Appointing the next European Council president

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Developing a procedure for the appointment of the first permanent president of the European Council would be more useful at this stage than putting forward names of individuals, according to French MEP Alain Lamassoure.

The nomination of the Council president is too important to take place amid behind-closed-doors negotiations between heads of government, writes Lamassoure on BlogActiv – arguing that the identity of the first holder will be crucial as he/she will give the position its “dimension and style”. 

Instead, the MEP suggests that candidates be invited to declare themselves publicly before a given deadline, calling for an end to “behind-closed doors manoeuvres” in favour of public competition. 

He proposes that each one be given equal opportunity to state how he/she conceives the new role and outline his/her vision of the relationship with the Commission president and foreign policy chief during a televised hearing before the European Council. After the public hearings, the Council would select its new president by qualified majority vote

It is believed the move would eliminate secrecy through increased media access, allowing the public to easily relate to the appointment process and thus giving the winning candidate greater legitimacy. 

Meanwhile, Lamassoure explains the significance of the three new personalities – Council president, Commission president and foreign policy chief – assuming their positions at the same time. He warns that as the Lisbon Treaty does not prescribe any hierarchy between the positions and their competencies often overlap, the success of the new set-up will heavily depend on good relations between the individuals concerned. 

Moreover, if the legitimacy of the new posts is to be recognised by European governments and populations, then ensuring “political equilibrium” will be vital, argues Lamassoure, calling for the personalities chosen to evenly reflect political (left and right), geographical (north and south), demographical (large and small countries) and historical (“old” and “new” members) variations. 

Lamassoure argues that it would be wise to wait until after the June 2009 elections to the European Parliament before launching the nomination process, because then the leading European political party will be able to heavily influence the choice of Commission president. 

He concludes by making the case for Angela Merkel – his personal preference – as the first Council president. 

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