28th Oct 2016

Ministers ponder creation of EU super-president

Ideas kicking around in a reflection group of select EU foreign ministers include merging the roles of the EU Council and European Commission presidents.

A senior EU source told this website following a meeting of the club in the Val Duchesse stately home in Brussels on Thursday (19 April) that the new supremo would have more power than either Herman Van Rompuy or Jose Manuel Barroso do today but also more "democratic legitimacy" because he or she would be elected by MEPs.

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In other reforms, the new figure would "streamline" the European Commission into a two-tier structure.

Every EU country would still have its own commissioner with their own vote in the college of 27 top officials.

But as in certain national administrations, some commissioners would have more than one dossier while others would be the equivalent of ministers without portfolio.

The new super-president would also chair General Affairs Councils (GACs) - monthly meetings of foreign ministers which discuss internal Union affairs.

"I have heard experts who say that it [the Van-Rompuy-Barroso merger] could be done without changing the [Lisbon] Treaty ... there is no appetite for a new Treaty," the EU source said.

The EU Council President post was created by the Lisbon Treaty in 2009.

But the Lisbon architecture is messy: Van Rompuy, for instance, oversees debate on EU fiscal reform, while Barroso's commission puts forward its own ideas and implements final decisions.

Van Rompuy and Barroso also represent the Union at international summits.

But Van Rompuy is top dog in terms of protocol, while the EU "high representative" - Catherine Ashton - does day-to-day foreign relations.

Manwhile, the GAC - an increasingly important policy-making body - is still chaired by a national minister from the rotating EU presidency.

The reflection group was formed by German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle in Berlin in March.

It plans to meet two more times before the summer recess and to circulate a discussion paper at EU27-level in September.

The other countries in the club are: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Spain. The French minister did not attend Thursday's session, however.

The Val Duchesse event also included talks on "eurobonds" - the idea of mutualising EU government debt, a controversial one in Germany, where voters are hostile to paying more to borrow money so that weaker economies in the south can pay less.

"It could be acceptable for new projects but not to guarantee bad ones from the past, or old bad debt," the EU source said.

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