The Lisbon Treaty: Playing Presidential poker?

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

The Treaty of Lisbon will change the way European politicians govern and cooperate in the future, says Dominik Hierlemann of the Bertelsmann Stiftung. But with unclear definitions of the new leadership roles, the top EU positions could prove confusing for the bloc’s citizens, he warns in a March paper. 

Hierlemann raises a number of issues surrounding the precise roles of the Council President, Commission President and High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs to be introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, and in particular that of the first President of the European Council, set to be chosen in the autumn.

The author identifies competition between the three positions as a potential source of conflict – citing the possible reduction of the Commission President’s role to that of “top administrator” as an example, which he warns “would be completely erroneous”.

Outlining the Council President’s function as set out by the Lisbon Treaty, Hierlemann describes how he should facilitate EU citizens’ understanding of the European institutions and enhance both the bloc’s visibility and its leadership potential. 

But the nature of the Council President’s mandate remains unclear, he says, arguing that the future president should play an influential role in the European debate, determining the top issues to be tackled. The figure chosen is to be elected on the basis of a qualified majority for two-and-a-half years and can be re-elected once, he explains. 

But the external representation of the position remains uncertain and it is unclear whether the President will stand as “Mr. or Mrs. Europe” or become “more of a king or queen presiding over the quest for internal compromises,” believes Hierlemann.

As far as the EU rotating presidencies are concerned, their role will be altered by the Treaty, the author explains, predicting that the rotating presidency will focus more on the internal issues of the individual member state, turning the appointed country into a mediator between policymaking at EU level and the member states. 

Hierlemann concludes that there is a need to define both the objective of the rotating presidencies and the relative position of the heads of state and government in the new set-up, particularly as their impact on EU policymaking appears to have been weakened by the new Treaty. 

Moreover, the rotating presidencies should place greater emphasis on one specific issue to communicate to other member states, he adds. 

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