PR boss: Parliament to become ‘more vocal’ under Lisbon

The European Parliament will become “significantly more vocal” in expressing its position on EU policy issues under the Treaty of Lisbon, George Ellis Ruano, founder of Brussels-based PR firm Gellis Communications, told EURACTIV in an interview, helping “to ensure that decisions are taken as close to the citizen as possible”.  

George Ellis Ruano is founder and director of Brussels-based PR firm Gellis Communications.

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? 

In the short term we are unlikely to see much movement in terms of the EU’s relationships internationally. In the next weeks and months, we can expect significant activity in the setting up of the new diplomatic service. In addition, we should expect there to be some movement towards even greater cooperation between police authorities across the EU. With the strengthened role of national parliaments in the decision-making process, there is potential for these to become more vocal players in terms of policy formulation and implementation. 

In the long term, we will likely see greater convergence of foreign policies, especially in relation to climate change and energy, which will lead to a stronger and more coherent external voice for the EU. The treaty includes the ability to launch a ‘Citizens’ Initiative’ to petition the European Commission to bring forward new policy proposals. These ‘Citizens’ Initiatives’ require one million signatures, so expect to see a number of these in the future. 

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 treaty should impact upon those policy areas already under the remit of the EU institutions, particularly in terms of economic policy, as the Lisbon Treaty formalises the position of the European Central Bank by making it an institution of the European Union. Other areas where change can be expected are climate and energy policy and the Union’s policies on freedom, security and justice. 

Whilst there will be some movement in terms of external relations, we ought to be tentative about making any judgements about how effective the new High Representative will be in bringing the EU together to talk with a single voice on issues at international level. 

I don’t expect any change in terms of taxation or defence policy. There was never any intention to alter the decision-making procedure for these policy areas. 

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 position will combine that of Javier Solana’s foreign policy post with the European commissioner for external relations portfolio, essentially creating a position with ‘two hats’, which seeks to streamline EU external action by avoiding duplication and confusion. Importantly, it is the only major post that bridges the European Council and the Commission, which means that it will be treated as a hybrid post and lobbyists would do well to treat it as such. 

While Catherine Ashton is meant to strengthen coherence in terms of external action, she will not decide a single European policy, which will continue to be based on the unanimous agreement of all 27 member states. In one sense, the High Representative can be considered a ‘super ambassador’ for the EU, though just how political the office will come to be remains to be seen. However, the general consensus right now is that both Catherine Ashton and the new European Council President, Herman Van Rompuy, will play a more reserved role than some had hoped for. 

The most likely scenario is that interest representation will remain largely unchanged, though it will be fascinating to see how the European External Action Service will develop and what role it might play in terms of influencing the nature of interest representation. 

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? 

Formally, Catherine Ashton’s position as High Representative is junior to that of the president of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy. However, in terms of who will be the ‘face of the EU’ she is potentially the more powerful – with the added benefit of significant human and budgetary resources at her disposal. We can expect the member states to reach agreement over the definitions of ‘foreign and security policies’ which maintains the status quo – leaving the ultimate decisions with them. 

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

We should welcome the end of the dual system, whereby the European Community and the European Union have held different legal statuses and operated according to different decision-making rules. By giving the EU a legal personality, we can expect greater efficiency in the decision-making process, more democracy as a consequence of the European Parliament’s increased importance, and enhanced coherence and credibility in terms of external affairs. This is the intention, at least.

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? 

With more players involved in the process, there will be additional opportunities for interest groups to lobby at different stages of the decision-making process. This should make it easier for interest groups of varying sizes to gain access and should play a role in enhancing the transparency of EU policy implementation. The Treaty sets out to ensure that decisions are taken as close to citizens as possible and increasing the powers of the European Parliament should go some way to making this goal a reality. 

I think that we can anticipate more iteration of policy positions as the strength of the European Parliament increases. We can expect the European Parliament to be significantly more vocal in expressing policy positions with the new rules and the Parliament will certainly cite its ‘democratic legitimacy’ as a directly-elected body.

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 Lisbon Treaty has clearly enhanced the strength of national parliaments to act as watchdogs of the European institutions. It is difficult to say whether this will enhance or stymie further EU integration. 

Pundits suggest a far greater focus on national over European interests as governments move to secure electoral support, against the backdrop of that member state’s overall stance in terms of European integration and its electoral system.

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