Major questions to be answered

Highly active President of the European Council coupled with weaker role of the rotating presidency

As regards his new posi­tion, Her­man Van Rompuy has pledged to ful­ly imple­ment the pro­vi­sions of the Lis­bon Treaty and to use his pow­ers to the utmost pos­si­ble. In the opin­ion of a high offi­cial at the Hun­gar­i­an Min­istry of For­eign Affairs,11Inter­view done at the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs on 5 May 2010. Van Rompuy is absolute­ly act­ing accord­ing to his words. He is very active in rep­re­sent­ing the Union towards third coun­tries and under his Pres­i­den­cy of the Euro­pean Coun­cil, the role of the rotat­ing pres­i­den­cy at the Euro­pean Coun­cil lev­el has sig­nif­i­cant­ly decreased. Van Rompuy is act­ing rather autonomous­ly vis-à-vis the Coun­cil. Although there is coop­er­a­tion with the actu­al pres­i­den­cy at both the Per­ma­nent Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Com­mit­tee (Coreper) and Coun­cil lev­els, the Pres­i­dent is prepar­ing the con­clu­sions of the Euro­pean Coun­cil on his own, assist­ed, how­ev­er, by the Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al of the Coun­cil. The con­clu­sions them­selves became short­er, more con­cise and more stream­lined. Before final­is­ing the text, the Pres­i­dent takes up only those sug­ges­tions from the mem­ber states, which rep­re­sent sub­stan­tial change (no “styl­is­tic” cor­rec­tions are accepted).

As to the Euro­pean Coun­cil meet­ings, the big change is that the for­eign min­is­ters do not take part in them, thus the cir­cle is clos­er, restrict­ed to the lead­ers of the mem­ber states. This meant an imme­di­ate weak­en­ing of the Gen­er­al Affairs Coun­cil, as the min­is­ters can­not rep­re­sent at the Euro­pean Coun­cil lev­el what they have dis­cussed and adopt­ed at the Gen­er­al Affairs Coun­cil lev­el. This has result­ed in a new phe­nom­e­non: the Gen­er­al Affairs Coun­cils are often attend­ed by the under sec­re­taries for Euro­pean or for­eign affairs, instead of the min­is­ters them­selves. The min­is­ters seem to be los­ing moti­va­tion, as they are aware that their direct influ­ence on the final text of the con­clu­sions is lim­it­ed. As to the role of the actu­al pre­sid­ing coun­try at Euro­pean Coun­cil lev­el, it is also lim­it­ed, due to the above-men­tioned reasons.

The functioning of the High Representative needs more lubrication

As opposed to the Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil, the posi­tion and func­tion­ing of the “dou­ble-hat­ted” High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Union for For­eign Affairs and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy leaves more ques­tions open. One of the main short­com­ings is that, com­pared to her oblig­a­tions, Cather­ine Ash­ton has too small of a cab­i­net. Anoth­er prob­lem is that very often she has pro­grammes in par­al­lel, name­ly trav­el­ling abroad, as well as appear­ing at the Com­mis­sion or before the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. In these cas­es, she would need a deputy High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive, but this is not estab­lished by the Lis­bon Treaty. Due to these organisational/institutional short­com­ings, Ash­ton is not always able to ful­fil all her oblig­a­tions, despite her full commitment.

The rules on geographical balance still to be settled

The polit­i­cal agree­ment on the Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice (EEAS) was wel­comed by Hun­gary. The new office will be made up of offi­cials from the Com­mis­sion (one third), from the Coun­cil (one third) and from the mem­ber states (one third). Hun­gary sup­port­ed this approach although an impor­tant aspect is still lack­ing, accord­ing to a high offi­cial of the Hun­gar­i­an Min­istry of For­eign Affairs.22Inter­view done at the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs on 5 May 2010. This lack­ing aspect relates to the con­crete details of the “geo­graph­i­cal bal­ance” and the way it should be imple­ment­ed. Hun­gary is look­ing for­ward to the upcom­ing nego­ti­a­tions on this issue. Anoth­er open ques­tion is that of financ­ing the EEAS and its diplo­mats. Fur­ther­more, the sta­tus of Euro­pean Com­mis­sion del­e­ga­tions abroad should also be rede­fined upon full oper­a­tion of the EEAS.

The rules on the ECI to guarantee equal rights to EU citizens

The Euro­pean Cit­i­zens’ Ini­tia­tive (ECI) is a new, absolute­ly pos­i­tive ele­ment of the Lis­bon Treaty, equip­ping EU cit­i­zens with a tool of direct democ­ra­cy. How­ev­er, accord­ing to a high offi­cial of the Hun­gar­i­an Min­istry of For­eign Affairs,33Inter­view done at the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs on 5 May 2010. the detailed tech­ni­cal rules of such an ini­tia­tive are still to be worked out and adopt­ed. A major issue here is that the EU rules on the ECI should be ful­ly com­pat­i­ble with the nation­al rules on a plebiscite. When for­mu­lat­ing the exact rules, the equal rights of EU cit­i­zens must be a guid­ing prin­ci­ple. From a polit­i­cal point of view, a fast deci­sion on this would be wel­come. Appar­ent­ly, the first such ini­tia­tive will be about “free Sun­days”, an idea ful­ly sup­port­ed by the Chris­t­ian church­es in Hun­gary as well as by the rul­ing Chris­t­ian Demo­c­ra­t­ic People’s Par­ty (KDNP).

    Footnotes

  • 1Inter­view done at the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs on 5 May 2010.
  • 2Inter­view done at the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs on 5 May 2010.
  • 3Inter­view done at the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs on 5 May 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.