits of heads of state or government (from 1974, if I remember correctly), to vague mentions in successive treaties, and on to the core of its tasks in the current treaty (Article 4 TEU).

    The Lisbon Treaty retains the main tasks, but rearranges a bit, with a permanent President.

    The President and the specific instances where the European Council makes decisions are probably the reasons for making it into an institution.

    The heads of state and government have probably not been averse to their elevated status.

    Some sort of (moral) obligation to further the aims of any organisation you belong to is pretty much a 'natural law'.

    You accept the rules and aims of your club or your employer, if you are a private person.

    You embrace the aims and the rules of the UN, the WTO, NATO or the European Union if you become a member state.

    In short, the European Council has become more important through a political process and its leading role is 'codified' through the Lisbon Treaty.

    Through intensive contacts between the national governments and personally between the state leaders, their views may converge as time goes by.

    But I see little legal difference between the obligations of the European Council members now and under the Lisbon Treaty.


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