|President of the
|Appointer||European Council by qualified majority|
|Term length||2½ years, renewable once|
|Inaugural holder||Herman Van Rompuy|
|Formation||1 December 2009|
|Website||President of the European Council|
The President of the European Council is the person responsible for chairing and driving forward the work of the European Council, the institution which provides political direction to the European Union (EU). The president also represents the EU on the world stage. The current president is Herman Van Rompuy.
From 1975 to 2009, the head of the European Council was an unofficial position (often referred to as President-in-Office) held by the head of state or government of the member state holding the semiannually rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union at any given time. However, since the Treaty of Lisbon, article 15 of Treaty on European Union states that the European Council appoints its president for a two-and-a-half year term, with the possibility of renewal once. Appointments, as well as the removal of incumbents, require a qualified majority.
On 19 November 2009, the European Council agreed that its first president under the Lisbon Treaty would be Herman Van Rompuy (European People's Party, Belgium). Van Rompuy took office when the Lisbon Treaty came into force on 1 December 2009 with a term stretching until 31 May 2012.
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The first European Council was held in 1961 as an informal summit, but only became formalised in 1974. The Presidency system was based on the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, with it being hosted by the member state holding the Council Presidency. As the European Council is composed of national leaders, it was chaired by the head of state or government of the Presidency state. This "President-in-Office" position was roughly defined beyond that and rotated along with the Council Presidency every six-months.
The European Constitution, drafted by the European Convention, outlined the "President of the European Council" which would replace the role of the Council Presidency in the European Council. The Constitution was rejected by voters during ratification but the changes to the European Council, including the position of President, was retained in the Treaty of Lisbon, which came into force on 1 December 2009.
The first President is expected to "set the job description" for future office holders as there is no clear idea of how the post would evolve. One body of thought was that the President would stick to the administrative role as outlined by the treaty, a standard bearer who would simply chair meetings and ensure the smooth running of the body and its policies. This would attract semi-retired leaders seeking a fitting climax to their career and would leave most work to the civil service rather than wield power within the institutions. However another opinion envisages a more pro-active President within the Union and speaking for it abroad. This post would hence be quickly fashioned into a de facto "President of Europe" and, unlike the first model, would be seen on the world stage as speaking for the EU. Persons connected to this position would be more charismatic leaders. The appointment of Herman Van Rompuy (see below) indicated a desire to see the former style of President.
The Treaty of Lisbon doesn't define a nomination process for the President of the Council and several official and unofficial candidates were proposed. At the final European Council meeting on the treaty in Lisbon, on 19 November 2007, French President Nicolas Sarkozy set off public speculation on candidates by naming Tony Blair, Felipe González and Jean-Claude Juncker, and praising the three as worthy candidates with Blair in particular being a long time front runner for the post. However, he faced large scale opposition for being from a large state outside the eurozone and the Schengen Area as well as being a leader who entered the Iraq War which had split Europe. Minor opposition to other leaders such as Juncker also led to their rejection.
On 19 November 2009, Herman Van Rompuy, at that time Prime Minister of Belgium, was chosen to be appointed as the first full-time President of the European Council. The formal decision on the appointment was made after the Treaty of Lisbon came into force, which was on 1 December 2009. The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, said that he had unanimous backing from the 27 EU leaders at the summit in Brussels on the evening of 19 November 2009. Mr Brown also praised Mr Van Rompuy as "a consensus builder" who had "brought a period of political stability to his country after months of uncertainty". Mr Van Rompuy has a reputation as a coalition builder, having taken charge of the linguistically divided Belgian government and steered it out of a crisis.
At a press conference after his appointment, Van Rompuy commented: "Every country should emerge victorious from negotiations. A negotiation that ends with a defeated party is never a good negotiation. I will consider everyone's interests and sensitivities. Even if our unity remains our strength, our diversity remains our wealth", he said, stressing the individuality of EU member states.
The role of President-in-Office of the assembled European Council was performed by the head of state or government of the member state currently holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. This presidency rotated every six months, meaning there was a new President of the European Council twice a year. The presidency set agenda of the meetings, a competence that was misused to push national interests. The presiding country was allowed also to have additional negotiators at the table.
The role as President-in-Office was merely a primus inter pares role among other European heads of state or government. Being primarily responsible for preparing and chairing the meetings of the European Council, the role had no executive powers and was in no sense equivalent to that of a head of state. However, the President-in-Office represented the European Council externally and reported to the European Parliament after its meetings as well as at the beginning and at the end of the presidency.
The president's role is largely administrative, coordinating the work of the European Council, organising and chairing its meetings, and reporting to the European Parliament after each meeting; the president will also "at his level and in that capacity, ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy, without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security". Some overlap between the roles of the President of the European Council, the President of the Commission, and the High Representative—notably in foreign policy—leaves uncertainty about how much influence the President of the European Council will acquire. There is further concern over whether the President will have sufficient personnel and resources to fulfil the duties of the post effectively and that, in lacking a ministry, the President might become a "play ball" between EU leaders.
With the reorganisation of leading EU posts under the Lisbon Treaty, there was some criticism of each posts vague responsibilities. Ukrainian ambassador to the EU Andriy Veselovsky praised the framework and clarified it in his own terms: The President of the European Commission speaks as the EU's "government" while the new President of the European Council is a "strategist". The High Representative specialises in "bilateral relations" while the European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy deals in technical matters such as the free trade agreement with Ukraine. The President of the European Parliament meanwhile articulates the EU's values.
Formal negotiations on the salary and privileges of the permanent presidency began in April 2008 as part of the draft of the 2009 EU budget. The ideas were that the President would have got the same treatment as the President of the Commission. With regard to salary, this would be €270,000, although at the end it was fixed to €350,000.
The President receives a chauffeured car and around 20 dedicated staff members. He also has a housing allowance, rather than an official residence which was considered "too symbolic". Likewise, the idea of a private jet was also rejected for being symbolic and, as one diplomat pointed out, a discrepancy in privileges between the European Council and Commission presidents may only fuel rivalry between the two.
The possibility of there being greater perks for the Council President than Commission President has prompted Parliament to threaten a rejection of the 2009 budget. It saw a large salary and extras as a symbolic signal that the post is intended to become more powerful, increasing intergovernmentalism at the Parliament's expense. With some in the Council suggesting a staff of up to 60, the Committee on Constitutional Affairs has indicated it may drop the gentlemen's agreement that Parliament and Council will not interfere in each other's budget.
The lack of accountability to MEPs or national parliamentarians has also cast doubt as to whether national leaders will in practice stand behind the President on major issues. Under the rotational system, the presidents simply had the mandate of their member states, while the new permanent president is chosen by the members of the European Council.
There have been calls by some, such as former German interior minister and current minister of finance Wolfgang Schäuble, for direct elections to take place to give the President a mandate, this would strengthen the post within the European Council allowing for stronger leadership in addition to addressing the question of democratic legitimacy in the EU. However, this might cause conflict with Parliament's democratic mandate or a potential mandate for the Commission (see section below). To give a mandate to the European Council's President would signify a development of the Union's governance towards a presidential system, rather than a parliamentary system.
Although the President of the European Council may not hold a national office, such as a Prime Minister of a member state, there is no such restraint on European offices. For example, the President may be an MEP, or more significantly the Commission President (who already sits in the European Council). This would allow the European Council to concurrently appoint one person to the roles and powers of both President of the European Council and President of the European Commission, thus creating a single presidential position for the Union as a whole.
Were the post not to be combined, some believe that the dual-presidential system could lead to "cohabitation" and infighting between the two offices. While it is comparable to the French model, where there is a President (the Council President) and Prime Minister (the Commission President), the Council President does not hold formal powers such as the ability to directly appoint and sack the Commission President, or the ability to dissolve Parliament. Hence while the Council President may have prestige, he/she lacks power and while the Commission President has power, he/she lacks the prestige of the former. Some believe this problem would be increased further if the Council President were to be strengthened by a democratic mandate, as mentioned above.
The President of the European Council is a position that was created by the Treaty of Lisbon. The first President was in December 1st, 2009 by M. Herman Van Rompuy. The President is the chairman of the European Council, which is the meeting of the leaders of all the member states.
It's a very diplomatic figure, and it's not like a head of state: the President does not have any power to make decisions about the European Union. The Union has several other presidents, such as the president of the European Parliament and the president of the European Commission. But the President of the European Council, casually but wrongly known as The President of Europe, is the face by which the European Union is known to the rest of the world. The more practical aspects of this task are the responsibility of the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, the Commissioner responsible for external affairs..