Thursday, November 19, 2009

EU’s New “President” and “Foreign Minister” finally appointed

The 27 EU Heads of State and Government, after much horse-trading, have finally unanimously agreed on two names: The Belgian prime minister Herman Van Rompuy has been appointed as the first ever permanent EU “President” while Baroness Cathy Ashton, currently EU Trade Commissioner, has been appointed as the EU’s “Foreign Minister.”

The creation of the posts of President of the European Council and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is one of the 2007 Lisbon Treaty’s main institutional innovations. Yet a quick look at the Treaty makes one wonder if journalists have not given too much importance to the EU “top jobs” race.

Indeed, the powers and responsibilities of these two new figures are rather limited. According to Article 15(6) of the EU Treaty, as amended by the Treaty of Lisbon, the President of the European Council (and not really of “Europe”): (a) shall chair it and drive forward its work; (b) shall ensure the preparation and continuity of the work of the European Council in cooperation with the President of the Commission, and on the basis of the work of the General Affairs Council; (c) shall endeavour to facilitate cohesion and consensus within the European Council; (d) shall present a report to the European Parliament after each of the meetings of the European Council.

And according to Article 18 of the EU Treaty, again as amended by the Lisbon Treaty, the High Representative is (a) to conduct the EU’s foreign and security policy and the EU’s defence policy, as mandated by the Council (i.e. the Member States), (b) to represent the Union in political dialogue with third countries and (c) to express the Union’s position in international organizations.

History will tell whether those now arguing that “the EU will soon have a president and a foreign minister, comparable in world affairs with the president and the secretary of state in the USA,” were prescient or guilty of wishful thinking. 


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