7th Aug 2020

MEPs see restricted role for future EU president

  • MEPs are trying to make sure member states do not become too dominant in future EU decision-making (Photo: EUobserver)

MEPs have approved a report calling for a narrow role for the future EU president, in stark contrast to the broad flag-carrying post that some member states have envisioned.

Deputies in the constitutional affairs committee on Monday (9 March) agreed that the president of the European Council - a new maximum five-year post foreseen under the Lisbon Treaty - should not speak for the EU as a whole on political issues.

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Instead the person should be restricted to representing the EU at leader level on common foreign and security (CSFP) issues. The EU's planned foreign minister would deal with CFSP issues at ministerial level and should be allowed to "conduct political negotiations in the name of the Union."

MEPs foresee a strong role for the European Commission president saying that this person would assume "the representation of the Union at the highest level in relation to the whole of the external relations of the Union," including specific areas such as foreign trade.

The delicate carving of power is the European Parliament's answer to what is a nebulous part of the Lisbon Treaty - the exact interplay of the EU's future three main political players.

Past discussions have seen countries split on whether to stay true to the largely administrative role foreseen by the treaty for the president or to expand the post - something most MEPs fear would undermine community-level politics in favour of intergovernmentalism.

Some member states, particularly smaller ones, fear that the EU president post could be used by big countries to push their own agenda with the treaty description saying that the president should "ensure the external representation of the EU" on CFSP issues but also "drive forward" the work of the European Council - the forum for EU leaders.

Their fears were not helped by the recent French presidency of the EU. French leader Nicolas Sarkozy put the EU on the political map during his six-month stint in the second half of 2008 but the presidency was notable for its abrasive style.

Admitting that the treaty's solutions for representation of the Union are "complex" the report indicates that whether it will succeed will be largely due to the "political trust" that the foreign ministers and presidents of the European Council and Commission manage to attain.

Budgetary powers

The report, due to be voted on in plenary in the coming weeks, also warns that the parliament will use its budgetary powers to get its way on issues such as the composition of the diplomatic service, meant to back up the foreign minister.

Drafted by Belgian centre-right MEP Jean-Luc Dehaene, it speaks of the "intention to fully exercise its budgetary powers in relation to the setting-up of the EEAS [European External Action Service]."

Threatening the purse-string veto is a way for MEPs to ensure that the diplomatic service is not dominated by member state officials and run by national governments.

Timetable for commission president

The parliament is also suggesting a timetable for nominating the next commission president – a process complicated by the fact that the commission's composition will depend on the outcome of the Irish referendum – set for autumn - on the Lisbon Treaty.

MEPs suggest the next president should be chosen directly after the June European elections but that nomination of the team of commissioners only be done after the Irish result is clear.

The current Nice Treaty foresees less commissioners than the number of member states from 2009 while EU leaders have agreed to maintain one commissioner per member state if the Lisbon Treaty is approved.

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