Blog AnalysisEU Institutions

The rotating presidency, very useful I believe

Inauguration ceremony of the Cypriot presidency at the Kourion archaeological site

(BRUSSELS2 in Nicosia, opinion) It was criticized, booed, and even today it often has bad press among certain specialists and European political leaders. It is also fashionable when we defend a “certain” idea of ​​Europe to wish for the end of rotating presidencies. I heard a few MEPs repeat this antiphon again recently. Out of a spirit of repetition as much as conviction, and in the name of efficiency! This position seems to me to be an outdated view, totally inconsistent with the new institutions put in place by the Lisbon Treaty, and going rather against the desired goal: efficiency.

A bit of dynamism

The rotating presidency has a big advantage. It breathes a little dynamism into a mechanism which sometimes goes around in circles. The “rotating” president has “fire in his butt”. He is keen to show everyone – and his people – that he too can achieve two or three successes. He thus ultimately tries to obtain results on a few issues or to give an impetus that other presidencies will be responsible for continuing. This comes as much from human psychology, from a little personal pride as from political constancy. Six months is short! Of course, this can lead to zig-zag driving. But efficiency does not mean perfect continuity on a straight line. And it is better to move forward in fits and starts, possibly with outbursts, than at a monotonous senatorial pace...

A political team

The rotating presidency has one benefit: putting the focus on a political team and a constitutional system, showing everyone the diversity that Europe represents, whether at the political or geographical level. What do the somewhat rough Hungarian nationalist Orban, the Polish liberal Donald Tusk, the elegant Danish social democrat Helle Thorning-Schmidt and the Levantine communist Demetris Christofias have in common? Nothing, except that they held this presidency in turn... And that they were elected democratically, by direct universal suffrage. Each in their own way, they represent a small piece of Europe, as it exists today, in all its diversity. We thus have a little political faith, even if we may not share all its contours.

A geopolitical vision

The rotating presidency also allows you to discover a country, a particular history, a geographical positioning, a geopolitical vision, difficult to perceive or understand when seen from Brussels or Strasbourg. With Cyprus, to tell the truth, we are served. Here we often have the demonstration of a more Byzantine language, where we must distinguish behind the intensity of the words or the roundness of the sentences where reality lies. In a way, we are closer – geographically and politically – to Beirut or Istanbul than to Stockholm or Berlin. With a little indelible British touch... This momentum is essential to European construction!

A look at national issues

Cyprus is also the last European territory living under the presence of a “foreign” army at its gates. We can tend to forget it when we are far from the island. But the (Greek) Cypriots were quick to remind us of this. The reunification of Germany and the end of the civil conflict in Northern Ireland have thus left this small piece of territory on the borders of Europe with a privilege. When Cypriot President Christophias salutes at the opening ceremony of the EU Presidency – at the archaeological site of Kourion, located on a British sovereignty base! – the presence of Turkish Cypriots and that he hopes very soon to be able to count them in a reconciled State, this is not an empty word. This is a very present reality on the ground. And the presidency of the European Union has, here, an important symbolic dimension, much greater than that of other countries.

A fixed presidency for what?

Today there are a certain number of fixed structures at the European level: a Commission appointed for 5 years - with certain commissioners who are in their second (Barroso, Barnier, etc.) or even a third mandate (V. Reding) -, a European Parliament composed of representatives elected by universal suffrage for 5 years, without forgetting the European Central Bank which acquires notable power today in the debt crisis and even more tomorrow with the “banking union”. Only one has democratic legitimacy consecrated by universal suffrage: the European Parliament.

The only institution that represents some of the political liveliness and diversity of States, with democratic legitimacy, is the Council. And some of these formations are chaired by a fixed representative (European Council by H. Van Rompuy, Foreign Affairs by C. Ashton, Eurogroup by JC Junckeer). I am not sure that the removal of this rotating presidency is an additional guarantee of efficiency and dynamism. On the contrary…

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).