Member states consider perks and staff for new EU president
14.04.08 @ 09:25
BRUSSELS - EU member states have begun preliminary talks on some of the most political aspects of the bloc's new treaty – the office set-up for the proposed new full-time president, the shape of the diplomatic service and the power-sharing arrangement for the regular ministerial meetings in Brussels.
With the European Commission due to present the first draft of the 2009 budget later this month, EU ambassadors last week discussed a possible salary, number of staff and perks for the EU president – a job created by the new treaty which is supposed to come into force on 1 January next year.
Characterising the talks as "very abstract and very general", an EU diplomat said that there appeared to be general agreement that that the president of the council – whose job description has yet to be defined – will get the same sort of treatment as the president of the European Commission.
This would mean a salary of around €270,000, a chauffeured car, a housing allowance and a personal staff of around 20.
What the EU president will actually do remains unclear.
The post may be purely administrative such as chairing EU leader meetings or could evolve into a much more high-profile and powerful role – a true face of the European Union.
But speculation that the new president may get a special residence and a presidential jet was dismissed by several officials as being too "symbolic", whatever the job description.
One diplomat pointed out that the perk discrepancy between the presidents of the commission and the council cannot be too big, so as not to enhance the expected rivalry between the holders of the two posts.
However the commission is not expected to mention the EU president's salary in its first budget draft for fear of upsetting the current ratification process of the EU treaty - particularly in Ireland which is to have a referendum.
Member states have also begun looking at the set up of the diplomatic service - a new body meant to back up the new foreign minister post and give coherence to the bloc's external policy.
A briefing note circulated to ambassadors reminds them that "technical work" must begin now to ensure it goes into effect quickly after the treaty enters into force.
Member states have been asked to consider what kind of extra money should be foreseen for the service and whether they still believe - as on previous discussions on the shelved EU constitution - that the service should be linked to both member states and the commission.
This is a highly political question with some countries and MEPs fearing that if the commission is not fully involved, then the diplomatic service will simply become a tool of larger countries.
EU diplomats must also grapple with the set up of the regular ministerial meetings. This runs the gamut from exactly what powers will fall to the foreign minister when chairing the external relations council to when agendas should be sent out for the meeting and "who should pay for the postage stamps," noted one EU official.
The treaty discussions come as just nine of the 27 member states have ratified the new document. The Lisbon Treaty needs all countries' approval for it to come into force with the political discussions set to be ratcheted up a notch in the second half of this year.