New institutions and instruments introduced by the Lisbon Treaty and the view from Austria

When Her­man Van Rompuy and Cather­ine Ash­ton were respec­tive­ly nom­i­nat­ed as the Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil and the High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Union for For­eign Affairs and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy, Chan­cel­lor Wern­er Fay­mann seemed to be con­tent with the staffing while the press gen­er­al­ly described the nom­i­na­tions as the least com­mon denom­i­na­tor. Her­man Van Rompuy’s role in Bel­gian pol­i­tics as a con­cil­ia­tor was the only pos­i­tive aspect to be men­tioned. Over­all, Van Rompuy’s nom­i­na­tion was under­stood to con­sti­tute a safe­guard installed by the mem­ber states against Brus­sels play­ing a greater role or usurp­ing the com­pe­tences of the nation states. Reflect­ing this point of view, Die Presse colum­nist Oliv­er Grimm, for instance, main­tained that Van Rompuy had “secret­ly, calm­ly and qui­et­ly”11Oliv­er Grimm: Meis­ter­stratege: Van Rompuys diskreter Zug zur Macht, Die Presse, 16 April 2010. tak­en deci­sions in his first 100 days in office which would result in the Com­mis­sion being down-grad­ed into a form of a sec­re­tari­at-gen­er­al while real pow­er is trans­ferred to the heads of state and gov­ern­ment. As for his per­for­mance in the face of the eco­nom­ic cri­sis, Van Rompuy was crit­i­cised by lead­ing fig­ures. Dur­ing a debate on TV, the Pres­i­dent of the Aus­tri­an Fed­er­al Eco­nom­ic Cham­ber, Christoph Leitl, claimed that one did not hear any­thing from Van Rompuy despite the cri­sis.22ORF broad­cast “Im Zen­trum”, 16 April 2010. In a sim­i­lar fash­ion, for­mer For­eign Min­is­ter Ursu­la Plass­nik also main­tained Van Rompuy should have played a more promi­nent and vis­i­ble role. With regard to the role to be played by the rotat­ing coun­cil pres­i­den­cy, there are appar­ent­ly no major changes expect­ed, as Van Rompuy’s role is con­ceived to be lim­it­ed to act­ing as a chair­per­son and con­cil­ia­tor dur­ing sum­mit meet­ings at best. Against this back­ground, it is worth men­tion­ing that For­eign Min­is­ter Spin­de­leg­ger sharply crit­i­cised the deci­sion to exclude the for­eign min­is­ters from sum­mit meet­ings.33Der Stan­dard, 21 Jan­u­ary 2010.

As for Cather­ine Ash­ton, except for Chan­cel­lor Faymann’s pos­i­tive remarks, she was wide­ly described as an inex­pe­ri­enced no-name.44Cf. Der Stan­dard, 19 Novem­ber 2009. For crit­i­cal views by Green politi­cians see Die Presse, 20 Novem­ber 2009. Ash­ton was crit­i­cised by For­eign Min­is­ter Spin­de­leg­ger after the Cor­do­ba meet­ing of the for­eign min­is­ters in March 2010. The Min­is­ter argued there was no vis­i­ble for­eign pol­i­cy line and that no respec­tive coor­di­na­tion on a com­mon pol­i­cy exist­ed.55Der Stan­dard, 5 March 2010. Spin­de­leg­ger con­firmed that there was dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the per­for­mance of Ash­ton so far and that the for­eign min­is­ters were frus­trat­ed about not being includ­ed in the process of set­ting up the Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice (EEAS). He did not seem to be con­tent with Ash­ton being the Vice-Pres­i­dent of the Com­mis­sion either, rais­ing the ques­tion as to how this would affect her work­load and stat­ing that mem­bers of the Com­mis­sion might be tempt­ed to pre­vent com­pe­tences from being trans­ferred to the EEAS. Media reports also indi­cat­ed that Ashton’s unpop­u­lar­i­ty was part­ly due to the impres­sion that she was being exces­sive­ly influ­enced by Bar­roso instead of pur­su­ing inde­pen­dent poli­cies.66See for exam­ple Der Stan­dard, 8 March 2010. Ashton’s per­for­mance was also severe­ly crit­i­cised by the Mem­ber of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment (MEP) Andreas Mölz­er from the Aus­tri­an Free­dom Par­ty (FPÖ).77FPÖ: Mölz­er: Mit Ash­ton als “Außen­min­is­terin” hat sich EU von der Welt­poli­tik ver­ab­schiedet, 8 March 2010. Due to Ash­ton, the EU had said farewell to world pol­i­tics, Mölz­er claimed. He sim­ply described Ash­ton as the wrong choice.

As men­tioned above, For­eign Min­is­ter Spin­de­leg­ger stat­ed, after the Cor­do­ba meet­ing, that the for­eign min­is­ters were frus­trat­ed about not being includ­ed in the process of set­ting up the EEAS.88Wiener Zeitung, 5 March 2010. The day before the pro­pos­al on the EEAS was pre­sent­ed, dur­ing a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee meet­ing, Spin­de­leg­ger main­tained that he ful­ly sup­port­ed the idea of the EEAS. He also sup­port­ed the struc­ture pro­posed in the draft put for­ward by Ash­ton. Nev­er­the­less, there exist­ed a num­ber of ques­tions that had to be solved, he added.99Par­la­ment der Repub­lik Öster­re­ich: Haup­tauss­chuss disku­tiert über Hil­fen für Griechen­land. Weit­ere The­men: Auswär­tiger Dienst der EU, Kli­ma, Naher Osten, 24 March 2010. In his view, the EEAS could only be suc­cess­ful if the per­son­nel from the mem­ber states were rep­re­sent­ed at all lev­els in due pro­por­tion and could par­tic­i­pate on equal foot­ing. He added that, in coop­er­a­tion with oth­er mem­ber states, progress had been made on the ques­tion of a geo­graph­i­cal­ly bal­anced staffing as well as on the train­ing of the diplo­mats. More­over, hav­ing Ger­man as an offi­cial and work­ing lan­guage was also sig­nif­i­cant (a demand also sup­port­ed by Aus­tri­an MEPs such as Strass­er and Mölz­er). When the for­eign min­is­ters achieved an agree­ment on the struc­ture and the respon­si­bil­i­ties of the EEAS in April 2010, for­mer For­eign Min­is­ter Ursu­la Plass­nik assert­ed that all Aus­tri­an demands had been met.1010ÖVP-Par­la­mentsklub: Plass­nik: Mehrw­ert durch Bürg­erser­vice, 27 April 2010. She praised the adop­tion of Ger­man as an offi­cial lan­guage and the accep­tance of con­sular pro­tec­tion as one of the respon­si­bil­i­ties of the EEAS offices.1111See also Der Stan­dard, 27 April 2010. Spin­de­leg­ger also praised the EEAS and referred to cri­sis man­age­ment and con­sular pro­tec­tion as major issues that should be of con­cern to the EEAS.1212Der Stan­dard, 8 May 2010.

The Social Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty of Aus­tria (SPÖ) is like­ly to be the first ever organ­is­er of a Euro­pean Cit­i­zens’ Ini­tia­tive (ECI). Giv­en exist­ing dif­fer­ences with his party’s coali­tion part­ner, the Aus­tri­an People’s Par­ty (ÖVP), on the top­ic of intro­duc­ing a finan­cial trans­ac­tion tax, Chan­cel­lor Fay­mann declared that his par­ty would ini­ti­ate the first Euro­pean Cit­i­zens’ Ini­tia­tive on the estab­lish­ment of a finan­cial mar­kets super­vi­sion sys­tem and the intro­duc­tion of a finan­cial trans­ac­tion tax.1313ORF.at: SPÖ und SPD pla­nen EU-Bürg­er­begehren, 18 May 2010. While sup­port­ed by the Ger­man Social Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty (SPD), Faymann’s ini­tia­tive evoked crit­i­cism in Aus­tria and was described as win­dow-dress­ing by the oth­er par­ties. Nev­er­the­less, on 19 May 2010, a res­o­lu­tion sup­port­ed by the Aus­tri­an People’s Par­ty, the Social Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, the Greens and the Alliance for the Future of Aus­tria (BZÖ) was passed in par­lia­ment, call­ing for, among oth­er things, a low­er­ing of the thresh­old for the ini­ti­a­tion of an ECI from nine to six coun­tries, a rapid intro­duc­tion of the instru­ment as such, bind­ing reg­u­la­tions for the han­dling of suc­cess­ful­ly finalised ini­tia­tives, and the deci­sion on the admis­si­bil­i­ty of the ini­tia­tive to be tak­en at an ear­li­er stage by the Com­mis­sion and not only after 300,000 state­ments of sup­port have been col­lect­ed.1414Der Stan­dard, 19 May 2010; SPÖ: Mut­to­nen: Europa braucht mehr Demokratie und starke Beteili­gung der Bürg­erin­nen und Bürg­er, 19 May 2010; ÖVP-Par­la­mentsklub: Neuge­bauer: Europäis­che Bürg­erini­tia­tive rasch umset­zen, 19 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.