Thursday, 26 November 2009

Limiting Ashton's power: The role of the rotating Council Presidency in foreign policy

With the nomination of van Rompuy and Ashton for the two major top posts, it looked pretty clear that the coordination of the EU's foreign policy will now be handed over to these two persons and their administrations.

Yet, as I have explained earlier, the rotating Council Presidency will not disappear but will chair all Council configurations except for the Foreign Affairs Council that will be chaired by Ashton.

However, I just discovered a freshly published Council document regulating the role of the rotating Council Presidency in the preparatory work of the Foreign Affairs Council. This document is definitely limiting the powers of Ashton and is restricting her freedom to work freely with her own diplomatic service:
The chairmanship of the preparatory bodies of the Foreign Affairs Council referred to in categories 1 to 4 in the table below shall be organised as follows:

1) Category 1 (preparatory bodies in the area of trade and development)

The preparatory bodies shall be chaired by the six-monthly Presidency.

2) Category 2 (geographic preparatory bodies)

The preparatory bodies shall be chaired by a representative of the High Representative.

3) Category 3 (horizontal preparatory bodies, mainly CFSP)

The preparatory bodies shall be chaired by a representative of the High Representative, except the following preparatory bodies, which shall be chaired by the six-monthly
- Working Party of Foreign Relations Counsellors (RELEX);
- Working Party on Terrorism (International Aspects) (COTER);
- Working Party on the application of specific measures to combat terrorism (COCOP);
- Working Party on Consular Affairs (COCON);
- Working Party on Public International Law (COJUR); and
- Working Party on the Law of the Sea (COMAR).

4) Category 4 (ESDP related preparatory bodies)
The ESDP related preparatory bodies shall be chaired by a representative of the High Representative.
This means that although Ashton is going to chair every Foreign Affairs Council, the prepared documents coming into these meetings from the Working Parties won't have always been co-ordinated by the External Action Service but also by the rotating Council presidency.

And even where Ashton can chose the chairpersons of the working groups, she is limited by the member states (own highlights):
Where ... a preparatory body (PSC and relevant working parties) shall be chaired by a representative of the High Representative, the responsibility for appointing the chair shall belong to the High Representative. These appointments shall be made on the basis of competence, while ensuring adequate geographical balance and transparency. The High Representative shall ensure that the person he or she intends to appoint as chairperson will enjoy the confidence of Member States.
Looking at this document one can see that the coherence in the European Union's foreign policy is unlikely to emerge, with the member states fighting to keep control over certain key areas, limiting the power(s) of the Foreign Minister.

I might be mistaken, but this looks like bringing further disorder into the European institutions that are already very hard to understand and control.

Supplement: Eurogeek has correctly pointed to the fact that this is not new but has already been discussed for some time, as shows this "L'Europe de la Défense" article from 31 October 2009.


Eurogeek said...

It's something that was known before Ashton was appointed, as you can see here:

But still your conclusion is right: the structure is a total mess, is going to be a pain to follow and one could wonder about the accountability of decisions taken.

Julien Frisch said...

Thanks for pointing to this blog post, didn't notice it!