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Contention About the New "EU President"

If the Lisbon Treaty will enter into force, there is going to be a new position in the European Union - that of European Council President.

Currently there already are two presidents in the EU: the President of the European Parliament, and the President of the European Commission.

The European Council - a body constituted by national government leaders which meets 4 times a year - currently still has a rotating presidency, which is held by a different EU country every 6 months. This will be replaced with a single president chosen by national government leaders, for a period of two and a half years - renewable once.

It is completely unclear how this new post will develop. As the European Council is a powerful institution which often drives the EU agenda and makes critical decisions, the as of yet nonexistent position has already given rise to contention.

Two EU Bloggers, Jan Seifert and Jon Worth, have set up an online petition calling for the EU to have one president. That being a president of both the Council and the Commission. The petition is named after an old statement from Kissinger, who once asked "Who do I call if I want to call Europe?"

They argue that a strong President of the European Council would damage the EU by creating competing power centres, and that the European Council President would lack democratic legitimacy by being appointed. They are also opposed to a weak President, presumably because a weak President would be uninspiring.

Competing centres of power of course already exist in Brussels; the new President would in that sense merely put a face to struggles that are already there. A single president, moreover, would have to straddle the line between competing demands from the Commission and from national government leaders.

Within the institutional setting of the Lisbon Treaty, it would in principle be possible for the Commission President and the European Council President to be one and the same person. However, the mandates don't completely overlap as the mandate for European Council President has to be renewed after two and a half years (as opposed to five years for the Commission), and can be renewed only once. If the EU is to have an effective single President it would need another new treaty.

The role of the European Council President is as of yet unclear. It is possible that the President will play an important role in setting the EU's agenda and its foreign policy. However, the President will only be as powerful as government leaders allow. It is also possible that the President will merely coordinate differering demands from the national governments for the EU agenda, also in consultation with the Commission, and play a purely ceremonial role in the EU's external representation.

A weaker role is more likely, as the President has a short mandate that can only be renewed once, and the nomination is made unanimously. It is thereby necessary to keep all national governments happy, which will make it difficult to develop a strong, independent political line.

How the role develops also depends upon which person is nominated. The main names currently doing the rounds are Tony Blair and Jean-Claude Juncker (current prime minister of Luxembourg). Tony Blair has indicated that he will take the job if it comes with real power. Juncker, on the other hand, is a more low-key player and often recognised for his effective, consensual leadership of the Eurogroup.

Tony Blair's unofficial candidacy has sparked a lot of protest - inside Brussels as diplomats feel he has kept his country outside key areas of European cooperation and outside Brussels because of his role in the Iraq war. Members of the European Tribune blog have set up an online petition against the candidacy of Blair, which has already received a large amount of signatures and quite a bit of attention from the press.

(As a matter of disclosure: I am involved in the Stop Blair campaign)

Whether these petitions can really have an effect remains to be seen, as the nomination is ultimately decided by the national government leaders. Currently, the probable date for the decision seems to be September. Public pressure might play a role, but it will have to be overwhelming. The near 25,000 signatures now gathered by the Stop Blair campaign are not enough of a story at the moment, so it is possible that it will go the way of the UK's petitions on a referendum for the Lisbon Treaty - not making a real dent.


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franchie on :

in any case, it couldn't be a president that is actually on service, so wether Blair or Juncker, depends on the political orientations. If we want rigorous budgets, then it's Junker ; If we want that EU plays a more important political role, then it's Blair. So far I read that he is an EU convinced ; he is also one of the partners that wants to initiate cooperative army equipment goals, such as carriers... One can't only reproach to Blair being on Bush'side for Irak war, when many other EU counties were/are also on Bush'side. I expect that Blair will be an active factor for the 2015 avenment of the transatlantic union, so we'd better know now what we do really want.

Nanne on :

Blair's actions in the run-up to the Iraq war went a bit further than those of most European government leaders who supported the invasion. But of course you can ask whether we should want anyone who actively backed the invasion. What is your information on the idea of a transatlantic union? I know Merkel talked about a free trade zone, but I have no idea how much support that has.

franchie on :

I don't know much, just that article :

Nanne on :

Interesting article, if a bit conspirational. Thanks.

Zyme on :

Hell what are you guys doing here? Are you blind? Before asking additional changes to the Lisbon treaty, take a look at how much coolness was needed by the british MPs to neglect the will of a broad majority of its people who demand a referendum? How do you think a british referendum would turn out? Changing a huge body like the EU is not an affair that can be achieved in a few days. You have to make small steps, otherwise nationalist movements will arise and the peoples may notice that they are governed from Brussels to a large extend. Also appointing Blair as EU-President would be a grand signal to all national leaders, meaning that shifting power from the countries to Brussels against the will of the people will be rewarded! Instead of tweaking around we should accelerate the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty throughout Europe, before additional difficulties arise.

Nanne on :

Zyme - I would not ask for additional changes to Lisbon. I don't care much for the treaty, actually, but I hope it will be ratified so that the EU can leave this institutional navel-gazing behind it for the next 10 years. The only difficulty that could realistically arise for the treaty is the Irish referendum, which will be held on May 28th.

Zyme on :

The institutional changes you would like to see could not be implemented without changing fundamental parts of what has been negotiated into the Lisbon Treaty. Thus I assumed you would want it to be changed. Just patching the bugs in the current Treaty should not be considered in the next few years. Waiting a few years has proven to be effective in european affairs. People forget - but not in a matter of months. I don´t fear the Irish very much in this regard, they are said to be very pro-european.

Nanne on :

I'm not advocating any further institutional changes - I did point out that having a single president would require those in order to work. But I'm not supporting the idea of having a single president of the European Council and the Commission, just reporting.

John in Michigan, USA on :

This is somewhat off-topic but I wanted to see what people think. We've had discussion on Atlantic Review about various proposals for an "alliance of democracies", most recently [url=]here[/url] and [url=]here[/url]. It occurs to me, what is the G7, if not an alliance of (industrialized) democracies? So the idea isn't new, it has been tried. What can we learn from the successes and failures of the G7? Yes, some are now calling it the G8, but of course Russia is no longer a democracy. I prefer "G7 and Russia". In fact I think it was part of Garry Kasparov's subtle black humor to repeatedly refer to it as the G7 in [url=]this article[/url], even though most (US?) newspapers now call it the G8.

franchie on :

Each population has its definition of democraty ; your country never understood our way of making democraty : riots, strikes... that you would handle with assault troops, that would look like fashism for us. Germany has also her way, coalition of the political parties ; Italy, the organised mess, Spain, royal socialism... Russia, the come back to a strong personality power ; did you notice that the orthodoxism religiosity is part of the power with KGB and the St Petersburg nobleness "apparatschnick" ? It's not very different of the US vision of the power, only that you challenge it every 4 years ; one can't say that big achievements can be done in such a short delai ; that gives a chance to the lobbies for managing the liedership of the country. For my part, it would be more the caucasians vs the asians and africans ; it looks like we , as caucasians, have a natural aversion for including the other continents as partners ; America is Europe's child, then it's is obviously inside ; the Russians for sure are also included in the process : who, among us, doesn't have a slave dream ?

Pat Patterson on :

Each country may indeed have its own definition of democracy just as they may have their own definition of flying. That doesn't necessrily mean that a one party election is part of a democracy or that a guy flapping wax wings can fly. Indeed the US has had its share of riots and strikes but aside from independence from Great Britain and the Civil War our main problems have been solved legislatively or in the courts. Our present form of government was established by popular referendum not by fiat or "assault troops." It was not as appears to be happening in Europe simply an usurpation of power by bureaucrats. If this new union cannot establish itself legitimately or by the use of force, then it simply doesn't make any difference how or who uses power efficiently. The last line simply lost me, "...who, among us, doesn't have a slave dream?" Unless of course the reference is to the old Barbara Eden TV program, I Dream of Jeannie."

Joe Noory on :

1) Mob rule is not democracy. 2) The US is not Europe's "child". In fact everything that is non-self-destructive about Europe has a great deal of American influence in it and dates back to the post-war era. 3) Your color-theory of who gets along is very old Europe, doesn't account for forms of morality and philosophy, and doesn't recognize the fact that the US is not exactly white or European, or anything most Europeans can culturally pin down. It's also too basic to apply to more than a handful of people in society.

franchie on :

john in michigan, funny I thought you guys were looking for a russian bride, wow, is it possible that I might have read it wrong though :lol:

franchie on :

oh my, the wrong name

Pamela on :

As I understand the "Lisbon Treaty", significant changes would absolutely have to be made for a President as envisioned here, unless the position is purely ceremonial. The other problem is that I find myself agreeing with Zyme more often. Joerg, I would like to know your rationale for opposing Blair. I have no opinion on the matter one way or the other, except I think of his wife as "that odious woman".

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