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7th Dec 2019

Van Rompuy and Barroso to both represent EU at G20

  • Two of the faces of Europe: Mr Barroso (l) and Mr Van Rompuy (r) (Photo: Council of European Union)

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy have decided who will speak on which subject when they both represent the union at international meetings such as the G20.

"The two presidents have decided that the EU delegation will be composed of both presidents in one single delegation. That's quite normal, as their roles are complementary," a spokeswoman for the European Commission said during a press briefing on Thursday (18 March).

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One of the novelties introduced by the EU's new treaty is that the permanent president of the EU Council, former Belgian premier Herman Van Rompuy, also represents the bloc abroad in foreign policy and security matters.

But in other areas, such as climate change, President Barroso will speak on behalf of the 27-member club.

In areas where the two overlap, for instance energy, which is both a security and a commission policy area, they will decide on a case-by-case basis who will take the floor.

"These practical arrangements will ensure full coherence, complementarity and clarity in the way we approach international gatherings, in reaching our objective that the EU should speak with one voice," Pia Ahrenskilde-Hansen, the commission's spokeswoman said.

She rejected the suggestion that Mr Barroso's powers were being chipped away by Mr Van Rompuy, who has so far kept a low public profile, and pointed to the obligations set out by the EU treaty.

Mr Barroso however did manage to secure one little victory, as his personal sherpa - jargon for the personal representative of a head of state of government who prepares an international summit - to the G20, Joao Vale de Almeida, will continue to do the job on behalf of both EU leaders for the next meeting, set to take place in South Korea in November.

After that, both Mr Van Rompuy and Mr Barroso will have their own sherpas ahead of G8 and G20 meetings, while Mr Vale de Almeida will move on to become the EU's ambassador in Washington.

The commission's confidence that sending two representatives to "speak with one voice" at the G20 is a sensible solution is not shared by foreign policy experts.

"It's hard to see how other parties will interpret this. If we also count Spain, who will be there as well and is also chairing the rotating EU presidency, we'll have three seats in a place already overcrowded by Europeans," Jose-Ignacio Torreblanca from the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank told this website.

The G20 gathering includes four European countries: France, Germany, Italy, Great Britain. But in 2008, Spain and the Netherlands also secured extra seats, arguing that as a result of the size of their economies, they deserve to be in the room.

"We saw what happened in Copenhagen: The fact that there are a lot of Europeans in a room doesn't mean that they are being listened to," Mr Torreblanca commented, in reference to the UN climate change summit in the Danish capital, where Europeans were sidelined by the US and China.

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