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The President of the European Council is the person responsible for chairing and driving forward the work of the European Council, the institution which provides political direction to the European Union (EU). The President is also representing the EU on the world stage.

Article 15 of Treaty on European Union states that the European Council appoints its President for a two-and-a-half year term, with the possibility of renewal once. Appointments, as well as the removal of incumbents, require a qualified majority.

From 1975 to 2009, the head of the European Council was an unofficial position (often referred to as President-in-Office) held by the head of state or government of the member state holding the semiannually rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union at any given time.

On 1 December 2009, President Herman Van Rompuy took office as the first permanent President of the European Council. Van Rompuy had been selected to the top post on 19 November 2009, and, upon the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, his appointment was formalized, effective immediately, for a term of office beggining of 1 December 2009 and ending on 31 May 2012.

History

The first European Council was held in 1961 as an informal summit, but only became formalised in 1974. The Presidency system was based on the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, with it being hosted by the member state holding the Council Presidency. As the European Council is composed of national leaders, it is chaired by the head of state or government of the Presidency state. This "President-in-Office" position is roughly defined beyond that and rotates along with the Council Presidency every six-months.

Permanent post

The European Constitution, drafted by the European Convention, outlined the "President of the European Council" which would replace the role of the Council Presidency in the European Council. The Constitution was rejected by voters during ratification but the changes to the European Council, including the position of President, was retained in the Treaty of Lisbon, planned to come into force on 1 December 2009.

The first President is expected to "set the job description" for future office holders as there is no clear idea of how the post would evolve. One body of thought is the President would stick to the administrative role as outlined by the treaty, a standard bearer who would simply chair meetings and ensure the smooth running of the body and its policies. This would attract semi-retired leaders seeking a fitting climax to their career and would leave most work to the civil service rather than wield power within the institutions. However another opinion would see a more pro-active President within the Union and speaking for it abroad. This post would hence be quickly fashioned into a de facto "President of Europe" and, unlike the first model, would be seen on the world stage as speaking for the EU. Persons connected to this position would be more charismatic leaders.

The Treaty of Lisbon doesn't define a nomination process for the President of the Council and several official and unofficial candidates were proposed. At the final Council meeting on the Reform Treaty in Lisbon, on 19 November 2007, French President Nicolas Sarkozy set off public speculation on candidates by naming Tony Blair, Felipe González and Jean-Claude Juncker, and praising the three as worthy candidates with Blair in particular being a long time front runner for the post. However, he faced large scale opposition for being from a large state outside the eurozone and the Schengen Area as well as being a leader who entered the Iraq War which had split Europe. Minor opposition to other leaders such as Juncker also led to their rejection.

Current President

On 19 November 2009, Herman Van Rompuy, at that time Prime Minister of Belgiummarker, was chosen to be appointed as the first full-time President of the European Council. The formal decision on the appointment will be made after the Treaty of Lisbon comes into force, which is on 1 December 2009. The Britishmarker Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, said that he had unanimous backing from the 27 EU leaders at the summit in Brussels on the evening of 19 November 2009. Mr Brown also praised Mr Van Rompuy as "a consensus builder" who had "brought a period of political stability to his country after months of uncertainty". Mr Van Rompuy has a reputation as a coalition builder, having taken charge of the linguistically divided Belgian government and steered it out of a crisis.

At a press conference after his appointment, Van Rompuy commented: "Every country should emerge victorious from negotiations. A negotiation that ends with a defeated party is never a good negotiation. I will consider everyone's interests and sensitivities. Even if our unity remains our strength, our diversity remains our wealth", he said, stressing the individuality of EU member states.

Duties and powers

Pre-2009

The role of President-in-Office of the assembled European Council is performed by the head of state or government of the member state currently holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. This presidency rotates every six months, meaning there is a new President of the European Council twice a year. The presidency sets agenda of the meetings, a competence that may be misused to push national interests. The presiding country may also have additional negotiators at the table.

The role as President-in-Office is merely a primus inter pares role among other European heads of state or government. Being primarily responsible for preparing and chairing the meetings of the European Council, the role has no executive powers and is in no sense equivalent to that of a head of state. However, the President-in-Office represents the European Council externally and reports to the European Parliamentmarker after its meetings as well as at the beginning and at the end of the presidency. The last President in this system is the Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.

Post-2009

The president's role will be largely administrative, coordinating the work of the European Council, organising and chairing its meetings, and reporting to the European Parliament after each meeting; the president will also represent the Union in foreign policy "without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy". The considerable overlap between the roles of the President of the European Council, the President of the Commission, and the High Representative—notably in foreign policy—leaves uncertainty about how much influence the President of the European Council will acquire. There is further concern over whether the President will have sufficient personnel and resources to fulfil the duties of the post effectively and that, in lacking a ministry, the President might become a "play ball" between EU leaders.

Privileges of office

Formal negotiations on the salary and privileges of the permanent presidency began in April 2008 as part of the draft of the 2009 EU budget. The present ideas are that the President would get the same treatment as the President of the Commission. With regard to salary, this would be 270,000, although this will not be formally announced until after the ratification process is completed.

The President would receive a chauffeured car and around 20 dedicated staff members. He would also have a housing allowance, rather than an official residence which was considered "too symbolic". Likewise, the idea of a private jet was also rejected for being symbolic and, as one diplomat pointed out, a discrepancy in privileges between the Council and Commission presidents may only fuel rivalry between the two.

The possibility of there being greater perks for the Council President than Commission President has prompted Parliament to threaten a rejection of the 2009 budget. It sees a large salary and extras as a symbolic signal that the post is intended to become more powerful, increasing intergovernmentalism at the Parliament's expense. With some in the Council suggesting a staff of up to 60, the Committee on Constitutional Affairs has indicated it may drop the gentlemen's agreement that Parliament and Council will not interfere in each other's budget.

Democratic mandate

The lack of accountability to MEPs or national parliamentarians has also cast doubt as to whether national leaders will in practice stand behind the President on major issues. The President under the rotational system simply has the mandate of their member state while the permanent position would be elected by the rest of the European Council.

There have been calls by some, such as German interior minister Wolfgang Schäuble, for direct elections to take place to give the President a mandate, this would strengthen the post within the European Council allowing for stronger leadership in addition to addressing the question of democratic legitimacy in the EU. However, this might cause conflict with Parliament'smarker democratic mandate or a potential mandate for the Commission (see section below). To give a mandate to the European Council's President would signify a development of the Union's governance towards a presidential system, rather than a parliamentary system.

Combined post

Although the President of the European Council may not hold a national office, such as a Prime Minister of a member state, there is no such restraint on European offices. For example, the President may be an MEP, or more significantly the Commission President (who already sits in the European Council). This would allow the European Council to concurrently appoint one person to the roles and powers of both President of the European Council and President of the European Commission, thus creating a single presidential position for the Union as a whole.

Were the post not to be combined, there are concerns that the dual-presidential system would lead to "cohabitation" and infighting between the two offices. While it is comparable to the French model, where there is a President (the Council President) and Prime Minister (the Commission President), the Council President does not hold formal powers such as the ability to directly appoint and sack the other, or the ability to dissolve Parliament. Hence while the Council President may have prestige, it would lack power and while the Commission President would have power, it would lack the prestige of the former. This problem may be increased further if the permanent President were to be strengthened by a democratic mandate, as mentioned above.

See also



References

External links




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