An obsolete presidency

In European Voice, 10 June 2010

Dear Sir

Your editorial “Spain must show the value of the rotating presidency” (27 May-2 June) betrays a dated review of the role of such a presidency.

Even prior to the Lisbon Treaty, the presidency of the Council of Ministers was not what some newspapers and some member states made it out to be. It never was the “presidency of the EU”, as each individual EU institution has its own president. It was simply the chairmanship of one institution (the Council of Ministers) for a very short term of office (6 months), with an inherited agenda and without powers of its own, since it was merely primus inter pares. This did not stop the incumbents talking up the position, nor parts of the media falling for the idea that it was some sort of executive presidency.

Now, with the Lisbon Treaty, the role of the rotating presidency has lost the chairmanship of the European Council (to a full-time president, Herman Van Rompuy), it has lost the chairmanship of the Foreign Affairs Council (to the high representative for security and foreign affairs, Catherine Ashton), and its embassies will no longer represent the EU diplomatically (that function will be taken over by the representative offices of the European External Action Service).

The rotating presidency has become simply the chairmanship of sectoral councils (such as agriculture and transport).

One wonders what the prime minister at the head of the rotating presidency will be able to report to the European Parliament when his country’s term of office ends, given that he will not personally have chaired any of the meetings and given that the presidency has no executive function.

The EU is a union of its member states and citizens. It is not a state in the conventional sense and so neither has – nor needs – a presidency in the conventional sense.

Richard Laming
Chair, Federal Union

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