President of the European Council
|President of the
|Appointer||European Council by qualified majority|
|Term length||Two years and six months, renewable once|
|Inaugural holder||Herman Van Rompuy|
|Formation||1 December 2009|
|Salary||€298,495.44 per year|
|Website||President of the European Council|
The President of the European Council (sometimes referred to as the President of the European Union) is a principal representative of the European Union (EU) on the world stage, and the person presiding over and driving forward the work of the European Council. This institution comprises the college of heads of state or government of EU member states as well as the President of the European Commission, and provides political direction to the European Union (EU). The current president is the former Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy.
From 1975 to 2009, the head of the European Council was an unofficial position (often referred to as President-in-Office) held by the head of state or government of the member state holding the semiannually rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union at any given time. However, since the Treaty of Lisbon, article 15 of Treaty on European Union states that the European Council appoints a full-time president for a two-and-a-half-year term, with the possibility of renewal once. Appointments, as well as the removal of incumbents, require a double majority support in the European Council.
On 19 November 2009, the European Council agreed that its first president under the Lisbon Treaty would be Herman Van Rompuy (European People's Party, Belgium). Van Rompuy took office when the Lisbon Treaty came into force on 1 December 2009 with a term stretching until 31 May 2012.
- 1 History
- 2 Duties and powers
- 3 Privileges of office
- 4 President's cabinet
- 5 Democratic mandate
- 6 List of presidents
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
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The first meeting of all EU (then EC) heads of state or government was held in 1961 as an informal summit, but only became formalised in 1974, when it was baptised "European Council" by the then French president Giscard d'Estaing. The Presidency of the European Council was based on the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, with it being hosted by the member state holding the Council Presidency, rotating every six months. As the European Council is composed of national leaders, it was chaired by the head of state or government of the Presidency state.
The European Constitution, drafted by the European Convention, outlined the "President of the European Council" as a longer term and full-time chairmanship. The Constitution was rejected by voters in two Member States during ratification but the changes envisaged to the European Council presidency were retained in the Treaty of Lisbon, which came into force on 1 December 2009.
The first president is expected to "set the job description" for future office holders as there is no clear idea of how the post would evolve. One body of thought was that the President would stick to the administrative role as outlined by the treaty, a standard bearer who would simply chair meetings and ensure the smooth running of the body and its policies. This would attract semi-retired leaders seeking a fitting climax to their career and would leave most work to the Commission rather than wield power within the institutions. However another opinion envisages a more pro-active President within the Union and speaking for it abroad. This post would hence be quickly fashioned into a de facto "President of Europe" and, unlike the first model, would be seen on the world stage as speaking for the EU. Persons connected to this position would be more charismatic leaders. The appointment of Herman Van Rompuy (see below) indicated a desire to see the former style of president.
The Treaty of Lisbon doesn't define a nomination process for the President of the Council and several official and unofficial candidates were proposed. At the final European Council meeting on the treaty in Lisbon, on 19 November 2007, French President Nicolas Sarkozy set off public speculation on candidates by naming Tony Blair, Felipe González and Jean-Claude Juncker, and praising the three as worthy candidates with Blair in particular being a long time front runner for the post. However, he faced large scale opposition for being from a large state outside the eurozone and the Schengen Area as well as being a leader who entered the Iraq War which had split Europe. Minor opposition to other leaders such as Juncker also led to their rejection.
On 19 November 2009, Herman Van Rompuy, at that time Prime Minister of Belgium, was chosen to be appointed as the first full-time President of the European Council. The formal decision on the appointment was made after the Treaty of Lisbon came into force, which was on 1 December 2009. The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, said that he had unanimous backing from the 27 EU leaders at the summit in Brussels on the evening of 19 November 2009. Mr Brown also praised Mr Van Rompuy as "a consensus builder" who had "brought a period of political stability to his country after months of uncertainty". Mr Van Rompuy has a reputation as a coalition builder, having taken charge of the linguistically divided Belgian government and steered it out of a crisis. At a press conference after his appointment, Van Rompuy commented: "Every country should emerge victorious from negotiations. A negotiation that ends with a defeated party is never a good negotiation. I will consider everyone's interests and sensitivities. Even if our unity remains our strength, our diversity remains our wealth", he said, stressing the individuality of EU member states.
Van Rompuy's first council meeting was an informal gathering in the Solvay Library in Leopold Park, rather than the more usual formal gathering in the Justus Lipsius building nearby. The meeting was called to reflect on long term structural economic problems facing Europe, but was in fact overtaken by the Greek economic crisis. This immediately stepped into the economic policy sphere of the Commission President, although Van Rompuy has defined the Commission's role as the detailed content of economic plans, and the European Council as providing strategic guidance, dealing with means and being responsible for success. By this he is encouraging collective responsibilities from the leaders in the European Council now it is an institution like any other.
Van Rompuy also quickly proposed that the European Council should meet almost monthly, which would turn it into a form of cabinet government; something that would help it in dealing with the economy and foreign affairs. However this may result in the failure of some leaders, probably the non-eurozone leaders, to attend.
He has developed his relations with the European Parliament. Although Van Rompuy is not formally accountable to MEPs, he reports to the Parliament after each meeting of the European Council, he meets the political group leaders regularly (and the President of the Parliament monthly) and has agreed to answer written parliamentary questions from them.
Duties and powers
The role of President-in-Office of the assembled European Council was performed by the head of state or government of the member state currently holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. This presidency rotated every six months, meaning there was a new President of the European Council twice a year.
The role as President-in-Office was merely a primus inter pares role among other European heads of state or government. Being primarily responsible for preparing and chairing the meetings of the European Council, the role had no executive powers and was in no sense equivalent to that of a head of state. However, the President-in-Office represented the European Council externally and reported to the European Parliament after its meetings as well as at the beginning and at the end of the presidency.
The president's role is largely political, preparing the work of the European Council, organising and chairing its meetings, seeking to find consensus among its members and reporting to the European Parliament after each meeting; the president will also "at his level and in that capacity, ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy, without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security". Some overlap between the roles of the President of the European Council, the President of the Commission, and the High Representative—notably in foreign policy—leaves uncertainty about how much influence the President of the European Council will acquire. There is further concern over whether the President will have sufficient personnel and resources to fulfil the duties of the post effectively and that, in lacking a ministry, the President might become a "play ball" between EU leaders.
With the reorganisation of leading EU posts under the Lisbon Treaty, there was some criticism of each posts vague responsibilities. Ukrainian ambassador to the EU Andriy Veselovsky praised the framework and clarified it in his own terms: The President of the European Commission speaks as the EU's "government" while the new President of the European Council is a "strategist". The High Representative specialises in "bilateral relations" while the European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy deals in technical matters such as the free trade agreement with Ukraine. The President of the European Parliament meanwhile articulates the EU's values.
The European Council president also extended his influence into financial policy, the most important area left to the rotating Council presidency, with the rotating presidency seeing a greater decrease in power than previously planned. Many of the changes introduced with the Lisbon Treaty need concretion through practical implementation by the current actors. The Spanish presidency unsuccessfully tried to challenge the European Council president's prominent post during the first rotating presidency of 2010, while the second half of the year saw a Belgian rotating presidency marked by a weakened caretaker government which did not challenge Herman van Rompuy, himself a Belgian politician. The Belgian rotating presidency announced it was taking a "backrow seat" with regards to both the European Council president as well as the High Representative, thus fuelling hopes for a more comunitarian character in both the council and foreign policy.
Privileges of office
Formal negotiations on the salary and privileges of the permanent presidency began in April 2008 as part of the draft of the 2009 EU budget. The outcome was that the President should enjoy the same conditions as the President of the Commission, with a basic salary of 138% of the highest civil service grade: that would be €24,874.62 per month (not including family and other allowances).[dated info]
The President receives a chauffeured car and around 20 dedicated staff members. He also has a housing allowance, rather than an official residence which was considered "too symbolic". Likewise, the idea of a private jet was also rejected for being symbolic and, as one diplomat pointed out, a discrepancy in privileges between the European Council and Commission presidents may only fuel rivalry between the two.
The possibility of there being greater perks for the European Council president than Commission President has prompted Parliament to threaten a rejection of the 2009 budget. It saw a large salary and extras as a symbolic signal that the post is intended to become more powerful, increasing intergovernmentalism at the Parliament's expense. With some in the Council suggesting a staff of up to 60, the Committee on Constitutional Affairs has indicated it may drop the gentlemen's agreement that Parliament and Council will not interfere in each other's budget.
Although the European Council is, under the terms of the Lisbon treaty, a separate institution of the EU, it does not have its own administration. The administrative support for both the European Council and its President is provided by the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union. The President does have, however, his own private office (cabinet) of close advisers. Van Rompuy chose as his first chief of staff (chef de cabinet) Baron Frans van Daele, formerly Belgian ambassador to, variously, the USA, the UN, the EU and NATO and chief of staff of several Belgian foreign ministers. Upon his retirement in the autumn of 2012, Didier Seeuws, former Deputy Perm Rep of Belgium to the EU and former Spokesman for Belgian PM Verhofstadt, replaced him. Also in his team are the former UK Labour MEP Richard Corbett and Van Rompuy's long standing press officer Dirk De Backer.
The lack of accountability to MEPs or national parliamentarians has also cast doubt as to whether national leaders will in practice stand behind the President on major issues. Under the rotational system, the presidents simply had the mandate of their member states, while the new permanent president is chosen by the members of the European Council.
There have been calls by some, such as former German interior minister and current minister of finance Wolfgang Schäuble, for direct elections to take place to give the President a mandate, this would strengthen the post within the European Council allowing for stronger leadership in addition to addressing the question of democratic legitimacy in the EU. However, this might cause conflict with Parliament's democratic mandate or a potential mandate for the Commission (see section below). To give a mandate to the European Council's president would signify a development of the Union's governance towards a presidential system, rather than a parliamentary system.
Relationship with Commission
There has been disagreement and concern over competition between the President of the European Council Van Rompuy and the Commission President Barroso due to the vague language of the treaty. Some clarifications see Van Rompuy as the "strategist" and Barroso as a head of government. In terms of economic policy, Van Rompuy saw the European Council as dealing with overall strategy and the Commission as dealing with the implementation. Despite weekly breakfasts together there is a certain extent of rivalry between the two yet-defined posts.
Although the President of the European Council may not hold a national office, such as a Prime Minister of a member state, there is no such restraint on European offices. For example, the President may be an MEP, or more significantly the Commission President (who already sits in the European Council). This would allow the European Council to concurrently appoint one person to the roles and powers of both President of the European Council and President of the European Commission, thus creating a single presidential position for the Union as a whole.
Since the creation of the European Council presidency, president Van Rompuy and Commission President Barroso have begun to compete with each other as Van Rompuy has benefited from the general shift in power from the Commission to the European Council yet with Barroso still holding the real powers. At international summits they continued previous practice of both going at the same time. The complicated situation has renewed some calls to merge the posts, possibly at the end of Barroso's term in 2014. However some member states are expected to oppose the creation of such a high profile post.
Were the post not to be combined, some believe that the dual-presidential system could lead to "cohabitation" and infighting between the two offices. While it is comparable to the French model, where there is a President (the European Council president) and Prime Minister (the Commission President), the Council president does not hold formal powers such as the ability to directly appoint and sack the Commission President, or the ability to dissolve Parliament. Hence while the European Council president may have prestige, he/she lacks power and while the Commission President has power, he/she lacks the prestige of the former. Some believe this problem would be increased further if the Council president were to be strengthened by a democratic mandate, as mentioned above.
List of presidents
|President||Portrait||State||European party||National party||Took office||Left office|
|Herman Van Rompuy||Belgium||European People's Party||CD&V||1 December 2009||Second 2.5-year term expires 30 November 2014|
|Previously Prime Minister of Belgium, Van Rompuy was the first permanent president and was chosen as a low profile consensus builder. He led a task force on reforming the EU's economic governance: he drafted the ESM treaty and amendment. He is a supporter of greater economic integration but is against the entry of Turkey to the EU.|
- List of presidents of EU institutions
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