Consultant: ‘Top job’ roles to be defined by personalities

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The division of power between the new EU president and High Representative for Foreign Affairs “will be defined by their personalities,” Julia Harrison, managing partner at public affairs consultancy Blueprint Partners, told EURACTIV in an interview.

Julia Harrison is managing partner at Blueprint Partners, a Brussels-based public affairs consultancy. 

She was speaking to Andrew Williams.

To read a first article based on this interview dealing with the EU’s ‘top jobs’, please click here.

To read a second article dealing with the Lisbon Treaty’s policy impact, please click here.

The Lisbon Treaty entered into force on 1 December. What changes do you expect in the first weeks or months? What other changes can be expected in the longer term? 

The most visible change will be the realisation of the two new offices of president of the Council and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. While they are ostensibly there to be the faces of the EU, the reality is that they will have to act as consensus-formers between the member states rather than wielding real power. 

They will, however, benefit from a longer term than member-state presidencies (2.5 years vs. six months) to allow them to develop greater international recognition. 

The other key institutional change will be the expansion of co-decision areas, which will increase the powers and profile of the European Parliament from when the treaty enters into force on 1 December. 

One uncertain factor will be the new clause that obliges social considerations to be taken into account in EU policymaking. This leaves much open to interpretation – could it result in disgruntled Socialist MEPs threatening to appeal to the European Court of Justice if their concerns are not included in a draft directive? 

What are the policy areas where you expect the most change to occur? By contrast, what are the policy areas where you don’t expect much to happen as a result of the treaty’s entry into force? 

The greatest changes will occur from 1 December in those areas which will fall under co-decision for the first time, such as trade, budget, agriculture, transport, regional aid and justice and home affairs. 

This will give greater power to the Parliament. From 2014, Qualified Majority Voting will be extended to [include] many areas currently under unanimity, including social policy and justice and home affairs, which means more movement, more horse-trading and ultimately a more dynamic policy environment. 

On the other hand, the many areas which are already under co-decision – most internal market measures or health and safety legislation, for example, where decision-making will not change, should remain stable. The unknown factor is how they will be affected, if at all, by the new social clause. 

The Lisbon Treaty creates the new role of a double-hatted EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, who is also a vice-president of the European Commission. How different will Catherine Ashton’s role be from that of Javier Solana? Should lobbyists regard this function as part of the European Commission or as part of the Council? What are the implications for interest representation? 

Catherine Ashton’s Council role will not differ hugely from Javier Solana’s: she will have to carefully build a consensus among member states in order to be heard in her dealings with the outside world. 

However, her vice-presidency of the Commission position will give her an added tool – for example, if she has both the Commission and Council behind her when addressing an energy security issue with Russia, she may carry a little more weight, as the Commission coordinates EU energy policy. 

On the other hand, it could be harder for Ashton to form a consensus among two sets of colleagues rather than one. 

Lobbyists should regard her as representing both institutions and balance their approaches accordingly. 

How do you expect roles to be shared between the High Representative and the new permanent president of the European Council? Who will determine the definitions of ‘foreign & security policies’ when nothing is written down in the Lisbon Treaty? 

Their roles will be defined by their personalities. Van Rompuy is respected in Belgium as a competent and intelligent politician who knows how to build a consensus from fractious political elements; Ashton is relatively unknown and has little experience of foreign and security policy, but is still an effective appointment. 

Van Rompuy’s role is larger as he will preside over European Council meetings as well as jetting around the world; Ashton will take up where Solana has left off in foreign affairs. 

They will have to form an effective partnership and cultivate the same member-state governments, so being in conflict over who does what will not be in their interests, or probably even in their characters. 

The treaty gives a legal personality to the EU. Should we be thrilled? What will that change? 

It makes sense to give the EU a legal personality and end the distinction of the three pillars, but on a day-to-day level it will make little difference. Most EU public affairs work concerns first-pillar activities, where the European Community already has a legal personality. 

The treaty gives the European Parliament extra decision-making powers under co-decision, resulting in a more even distribution of influence between the Commission, the Parliament and the Council. How will this affect interest groups? Will re-balancing the influence of the main EU institutions require more iteration of policy positions? 

Co-decision will be extended to 40 new areas, so inevitably this will mean that the Parliament will have to be addressed by anyone who seeks to influence policies in those fields. 

For PA professionals, perhaps the most important new areas will be trade policy, transport and certain areas of financial services, although there are many other areas of concern to other interest groups, such as the CAP [Common Agricultural Policy], asylum/immigration policy and police cooperation. 

With three rather than two main EU institutions to address in these fields, policy positions will inevitably have to be more carefully crafted to take account of the different audiences. 

Subsidiarity moves from being a principle to become a procedure under Lisbon, in that national parliaments will in theory gain a ‘yellow card’ facility to halt or query Commission initiatives that seem too intrusive. How do you expect this potential blocking power to be exercised by national parliaments? 

The ‘yellow card’ is an interesting wild card, but it would need a third of all EU parliaments to object to make it effective. 

As national governments usually hold parliamentary majorities and the EU’s decision-making gives input to governments at an early stage, it is more likely that the Commission would review its competence to propose an initiative long before the parliaments of nine member states could object. 

Perhaps this new power will concentrate minds in the Commission in some cases, but it would take a very controversial initiative to mobilise so many national legislatures against it. 

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