Saturday 25 February 2012

Euro crises: European Council eviscerated?

The European Council was inaugurated as the supremo among the official EU institutions just two years ago, by the Lisbon Treaty. A cascade of meetings, both official ones and inofficial summits, has followed during the financial, sovereign debt and economic crises.

It may sound paradoxical, but my feeling is that the European Council has been gutted by the euro area crises and by design.

This blog post continues the discussion in the entry Transparency during the eurozone crises, based on my presentation at the 22 February 2012 Attac seminar, but with some modifications, updates and documentary references.

Eviscerated European Council?

Already, the latest statements from the informal summits for the EU as a whole, such as 26 October 2011, and the formal European Council conclusions, 23 october 2011 (EUCO 52/1/11) and 9 December 2011 (EUCO 139/1/11), look pretty anaemic.

It is as if the European Council had been eviscerated, emptied of content of late.

The spring meeting has traditionally been dedicated to all aspects of economic issues, but we have to wait to see what EUCO produces in terms of substance 1-2 March 2012 in the light of the EUCO annotated draft agenda (Council document 5354/12).

Summit or EU institution?

The first two years of the European Council as an official EU institution could be marked down as a lost opportunity with regard to openness and closeness to the citizen of the European Union.

In the beginning, EUCO president Herman Van Rompuy underlined that the European Council was an official institution, but in practice it continued to act as an international summit between leaders, without adopting practices of openness and good governance.

By this I mean in particular the preparatory phase from the Council configurations through the coordinating General Affairs Council (GAC), which has proved a real disappointment.

In order to illustrate the point, I ask you to look at the draft agenda of the GAC and the background note ahead of the 28 February 2012 meeting. Do we see clear proposals going in and can we expect the GAC to make public propositions to EUCO for public debate ahead of conclusions?

For comparison, we also have the customary annotated agenda from the government of Sweden: Allänna rådets möte den 28 februari 2012 – Kommenterad dagordning. Thin, is how I see it, instead of a clear paper trail from proposal to discussion, with public debate in between.


Perhaps some of us find it comforting to see that we citizens are in such noble company – at least in part with the heads of state or government of the non-euro states – watching more of real policy making disappear into the even bigger black hole of beefed-up Eurogroup support and the permanent Euro Summit.

Perhaps some of us are comfortable with the GAC and EUCO continuing to labour in the mode of diplomatic conferences, instead of as accountable and transparent institutions of European government and governance.

Perhaps we should not be. Yesterday, the Swedish economist Anders Bäckstrand wrote on Europaportalen that the euro crisis has started a process towards a more distinctly political Europe, but political legitimacy is necessary for this to succeed.

Ralf Grahn
speaker on EU affairs, especially digital policy and law

P.S. 1: For better or for worse, between the global issues and the national level, the European Union institutions and the eurozone coteries shape our future. At the same time we see a European public sphere emerging. More than 900 euroblogs are aggregated by multilingual Is your blog already listed among them? Are you following the debates which matter for your future?

P.S. 2: Referring the anti-piracy treaty #ACTA to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) marks a lull in the proceedings, but not an end to the political battle. A few moments ago, the online petition launched by @Avaaz for the European Parliament (and the national parliaments) to reject ACTA had already been signed by 2,427,119 netizens, but more are welcome until the official burial.

Today, Saturday 25 February 2012, European netizens join forces through more than 150 demonstrations for open and democratic legislation and Internet freedoms. In Finland Stop ACTA Helsinki convenes in front of the Central Railway Station at 14:00 hours.


  1. Hmm. What is the "European Council" if not the periodic summits of heads of state/government, the rulers of the European Union and its constituent nations? Is it the functionaries occupying the Justus Lipsius building? Is it Herman Van Rompuy's office? Why should either of them be empowered with any legitimacy or authority or be expected to have any connection with the citizens?

    In terms of "distance from the citizens" this is hardly surprising. Heads of state/government are by nature among the most authoritarian/opaque parts of any government, being the most powerful and politically sensitive part of the executive.

    The European Council, defined as the summits, has completely dominated the eurozone crisis. Effectively under (Franco-)German leadership, it has completely marginalized any role for MEPs (reduced to endless impotent protestation) and the Commission's bureaucrats (reduced to humiliatingly defending the Council's pseudo-definitive compromises).

    So... yeah. The powerful rule Europe regardless of institutional-legal niceties and "innovations".

  2. @CJWilly

    Thank you for your comment, which reflects your observations as a professional covering the EU institutions at work.

    The series of blog posts continues in order to cover different aspects of the political and economic crisis.


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