What have Van Rompuy achieved and what are the challenges for Tusk?

Donald Tusk will take over the post of the President of the European Council on December 1. How do you perceive the role of the President of the European Council after Herman Van Rompuy’s tenure, what was achieved and on what should the new President concentrate? Read few comments.


Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the EC, met with Donald Tusk (right), President of the European Council. Credit: European Commission


Frank HägeLecturer in Politics, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Limerick

It’s hard to differentiate the role of the President and the effect of the financial crisis. The European Council definitely met more often and played a more direct and decisive role in economic and fiscal policy-making in recent years. It did so not only through new treaty rules (in the form of the fiscal compact), but also in the form of making relatively detailed suggestions for new legislation regulating the banking sector, strengthening the monitoring of national budgets, and the enforcement of the budget and debt criteria of the stability and growth pact. Given that the European Council is not a legislative institution according to the treaties, this relatively far-reaching informal influence on the substance of EU law is a new development. But again, this strengthened role of the European Council in law-making might have developed even without a permanent President, given the recent economic circumstances.

I am not sure the President has achieved anything in particular, apart from possibly increasing the role and influence of the European Council in the details of EU policy-making (formally, the European Council is supposed to focus on determining the broad strategic guidelines of the EU). The Presidency position is really just there to ensure the efficient functioning of the European Council (i.e. the heads of state or government). The day-to-day business of the Council of Ministers (which is a legislative institution) is still run by a Presidency rotating amongst member states every half a year. At this level, each Presidency pursues different priorities, but at the European Council level, the President is essentially just the chair of the meetings.

Christian SchweigerLecturer in Government, Department of Politics, Durham University

On your question regarding the European Council: I am not sure to what extent we can speak of a success when we consider the role of the new European Council president position under Van Rompuy. Those who know him seem to suggest that he has been quite efficient in coordinating the agenda behind the scenes. This may be the case but on the other hand he was not able to prevent David Cameron from vetoing the incorporation of the Fiscal Compact into the EU’s treaty structure, which in effect left Merkel and the other leaders no choice but to sign it as an intergovernmental treaty. This is significant as Cameron subsequently emphasised in his Bloomberg speech that he felt that he had not received enough safeguards in the intergovernmental negotiations on the future architecture of the Single Market which ensured that the UK would not be sucked into a ‘federalist’ eurozone government regime. In this respect one has to ask how it could be possible for the UK and the Czech Republic to get this perception when the role of the Council president should be to ensure that all members are equally informed and included in the intergovernmental negotiations?

At the same time I read some of Van Rompuy’s official statements on the intergovernmental negotiations at Council summits and they usually consisted of only one or two sentences. I would therefore say that Van Rumpoy may have been quite an efficient administrator of the daily Council business but he certainly lacked the charisma and the strategic vision to achieve more unity between the 28 member states and to also develop an agenda which addresses the increasingly obvious gap between the elite-level decision-making and the perception of ordinary citizens. I would therefore hope that the new Council president, who is a lot more charismatic and seems to have an understanding of the challenge the EU is facing in terms of its deepening legitimacy crisis, takes a more active role not just as a coordinator of member state interests but also as the spokesperson of the EU Council. After all under the Lisbon Treaty the Council is now considered to be a supranational body in which member state governments are supposed to work in the spirit of collective solidarity. We have seen little of this happening under Van Rumpoy and Tusk will have to try to instill this spirit of unity and solidarity if he wants to improve the EU’s external standing and also its perception amongst the public. Council meetings have of course already become more transparent than in the past but I would hope that Tusk makes them even more transparent and tries to ensure that the public is able to fully understand how and why decisions were made in a certain way.

In a nutshell he will need to explain issues better than Van Rumpoy did, engage in a more effective coordination of national interests and most of all also to a certain extent try to set the agenda himself, especially on issues such as institutional reform towards greater transparency and democratic accountability and the need to accompany the stability agenda in the Single Market and the eurozone with a social dimension. After all Tusk will also be the chair of the eurogroup and as such has a crucial role to play to work with Juncker to ensure that the EU develops a more inclusive and forward-looking agenda.


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