New post and institutions: building-blocks for a European Superstate?

Euro­pean insti­tu­tion­al ques­tions are usu­al­ly dis­cussed in the Unit­ed King­dom pri­mar­i­ly in ide­o­log­i­cal rather than prac­ti­cal terms. The rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Lis­bon Treaty led at the end of 2009 to a cer­tain amount of polem­i­cal dis­cus­sion in this coun­try con­cern­ing the new posts and insti­tu­tions set up by the Treaty. The almost exclu­sive focus of this dis­cus­sion was how­ev­er the ques­tion of how far these posts and insi­tu­tions should or should not be seen as build­ing-blocks for a Euro­pean super­state. This polem­i­cal dis­cus­sion has now large­ly dis­ap­peared. The day to day work­ings of the posts and insti­tu­tions set up by the Lis­bon Treaty, on which the ques­tion­naire con­cen­trates, have proved to be of lim­it­ed inter­est in the Unit­ed King­dom, except to spe­cial­ists. British polit­i­cal dis­cus­sion over the past six months has more­over been large­ly monop­o­lised by the gen­er­al elec­tion, in the cam­paign for which Euro­pean ques­tions played only a sub­or­di­nate role. These cir­cum­stances mil­i­tat­ing against detailed dis­cus­sion of Euro­pean insti­tu­tion­al ques­tions in the Unit­ed King­dom will inevitably be reflect­ed in the fol­low­ing answers, which may well be unsat­is­fac­to­ry, but are not on that account inac­cu­rate.

Presidency of the European Council

There is noth­ing in the Unit­ed King­dom which could remote­ly be described as an “assess­ment” of Van Rompuy’s work. A wide­ly-report­ed speech of per­son­al crit­i­cism against Van Rompuy by the British Mem­ber of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment Nigel Farage ear­li­er this year aroused a cer­tain amount of pub­lic com­ment at the time, but led to no seri­ous gen­er­al dis­cus­sion of Van Rompuy’s per­for­mance of his func­tions. At most, Farage was cen­sured for his impo­lite­ness towards Van Rompuy.11M. White: Farage was rude but right about Van Rompuy, Guardian blog, 25 Feb­ru­ary 2010. British jour­nal­ists who have fol­lowed close­ly the evo­lu­tion of the Greek cri­sis know and have report­ed that Van Rompuy has attempt­ed over the past six months to coor­di­nate the Euro­pean Council’s reac­tion to this cri­sis. They are also aware and have also report­ed that he has had lim­it­ed suc­cess in doing so. These same spe­cial­ists await with inter­est Van Rompuy’s pro­pos­als for improv­ing the gov­er­nance of the Euro­zone, to be pre­sent­ed in out­line at the Euro­pean Coun­cil of June 2010 and adopt­ed for­mal­ly in Octo­ber 2010. If he is able to pro­duce sub­stan­tial reforms which the Euro­pean Coun­cil is will­ing to adopt, then his per­son­al pres­tige and that of his office will cer­tain­ly be enhanced. Any increase in such pres­tige, or indeed in the pres­tige of Cather­ine Ash­ton, will rein­force the grow­ing per­cep­tion of those few who fol­low these mat­ters in the Unit­ed King­dom that the rotat­ing pres­i­den­cy of the Euro­pean Union is now pri­mar­i­ly a tech­ni­cal rather than polit­i­cal func­tion. If Van Rompuy deals with the sin­gle cur­ren­cy and Cather­ine Ash­ton deals with the Union’s exter­nal rela­tions, there is lit­tle of high Euro­pean pol­i­cy left for the rotat­ing pres­i­den­cy to admin­is­ter.

The High Representative

In her new office, Cather­ine Ash­ton has made lit­tle impact on British pub­lic or polit­i­cal opin­ion. The wide­spread belief that she obtained her post only because her col­league David Miliband was unwill­ing to accept it has undoubt­ed­ly served to harm her cred­i­bil­i­ty in British polit­i­cal cir­cles.22The Econ­o­mist: Why did Lady Ash­ton take the EU’s for­eign pol­i­cy job?, 25 Jan­u­ary 2010. Occa­sion­al news­pa­per arti­cles have referred to the low esteem in which she is sup­pos­ed­ly held by cer­tain nation­al gov­ern­ments, but the incom­ing coali­tion gov­ern­ment has under­tak­en to work con­struc­tive­ly with her, despite her mem­ber­ship of the Labour Par­ty.33G. Meade: Baroness Ashton’s EU role “gives Britain a pow­er­ful voice”, The Inde­pen­dent, 9 Novem­ber 2009. Much sus­pi­cion nev­er­the­less remains of Cather­ine Ash­ton and her post from the rad­i­cal Euroscep­tic wing of the Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty, which sees her new func­tions sim­ply as under­min­ing the inde­pen­dence of British for­eign pol­i­cy.44A. Pierce: How Cathy Ash­ton became the laugh­ing stock of the EU, Dai­ly Mail online, 9 March 2010. To analyse crit­i­cal­ly Cather­ine Ashton’s role in terms of her deal­ings on the one hand with the Com­mis­sion and on the oth­er with the Coun­cil would be an effort beyond the capac­i­ty of British pub­lic and polit­i­cal opin­ion. In the gen­er­al British debate on Euro­pean issues, lit­tle or no dis­tinc­tion is made between the var­i­ous insti­tu­tions of the Union, a con­fu­sion which is prob­a­bly more marked in the Unit­ed King­dom than else­where, but cer­tain­ly not con­fined to this coun­try.

European External Action Service

At the lev­el of pub­lic dis­cus­sion in the Unit­ed King­dom, the Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice (EEAS) retains some­thing of the image attrib­uted to it by crit­ics of the Lis­bon Treaty, name­ly as a feared replace­ment for nation­al diplo­mat­ic ser­vices in the con­text of a gen­er­al move­ment towards a Euro­pean “super­state”.55Water­field, Dai­ly Tele­graph, 29 March 2009; B. Water­field: More than 50 EU embassies open across the world, Dai­ly Tele­graph, 22 Jan­u­ary 2010. Against this alarmist analy­sis, prag­mat­ic eco­nom­ic or admin­is­tra­tive argu­ments about the desir­abil­i­ty of the new insti­tu­tion have made lit­tle pop­u­lar head­way. In so far as the pre­cise work­ings of the EEAS exist in the col­lec­tive British polit­i­cal per­cep­tion, it is exclu­sive­ly seen as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive, not a coor­di­nat­ing body. This per­cep­tion is reflect­ed in the phrase usu­al­ly used to refer to the new body, the “Euro­pean diplo­mat­ic ser­vice.” With­in British gov­ern­men­tal, or more pre­cise­ly offi­cial cir­cles, there is how­ev­er con­sid­er­able hope and expec­ta­tion that the Unit­ed King­dom will able to play a lead­ing, even dom­i­nant role with­in the new ser­vice. British offi­cials are encour­aged in that view by the pre­dom­i­nant­ly inter­gov­ern­men­tal nature of the struc­tures for Euro­pean exter­nal pol­i­cy envis­aged by the Lis­bon Treaty.

European Citizens’ Initiative

The Euro­pean Cit­i­zens’ Ini­ta­tive plays no role in the cur­rent British debate on the Euro­pean Union. It has emphat­i­cal­ly not yet ful­filled the hope of some among the drafters of the Euro­pean Con­ven­tion and the Lis­bon Treaty that the ini­tia­tive would act as a bridge of demo­c­ra­t­ic con­sul­ta­tion between the Euro­pean insti­tu­tions and the Euro­pean cit­i­zens.

    Footnotes

  • 1M. White: Farage was rude but right about Van Rompuy, Guardian blog, 25 Feb­ru­ary 2010.
  • 2The Econ­o­mist: Why did Lady Ash­ton take the EU’s for­eign pol­i­cy job?, 25 Jan­u­ary 2010.
  • 3G. Meade: Baroness Ashton’s EU role “gives Britain a pow­er­ful voice”, The Inde­pen­dent, 9 Novem­ber 2009.
  • 4A. Pierce: How Cathy Ash­ton became the laugh­ing stock of the EU, Dai­ly Mail online, 9 March 2010.
  • 5Water­field, Dai­ly Tele­graph, 29 March 2009; B. Water­field: More than 50 EU embassies open across the world, Dai­ly Tele­graph, 22 Jan­u­ary 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.