PA chief: Scope for top-job ‘turf struggles’ under Lisbon

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The Lisbon Treaty leaves scope for ‘turf struggles’ to take place over the division of power between the new EU president and High Representative for Foreign Affairs but this is less likely given the personalities currently in place, Georg Danell, managing partner at the Brussels office of public affairs firm Kreab Gavin Anderson, told EURACTIV in an interview.

Georg Danell is managing partner at the Brussels office of public affairs firm Kreab Gavin Anderson. 

He 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 enters 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 process of approval and installation of the new [European] Commission will be under the Lisbon Treaty, so we can expect Parliament to seek to exploit its powers in full, perhaps to the extent of raising difficulties about individual commissioners. 

In foreign and security policy, of course there will be visible changes in the way we are represented, and since it is a period of important international developments we should quite soon start to see how the new arrangements work in coordinating EU responses. 

In the longer term, the extension of co-decision and the strengthening of the Parliament’s role will continue a trend of a more assertive Parliament in many areas. We can expect more efforts from Parliament to share the Commission right of legislative initiative. 

But the hard-wiring into the treaty of the principle of proportionality is important in ensuring that proper consultation and impact assessment – the whole ‘Better Regulation’ agenda – remains a core element of decision-making on the need for initiatives by all institutions. 

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? 

Foreign and security policy is obviously an area where some of the biggest changes will occur. The new EU competences on energy, justice and immigration, as well as the stronger role for the Commission on trade policy, will likely over time see increased ambition in the EU institutions, but in the immediate future I wouldn’t expect things to look very different. 

Energy is a very active policy area right now, but I don’t expect much policy change as a direct consequence of the new energy chapter in the Lisbon Treaty. 

Perhaps the stronger role for Parliament will lead to greater emphasis on addressing climate change – Commission President [José Manuel] Barroso has already indicated that he thinks so by his promises to Parliament during his confirmation process to ensure that a commissioner is focused on this area. 

Also potentially important is that for the first time, there will be a principle of solidarity, ensuring that if one country faces severe difficulties in the supply of energy, other member states will help keep the country supplied. 

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? 

Baroness Ashton has scope for a stronger role than Mr. Solana for several reasons – she will lead a single external action service composed of civil servants of the Commission and the Council and of the national diplomatic services (reportedly some 3,000 officials). 

She is uniquely both a senior member of the Commission and the permanent chair of the Foreign Affairs Council of ministers. Those wishing to influence her will have to take account of both roles. 

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? 

Much will depend on the way relations develop between the High Representative, the president of the Council and, I would add, the president of the Commission. 

The treaty certainly leaves scope for turf struggles, but looking at the personalities now in place this seems less likely than might have been feared. The ability and personalities of the persons holding the relevant positions will be decisive. However, formally the position of High Representative can be seen as the one with the clearest role and the greatest resources. 

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

You can either see this as a technical change to enable EU member states to act through one legal vehicle in international agreements when it suits them, or as step of constitutional significance in equipping the EU with one of the trappings of nationhood. 

Personally I don’t see it as on the agenda for member states to give up their separate representation at organisations like the WTO, so I wouldn’t get too thrilled too quickly. 

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? 

The changes underline the importance of dealing with all the main institutions – Commission, Parliament and members states/Council – and doing so at the right time and in the right way. 

Each has its special characteristics and priorities: for example, more technical arguments are required to influence the Commission, whereas political arguments have greater impact in the Parliament – though in both cases this is a matter of emphasis. 

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 effectiveness of the system designed by the Lisbon Treaty will depend heavily on the alertness and proactive scrutiny of national parliaments. 

It will also be affected by the extent to which parties with suspicions of European action are influential in national parliaments – you can envisage some parties seeking to use this option for high-profile policy purposes. 

But using the procedure successfully does depend on two things: (1) effective internal procedures to be able to act within a period of eight weeks and (2) the building of alliances with other parliaments to achieve the necessary thresholds for an objection to EU action. 

This latter aspect will reinforce the need for inter-parliamentary communication and organisation of real opportunities for exchanges on policy. 

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