Friday 1 January 2010

Two Presidencies, Two Presidential Websites

The dawning of 2010 brings with it the beginning of two parallel Council presidencies: a rotating, currently Spanish, one in the normal Council (apart from foreign affairs), and one in the European Council, in the shape of Van Rompuy. Though Van Rompuy has been in office for a month now, the last European Council summit was run by the Swedes who held the last rotating European Council presidency.

So with two presidencies (well, two Council presidencies), there's two presidential websites:

The Spanish presidency.
Van Rompuy's presidency.

As uninspiring as the Spanish one is, it's clear that there's more money behind it than Van Rompuy's... remember when the President was supposed to be an ueber-powerful figure who could shoot directives from his eyes? Can't even find a good website designer, apparently.

Though not much has happened yet with the Spanish presidency, there are two interesting signals: the intention to set up a council with Van Rompuy to smooth out how to operate the two presidencies harmoniously, and the ambition to see a Palestinian state in 2010.

While the first seems to show that Spain doesn't wish to undermine the new permanent presidency and will willingly accept the Lisbon reforms in practice, the second could weaken Baroness Ashton's position as the High Representative politically. The HR organises the Foreign Affairs council (as it's called, but it might be easier to think of is as a committee) of the Council and sets the agenda there, so I doubt that the HR's position could be irreparably weakened by the rotating presidency, but it could be politically weakened. After all, the HR depends on the member states to agree with her to get anything done, so any loss of political initiative could be hard to win back, even if the position is one of consensus-builder.

How will Van Rompuy and Spain hammer out their respective political roles, and how will Ashton take on the political challenges raised by the Spanish Presidency? Ashton has stressed the consensus-builder role of the HR; can she skillfully present such ambitious goals as a Palestinian state in 2010, or take on the task of solidifying a common approach in the EU? And how far could she take control or ownership of foreign policy projects, or will she be buffeted about by the changing winds of the rotating presidency?

Could an unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence be Ashton's first test? The foreign policy field seems almost crowded at the moment with possible "first tests".


  1. Conor: First, Happy New Year - and good blogging, I hope.

    As to the issues you raise, I am more uneasy about the HR/rotating presidency than about van Rompuy/rotating presidency - thanks to Spain's proposals. The problem that either, or both van Rompuy and Lady Ashton, will have - continuously, in my view - is the overwhelming desire that people in power (ie Presidents, PMs) have to, well, show their power. In the case of President Zapatero he wishers to promote his own "HR" agenda.

    If the national leaders are true to their professed wish to see Lisbon implemented "as written" (ie what they signed up to?) then they should make some early, binding, decisions to prevent interference such as Zapatero's in the HR field. But, can they all really promise to restrain themselves - and hold to that?

  2. Thanks; happy new year to you.

    You're right that the HR/rotating presidency seems to heading towards conflict, though if Ashton's skillful she could overtake the Spanish agenda and try to forge a common policy (or at least try to build more continuity).

  3. It's not that he cannot afford a good webdesigner. You have to cut him some slack and allow him to assemble a good team of his own. However I sincerely hope it's simply a place holder site that will be replace by a real one later this spring. ;)