Tuesday 2 November 2010

A busy week in the European Union: European Council only part of it

It was a busy week in the European Union. The heads of state or government were in the limelight, because the summits or meetings of the institution called the European Council are at the centre of media attention, although a fair amount of the reporting in national media has been through the prism of domestic politics. (Nowhere is this clearer than in the United Kingdom, with perpetual political and media pressure to leave no veto unused.)

It might be a good idea to let the dust settle and to look at what we have at the European level. The customary mainstream documents are the conclusions and the explanation given by the president:

European Council 28-29 October 2010 conclusions (EUCO 25/10)

Remarks by Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, at the press conference following the meeting of Heads of State or Government (Brussels, 29 October 2010 PCE 251/10)

Where is the beef?

The general endorsement of the Task force on economic governance sets a few signposts on the road forward, but the summary on first two pages of the European Council conclusions relies heavily on the sources, the Task force report, a helpful factsheet and the proposals made by the European Commission:

Strengthening economic governance in the EU – Report of the Task force to the European Council (21 October 2010; 17 pages)

Factsheet on the surveillance procedures in the EU (21 October 2010; 3 pages)

Package of Commission proposals on EU economic governance [DG Ecfin 29 September 2010]

The official conclusions from the European Council are, as we can see, only the tip of the iceberg: two pages above the surface, but a reading marathon below.

Mundane tasks

We can see the “tip of the iceberg” from another angle as well. Much of what the European Union does consists of important but mundane tasks, bundled under ‘union policies and internal actions’ in Part Three of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

While the summit stole the media limelight, last week the Commission churned out a number of relevant documents. These underreported reports and proposals concerned, inter alia, the Single Market Act, EU citizenship, a new industrial policy and the Commission Work Programme for 2011 (CWP 2011).

Ralf Grahn

P.S. There is a new kid (in a politico-zoological sense as well) on the French block of the multilingual Euroblog aggregator Bloggingportal.eu (which has grown to 687 blogs related to European affairs). The blog or web magazine Europe – 27etc has made its appearance. The slogan of the blog collective is: “Parce que l’Europe n’est pas une affaire étrangère”. There are six regular contributors (“les Cabris de l’Europe”, in a historic reference to the nationalist president de Gaulle; they write under pseudonyms, to guarantee freedom of expression), and nineteen guest writers have already signed up. Impressive start!


  1. Hi Ralf Grahn,

    I wonder if you have any view on the criticism that it is illegal for the Council to meet behind closed doors:


    Do you have any idea whether a legal action could be pursued?

    George Brunt

  2. George Brunt,

    I noticed the criticism, but I do not feel prepared to issue any categorical statements.

    A few general remarks, however.

    At least formally the Lisbon Treaty has resulted in some public Council deliberations and debates, which can be seen by the public.

    However, most of the real decisions are made behind closed doors, and the different proposals are not voted on or argued transparently.

    (The reporting is mainly based on leaks.)

    I have written a few times about the European Council, which has become an institution formally, but with transparency and accountability standards much below those of a municipal board in my country.

    President Herman Van Rompuy seems to try to develop the European Council into a high level workshop, which contradicts his assertion that it is an institution, not a summit.

    Both the European Council and the Council function in accordance with their Rules of Procedure, and these have been set by the member states, so they reflect the paradigms of diplomacy and the culture of Cabinet meetings nationally.

    I would not bet my shirt on a successful legal action on the grounds of lack of transparency, despite the general treaty principle of 'as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizen'.

    First reading compromises and conciliation committee procedures further detract from openness in decision making.

    However, even if I doubt a legal challenge against the dismal transparency standards of the European Council (and the Council), I do think that improvements could and should be introduced, so there is cause for criticism of the current state of affairs.


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