Monday 28 June 2010

Conclusive proof that Van Rompuy is now too powerful

I've just read conclusive proof that Van Rompuy has become so powerful that he has eclipsed the rotating presidency of the Council via Open Europe: apparently, neither he or Barroso thanked the Spanish presidency for its work during the last European Council meeting.

"Those who worried that the Lisbon Treaty and the creation of a permanent EU president would sideline the rotating presidency held by national governments have been proved right. Spanish Daily El Mundo notes that during a speech in the European Parliament yesterday, neither President Herman Van Rompuy, nor President Barroso mentioned or thanked Spain’s EU Presidency for its role in last week’s European Council summit. It seems that even the fact that Van Rompuy sat next to Spaniard Diego Lopez Garrido..., the secretary of state for the EU, failed to remind the officials of Spain’s role. Barroso managed to find the time, however, to thank Catherine Ashton, the Parliament, the Commission, and the Council."

Oh noes!

Obviously, this is an attempt to avoid embarrassing discussion about Spain, or something similarly nefarious or insulting to the pride of member states:

"The incident could be part of a larger EU effort to avoid any discussion of Spain, hoping people will forget it may be the next eurozone domino to fall. Or perhaps it demonstrates that the Brussels elite have little time for national governments..."

Or it could be a mistake or omission.

The short article seems to be very lazy and over-sensitive and it's a wonder that anyone took the time to write anything on it at all without anything more substantial. What substantive evidence is there that Van Rompuy is becoming over-powerful versus the rotating presidency? It's hard to measure this because the argument is neither defined nor backed up. Those who feared that the permanent presidency would sideline the rotating one? The aim of the permanent post was to give greater continuity and voice to the European Council, so how should we examine the "fear" that Open Europe had and the reality? If the rotating presidency went on as before, then Open Europe and others would (justifiably) be shouting that the permanent post was unnecessary and costly. If it does fulfil its role, then it would necessarily be more prominent than the rotating presidency, so where do you draw the line and say that the permanent post has infringed on the role of the rotating one?

So far, there have been no reports of Van Rompuy chairing Council formation meetings - despite all the European Council meetings to address the economic crisis and the eurozone crisis, I haven't heard anything about Van Rompuy chairing the Ecofin Council formation, which is the meeting of EU finance ministers. Van Rompuy has proposed chairing an economic task force, and other reforms to deal with the crisis, though this seems to me to be over-shadowing Barroso and the Commission. After all, the member states have not shied away from giving their own two eurocents on what reforms are needed (France and Germany unsurprisingly being the most vocal). Perhaps what holds Spain back in being vocal here is its own domestic crisis - in which case the question is, "if a permanent presidency can keep things going politically, and not just administratively, is that not a good thing to have?"

Again, it should be pointed out that neither Van Rompuy nor the Spanish rotating presidency could get these things done without the consent of the European Council/Council. Which consists of the member states. The member states are not co-opted or bullied by presidents into doing things; negotiation between them is the key aspect here.

Given that Madrid has ensured that there have been EU meetings held in Spain and not all in Brussels, and the willingness to promote its leadership role domestically and abroad (mostly to the detriment of the High Representative Aston), I don't think that the rotating presidency is dead or meaningless yet.

But it's good to know that Think Tanks like Open Europe are spending their time coming up with constructive policy proposals and not just wading through pages of information to pick up on irrelevant details to push a political message.

UPDATE: here's a link to an article on Ideas for Europe "President Paradox" which argues the opposite. As you can see from the comments, there are powerful counter-arguments to the article's reasoning (I largely agree with the counter-arguments), but at least the arguments and reasoning here is clear: clear arguments with a target, not just a lazy assertion.


  1. The intention was to give the European Council more drive and continuity by creating a full time president.

    Naturally, Open Europe was opposed and continues to be, given its highly particular vision for a profound reform of the European Union, roughly rolling it back to the Single European Act of 1986.

  2. Exactly, Grahnlaw - it almost seems as if Open Europe is acting as a political pressure group rather than a Think Tank.

    The arguments here, for example, go too far the other way (for reasons you, Julien Frisch and Richard Corbett explain in the comments) - but at least they're clearly argued with each argument having a target and reason behind it.