Blog AnalysisEuropean policy

Herman's little accommodations

JM Barroso and H Van Rompuy in front of the war memorial (credit: EBS / CUE)
JM Barroso and H Van Rompuy in front of the war memorial (credit: EBS / CUE)

(BRUSSELS2) A novelty but not a fundamental leap. A leap somewhat missed by the lack of voluntarism and transparency of the President of the Council… Explanation

The method of appointing Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, by a vote of the Heads of State and Government on Friday (June 27) is new. But this is not a fundamental leap. This is one more step towards democratization. But a step that the “Chefs” have taken, without joy of heart, as if in reverse.

A British stone to European construction

Paradoxically. This qualitative leap is due… to a Eurosceptic, David Cameron. One day we will undoubtedly have to dedicate a statue or the name of a room to the British at the European Council for his ineffable contribution to European construction 😉 A vote in the confined confines of a European Council is, in fact, exceptional. Until the last moment, its president, the former Belgian Prime Minister, Herman Van Rompuy, was not very favorable to it, preferring to keep these discussions behind closed doors. He also took great care to only surround this vote with formal minimalism.

No publication of votes

There was therefore no public broadcast of the vote nor publication of the votes as usual for a Council decision. The publication of votes does not mean, in fact, just the announcement of the result and the number of voters. But a precise statement of the votes “For, Against, Abstentions”, country by country, on an official list, published on the internet. We manage to do this for all decisions, as shown by the last vote in the Council on “ the application of a reduced excise rate, in the autonomous region of Madeira, to rum and liqueurs produced and consumed and, in the autonomous region of the Azores” (see here). Why couldn't we do this at the level of heads of state?

Interpreting the letter, not the spirit of the treaties

Certainly the Treaty is silent on the voting arrangements in the European Council. But the text clearly provides (in article 16) that “ The Council meets in public when it deliberates and votes on a draft legislative act ". Of course, the Council is not the European Council. And a “legislative” act is not a “political” act, some jurists concerned about respecting the treaty to the letter could say. The point is not there. There is indeed a “decision” as mentioned in the Council's conclusions. A decision submitted to the vote of the European Parliament. We are therefore indeed in a legislative process. And there is no reason to make an exception, if not to the letter of the treaty, at least to its spirit. We could therefore have had a public session – therefore broadcast on the screens, with a public vote – and not this session on the sly. The fact that the result is known, more or less publicly, does not mean that the session is public. This is not really a service to European democracy.

A behavior of a little notary

This “little notary” behavior – dear to Herman Van Rompuy – is moreover very visible throughout the entire procedure. Heads of State and Government have always interpreted minima the provisions of the Treaty to retain only the strictest elements. Thus the treaty (in declaration no. 11) provided for determining in “ useful time » the method of consultation between the European Parliament and the European Council.

  • (…) representatives of the European Parliament and the European Council will proceed, beforehand to the decision of the European Council, to the necessary consultations in the framework deemed most appropriate. These consultations will focus on the profile of the candidates for the office of President of the Commission, taking into account the elections to the European Parliament (…). The terms of these consultations may be specified, in proper time, by mutual agreement between the European Parliament and the European Council.

But the President of the Council preferred to consider that this “useful time” would be the last moment. Instead of an interinstitutional agreement, negotiated several months previously, as requested by parliamentarians, the President of the Council has improvised a procedure without constraints. This undoubtedly had a “tactical” advantage, giving the Heads of State the impression of keeping control. A short-lived victory...

The balance of power European Parliament / European Council

By not foreseeing the change in rules in advance, the Heads of State and Government, as a whole, sheltered themselves, in fact, behind a pretense. The one that things had not changed since the Treaty of Maastricht. It is a mistake.

First through the threat of a vote of no confidence (Santer Commission), then the hearings of commissioners (Barroso I and II Commission), and now the imposition of the presidential candidate, the political parties and the European Parliament have, in fact, methodically gained ground, with each new appointment of Commission, over the European Council and the nation states.

A process to improve

Several European leaders, without stating it openly, have also considered that the functioning of the European Council should certainly be reviewed next time. François Hollande himself recognized this. “ It is undoubtedly necessary to improve the nomination procedure, to make the parties understand that the choice of their candidate has consequences ". The one who comes first is the candidate designated to head the Commission. " Which implies that there must be a discussion (beforehand) between Heads of State and Government ". This even if " most are also party leaders”.

A statement apparently shared by several leaders around the table. Because the European Council, in this European choice, which it took too long to endorse and which it poorly prepared, was faced with a fait accompli...

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

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).