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Thursday, 04 March 2010

What kind of political actor will the Lisbon EU be

The year 2009 has been a remarkable for the EU. Allegedly, it moved towards more intense cooperation between heads of state and a weakening of the Commission. However, we also saw the appointment of first European Council President, Herman Van Rompuy and EU ‘Minister’ of Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton. With the new Lisbon treaty on 1 December and a new European Commission headed by the – finally – reappointed Barroso, has the EU become more federal or more intergovernmental?  On the one hand, it might be said that the EU has become less federal, due to a seeming erosion of the EU institutions in recent years. This has been the result of among others, the financial crisis and an increase in Euroscepticism at the national level making politicians more hesitant to widen and deepen EU policies. EU decision-making has become more intergovernmental, with an explosion in the number of different European Council meetings composed of heads of state and governments. Now, there are not only the official European Councils (four per year), but also the ad hoc meetings of heads of states or governments including meetings with third country leaders and historic occasions (like the Fall of the Berlin Wall 20th anniversary celebrations); preparatory meetings for global rendezvous (Pittsburgh on G-20 on the economic crisis; Copenhagen on climate change) and sub-27 gatherings in G-3, G-6 and other formations. As a consequence, fewer decisions are being taken at the level of the sectoral Council formations (say, Economic or Environmental Councils), which decide by majority, and have been shifted to the highest level (where unanimity applies and the European Commission’s role is limited). This trend is just the tip of the iceberg because behind the more frequent meetings of the heads of state lies a world of informal bilateral contacts between the capitals. In short, the intergovernmental EU is flourishing.

Source: Europe's World