Saturday 26 June 2010

EU Council presidency primer - Belgium’s website launched

With less than a week to go to the beginning of July, Belgium yesterday launched the website of the Belgian Presidency of the EU Council.

This is primarily a primer or background note on matters relating to the Council presidency under the Lisbon Treaty.

Slimmer presidency

The presidency is still held on the basis of equal rotation (Article 16(9) TEU). If we want to be exact, it is not the presidency of the Council, but of Council configurations other than that of foreign affairs.

The Treaty of Lisbon has limited the scope of the presidency in two respects:

1) The European Council has a full time president (now Herman Van Rompuy), elected for two and a half years according to Article 15(5) TEU.

2) According to Article 18(3) TEU the high representative for foreign affairs and security policy (now Catherine Ashton) presides over the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC).

Presidency trio

According to Article 236(b) TFEU the European Council adopts by qualified majority a decision on the presidency of Council configurations, other than that of foreign affairs.

When the Lisbon Treaty entered into force, the European Council adopted such a decision:

EUROPEAN COUNCIL DECISION 2009/881/EU of 1 December 2009 on the exercise of the Presidency of the Council; OJEU 2.12.2009 L 315/50

Article 1 of the decision lays down the principles of presidency trios and a common programme, both intended to improve continuity (although in practice the system had been introduced earlier):

Article 1

1. The Presidency of the Council, with the exception of the Foreign Affairs configuration, shall be held by pre-established groups of three Member States for a period of 18 months. The groups shall be made up on a basis of equal rotation among the Member States, taking into account their diversity and geographical balance within the Union.

2. Each member of the group shall in turn chair for a six-month period all configurations of the Council, with the exception of the Foreign Affairs configuration. The other members of the group shall assist the Chair in all its responsibilities on the basis of a common programme. Members of the team may decide alternative arrangements among themselves.

What still makes the presidency a big circus appears from the next provision.

The responsibility to chair the Council configurations is not limited to the formal meetings of ministers in the Council. According to Article 2, it entails chairing the (weekly) meetings of the ambassadors and their deputies (Coreper) as well as the preparatory bodies of various Council configurations (with the exception of the Political and Security Committee and expressly made exceptions).

The intended coordinating role of the General Affairs Council (GAC) is stated in Article 3.

Exercising the presidency

An implementing decision sheds more light on the order of the presidency trios until 2020, the chairing of the preparatory bodies of the FAC, and the chairing of the other Council preparatory bodies (fixed chairs):

COUNCIL DECISION 2009/908/EU of 1 December 2009 laying down measures for the implementation of the European Council Decision on the exercise of the Presidency of the Council, and on the chairmanship of preparatory bodies of the Council; OJEU 9.12.2009 L 322/28

Current presidency trio

Spain during the first half of 2010, soon Belgium from July to December and thereafter Hungary during the first six months of 2011. These EU member states constitute the current 18 month presidency trio responsible for chairing the Council of the European Union.

The 18 month programme of the Spanish, Belgian and Hungarian presidencies is still available.

Council work

More information on the work of the Council is found in the Rules of Procedure (see Annex), which have been adapted to the Lisbon Treaty:

COUNCIL DECISION 2009/937/EU of 1 December 2009 adopting the Council's Rules of Procedure (consolidated version)

Council configurations

Annexed to the Council’s Rules of Procedure, we find a list of Council configurations. Nine of them are expected to be chaired by the rotating presidency, but the trio can agree to share responsibilities:

1. General affairs;
2. Foreign affairs (chaired by the high representative);
3. Economic and financial affairs (including the EU budget);
4. Justice and home affairs (including civil protection);
5. Employment, social policy, health and consumer affairs;
6. Competitiveness (internal market, industry and research) (including tourism);
7. Transport, telecommunications and energy;
8. Agriculture and fisheries;
9. Environment;
10. Education, youth and culture (including audiovisual affairs).

List of preparatory bodies

The list of preparatory bodies (16 pages) published by the General secretariat offers additional information about the variety of areas where experts from the member states lay the groundwork for the formal Council meetings, which are only the tip of the iceberg:

List of Council preparatory bodies; Brussels, 11 February 2010, document 5869/1/10 REV 1

Belgium’s presidency programme

The programme of the Belgian Presidency of the EU Council (52 pages) offers an updated view of the EU Council’s work during the coming months.

News feed on Grahnlaw

Grahnlaw has added a news feed in the right hand margin. Scroll down until you find the headline

Ralf Grahn

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