Two new leaders in search of a job description

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Although the EU has appointed its first permanent president of the Council and High Representative for Foreign Affairs, “the question of precisely what powers they will exercise remains largely unknown, as it is not yet clear how they will perform as individuals and in tandem,” write Piotr Kaczy?ski and Peadar ó Broin of the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) in a November paper.

“The circumscribed formulation of the president’s powers could suggest that the newly-selected president is to be little more than a mere facilitator of the will of the member states. However, there is an indication that a much larger political role is possible,” they claim. 

“First, the Lisbon Treaty refers to someone who would in fact become the dominant factor in ‘driving forward’ the work of the European Council,” Kaczy?ski and Broin write. 

“Second, the address before the European Parliament could become a mini-EU version of the American ‘State of the Union’ address contributing to the pan-European debate not only on what is being done, but what should be done,” they suggest. 

“Third, the president could become Europe’s ‘face’ in international affairs in performing his role as external representative of the EU,” the authors note.

“In doing so, however, the new president’s prerogatives need to be more precisely defined in the Rules of Procedure of the European Council, due to be adopted during the December 2009 meeting,” they state. 

“This needs to be done to clarify the president’s relationship with other institutions, such as the High Representative (the issue of representation of the Common Foreign and Security Policy), the rotating presidency (the relationship with the General Affairs Council) and the European Commission (the issue of representation of the Union towards citizens – who would be the EU’s face? – and of non-CFSP-related policies at an international level),” Kaczy?ski and Broin claim. 

“The new High Representative will chair the foreign affairs configuration of the Council of Ministers and will be vice-president of the European Commission. This so-called ‘double-hatting’ of the High Representative has no precedent in EU institutional affairs, so its precise operational effects remain to be seen,” Kaczy?ski and Broin note. 

“Perhaps the most undefined element of the post will be ‘co-habitation’ with the president of the European Council. Will the president of the European Council or the High Representative have the primary duty to represent the CFSP?” they ask. 

“There is also a grey area in which external representation will be decided on a case-by-case basis, such as G20 meetings, energy treaties with third states and international environmental negotiations. In these instances, the EU may be represented by the European Council president, the representative of the member state holding the rotating presidency, a member of the European Commission or the High Representative, or various combinations of these roles,” they suggest. 

“Since the High Representative will be present in the Council as chair of the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC), she will also chair meetings of national ministers on international trade and development policies, which fall under the responsibility of the FAC. This may allow for the High Representative to exert some indirect influence over the commissioners for trade and development,” Kaczy?ski and Broin write. 

“In the Commission, the High Representative will nominally be one of several vice-presidents. Vice-presidents have no formal hierarchy over other commissioners in the college, but because of its position in the FAC, there might be a de facto hierarchy vis-à-vis the trade and development commissioners,” they claim. 

“The High Representative has a special status as regards the appointment and firing process: her role, along with that of president, is one of only two posts in the Commission that are permanent according to the Treaties – all other portfolios may be established and abolished by the president,” Kaczy?ski and Broin conclude. 

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