Delicate balance of power leads to institutional caution

The Lis­bon Treaty came into force on 1 Decem­ber 2009. Its insti­tu­tion­al inno­va­tions have been large­ly debat­ed in France, but more so the appoint­ment of Cather­ine Ash­ton as the High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Union for For­eign Affairs and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy than the appoint­ment of Her­man Van Rompuy as the first Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil. Valery Gis­card d’Estaing, for­mer French Pres­i­dent and for­mer Pres­i­dent of the Con­ven­tion on the Future of Europe, was among the first to announce his scep­ti­cism, argu­ing that the nom­i­na­tions to the new top jobs do not inspire much con­fi­dence, and do not help clar­i­fy a con­fused insti­tu­tion­al sit­u­a­tion. He argued that there is the impres­sion that the role assigned to Van Rompuy is that of a medi­a­tor with­in the Euro­pean Coun­cil, where­as nobody expects Ash­ton to pro­vide the EU with charis­mat­ic lead­er­ship in the inter­na­tion­al are­na.11Gis­card d’Estaing, V.: Traite de Lis­bonne: un Jour dans l’Histoire Européenne, Le Figaro, 01/12/2009. The same crit­i­cism was voiced in the week­ly news mag­a­zine l’Express, with an arti­cle enti­tled “Duet for a Dis­count Euro­pean Union”, under­lin­ing that the choice of the two new exec­u­tives could under­mine all col­lec­tive ambi­tion on the inter­na­tion­al scene, and breaks all hope for a com­mu­ni­tar­i­an dynam­ic.22L’Express: Duo pour une Union européenne au rabais, 24/11/2009. Michel Rocard, for­mer Social­ist Prime Min­is­ter, also con­sid­ered that “the polit­i­cal Europe was dead” – but that the respon­si­bil­i­ty is to be found in the nom­i­na­tion pro­ce­dure: the lack of trans­paren­cy and/or con­tra­dic­to­ry debate has allowed the “big states” to nego­ti­ate their arrange­ments.33Rocard, M.: Inter­view to France Inter, 20/11/2009. Nev­er­the­less, oth­er ana­lysts under­line the fact that the nom­i­na­tion of two unknown indi­vid­u­als to the lead­er­ship of the EU seems to be the inevitable con­se­quence of the com­plex­i­ty of the new insti­tu­tion­al archi­tec­ture as set out in the Lis­bon Treaty. It was inevitable that the 27 should opt for insti­tu­tion­al cau­tion at the nom­i­na­tion phase, giv­en the del­i­ca­cy of the bal­ance of pow­er that needs to be main­tained in order for the new insti­tu­tion­al mech­a­nism to func­tion smooth­ly. “And it is not nec­es­sar­i­ly a bad thing”, con­cludes cen­tre-left dai­ly Le Monde.44Mangenot, M.: Les fauss­es illu­sions de la Prési­dence Française de L’union, Le Monde, 03/12/2009.

European Union: too many presidents?

The coex­is­tence of the rotat­ing pres­i­den­cy with the new Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil has gen­er­at­ed some incom­pre­hen­sion and crit­i­cism. The Green Mem­ber of Euro­pean Par­lia­ment (MEP) Daniel Cohn-Ben­dit has argued that the con­tin­u­a­tion of the rotat­ing pres­i­den­cy is the “great weak­ness of the treaty”.55L’Express: Trop de prési­dents pour l’Union européenne?, 03/01/2010. L’Express also stress­es the fact that there are now “too many pres­i­dents”, adding iron­i­cal­ly that “the Union’s pres­i­den­cy is per­ma­nent, but it rotates at the same time.” For oth­ers, the inno­va­tions of the Lis­bon Treaty are con­sid­ered rel­e­vant, but their con­crete appli­ca­tion will be com­pli­cat­ed. In this regard, the atti­tude of the Span­ish Head of Gov­ern­ment José Luis Rodríguez Zap­a­tero is con­sid­ered cru­cial. His min­i­mal­ist lec­ture of the Lis­bon Treaty – announc­ing, for exam­ple, that he will accom­pa­ny Van Rompuy in all the bilat­er­al sum­mits held between the EU and third par­ty coun­tries, as well as in the inter­na­tion­al sum­mits, is seen as a risk of slow­ing the progress of the EU and mak­ing its new insti­tu­tions even more inde­ci­pher­able.66Que­tramer, J.: Lis­bonne: grince­ments de dents et ten­ta­tive de sab­o­tage, Libéra­tion, 11/12/2009. This is why Le Monde under­lined the fact that the new Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil need­ed to con­trol and “over­ride” the rotat­ing pres­i­den­cy, and improve cohe­sion among the 27 heads of state and gov­ern­ment.”77Ricard, P.: Trois défis atten­dent le prési­dent du Con­seil européen, Her­man Van Rompuy, Le Monde, 05/12/2010. So far, Van Rompuy seems to be suc­ceed­ing, as stressed by eco­nom­ics dai­ly Les Echos: “His skills in medi­a­tion and con­sen­sus-build­ing among the 27 could strength­en his author­i­ty to the point of allow­ing him to com­pete with Bar­roso and Ash­ton, com­pe­ti­tion which could encour­age activism. What if the Union, almost by acci­dent, end­ed up with a ‘real pres­i­dent’?”88Moisi, D.: Si l’Europe avait un vrai prési­dent, Les Echos, 18/01/2010.

Catherine Ashton, “scapegoat for all the problems in and around Brussels”

The new High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Cather­ine Ash­ton, has been quite harsh­ly crit­i­cised for sev­er­al “mis­takes” she has made since the begin­ning of her man­date: for her bad man­age­ment of the Hait­ian cri­sis or for choos­ing to take part in the investi­ture of the new Ukrain­ian pres­i­dent rather than attend­ing a min­is­te­r­i­al meet­ing on Euro­pean defence. In France, it is the nom­i­na­tion of João Vale de Almei­da to the post of EU ambas­sador in Wash­ing­ton with­out a con­sen­sus from the mem­ber states that gen­er­at­ed the great­est dis­ap­proval. “Euro­pean inter­ests are becom­ing increas­ing­ly con­flict­ing and Ash­ton appears to be unable to find the key to defuse ten­sion between cap­i­tals”, says left-wing dai­ly Libéra­tion.99Qua­tremer, J.: Halte au feu entre Cather­ine Ash­ton et les Etats Mem­bres, Libéra­tion, 05/03/2010. Nev­er­the­less, some observers stress the fact that she is noth­ing but a vic­tim of the insti­tu­tion­al con­fu­sion between the rotat­ing coun­cil pres­i­den­cy, the Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil, and the Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent. The divi­sion of roles is very del­i­cate, and she is pay­ing the heav­i­est price for the con­fu­sion. “Her main role appears to be that of scape­goat for all the prob­lems in and around Brus­sels”, con­cludes right-wing dai­ly Le Figaro. “Aside from her own direct respon­si­bil­i­ties, the storm which has erupt­ed around Ash­ton prob­a­bly offers the clear­est con­fir­ma­tion of the fact that the Lis­bon Treaty will not solve all of Europe’s prob­lems”.1010Rous­selin, P.: Lady Ash­ton, Bouc émis­saire de l’Europe, Le Figaro, 03/03/2010.

The European External Action Service, generating covetousness and rivalries

As far as the Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice (EEAS) is con­cerned, French author­i­ties have under­lined the fact that this new diplo­mat­ic tool is strong­ly need­ed to allow the Union to act in a more effi­cient, under­stand­able, and coor­di­nat­ed way, and have there­fore repeat­ed­ly under­lined their will­ing­ness to act quick­ly in favour of its defin­i­tive adop­tion.1111Déc­la­ra­tion de B. Kouch­n­er, 26/04/2010. They have been strong­ly advo­cat­ing for a pow­er­ful Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al, “façon Quai d’Orsay”, and it appears that a French­man is like­ly to be part of the EEAS tri­umvi­rate – with the name of Pierre Vimont, French ambas­sador to the USA, com­ing out repeat­ed­ly. This appar­ent con­sen­sus has not been easy to reach though, and the French media have repeat­ed­ly under­lined the fact that this new diplo­mat­ic tool has gen­er­at­ed cov­etous­ness, rival­ries and fights for dom­i­na­tion, most­ly con­cern­ing the nom­i­na­tions of the top posi­tions.1212La Croix: Le Ser­vice Européen d’Action Extérieure se con­stitue, 22/03/2010. This new ser­vice has also been crit­i­cised, most­ly because of the lack of cer­ti­tudes, con­cern­ing both its exact com­pe­tences and its com­po­si­tion. The euro-scep­tic left­ist leader Jean Pierre Cheven­e­ment con­sid­ers that the mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of struc­tures that it implies (EEAS, the Com­mis­sion and the coun­cil ser­vices) will lead to very time-con­sum­ing con­sul­ta­tions, and that so many dif­fer­ent author­i­ties can only gen­er­ate paral­y­sis. He there­fore advo­cates for a min­i­mal­ist ser­vice, both in its ambi­tions as in its for­mat.1313Chevène­ment, J. P.: Le mille-feuilles européen: l’exemple du Ser­vice européen d’action extérieure, inter­ven­tion lors du débat au Sénat sur le Con­seil européen des 29 et 30 octo­bre 2009, 27/10/2009.

The European Citizens’ Initiative: overcoming the EU’s democratic deficit

The Euro­pean Cit­i­zens’ Ini­tia­tive (ECI) has gen­er­at­ed high expec­ta­tions in France. Catholic dai­ly La Croix wel­comed this breach opened in the Commission’s leg­isla­tive ini­tia­tive, stress­ing the fact that the era of the “are­opa­gus of tech­nocrats, state­less and irre­spon­si­ble”, once denounced by Gen­er­al de Gaulle, is now over.1414La Croix: L’Europe définit les règles du droit d’initiative citoyenne, 31/03/2010. The Per­ma­nent Con­fer­ence of Asso­cia­tive Coor­di­na­tion con­sid­ers that the ECI will con­sol­i­date the par­tic­i­pa­tive aspect of the Euro­pean demo­c­ra­t­ic mod­el, with­out any doubts.1515Con­férence per­ma­nente des coor­di­na­tions asso­cia­tives, 23/03/2010, avail­able at: www.cpca.asso.fr (last access: 04/06/2010). Nev­er­the­less, a few asso­ci­a­tions and civ­il soci­ety organ­i­sa­tions stress the fact that some rules and pro­ce­dures could have been less con­strain­ing, so as to allow the cit­i­zen par­tic­i­pa­tion to be eas­i­er. The Human Rights League believes that the ECI should only require the par­tic­i­pa­tion of 0.1 per­cent of the EU pop­u­la­tion (instead of 0.2 per­cent in the actu­al project), com­ing from one quar­ter of the EU mem­ber states (instead of one third), and that the legal age to par­tic­i­pate should be 16 years old (instead of 18).1616Ligue des Droits de l’Homme: Sur l’initiative citoyenne, 24/02/2010, avail­able at: www.ldh-france.org (last access: 04/06/2010).

    Footnotes

  • 1Gis­card d’Estaing, V.: Traite de Lis­bonne: un Jour dans l’Histoire Européenne, Le Figaro, 01/12/2009.
  • 2L’Express: Duo pour une Union européenne au rabais, 24/11/2009.
  • 3Rocard, M.: Inter­view to France Inter, 20/11/2009.
  • 4Mangenot, M.: Les fauss­es illu­sions de la Prési­dence Française de L’union, Le Monde, 03/12/2009.
  • 5L’Express: Trop de prési­dents pour l’Union européenne?, 03/01/2010.
  • 6Que­tramer, J.: Lis­bonne: grince­ments de dents et ten­ta­tive de sab­o­tage, Libéra­tion, 11/12/2009.
  • 7Ricard, P.: Trois défis atten­dent le prési­dent du Con­seil européen, Her­man Van Rompuy, Le Monde, 05/12/2010.
  • 8Moisi, D.: Si l’Europe avait un vrai prési­dent, Les Echos, 18/01/2010.
  • 9Qua­tremer, J.: Halte au feu entre Cather­ine Ash­ton et les Etats Mem­bres, Libéra­tion, 05/03/2010.
  • 10Rous­selin, P.: Lady Ash­ton, Bouc émis­saire de l’Europe, Le Figaro, 03/03/2010.
  • 11Déc­la­ra­tion de B. Kouch­n­er, 26/04/2010.
  • 12La Croix: Le Ser­vice Européen d’Action Extérieure se con­stitue, 22/03/2010.
  • 13Chevène­ment, J. P.: Le mille-feuilles européen: l’exemple du Ser­vice européen d’action extérieure, inter­ven­tion lors du débat au Sénat sur le Con­seil européen des 29 et 30 octo­bre 2009, 27/10/2009.
  • 14La Croix: L’Europe définit les règles du droit d’initiative citoyenne, 31/03/2010.
  • 15Con­férence per­ma­nente des coor­di­na­tions asso­cia­tives, 23/03/2010, avail­able at: www.cpca.asso.fr (last access: 04/06/2010).
  • 16Ligue des Droits de l’Homme: Sur l’initiative citoyenne, 24/02/2010, avail­able at: www.ldh-france.org (last access: 04/06/2010).

The reports focus on a report­ing peri­od from Decem­ber 2009 until May 2010. This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March and April 2010. Most of the 31 reports were deliv­ered in May 2010.

The EU-27 Watch No. 9 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained there­in.