Open Europe Blog

Open Europe organised an event at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester last week, entitled “What priorities for a Conservative government in Europe?” You can read a summary of the event here or, for the really keen, listen to a recording.

A couple of days later, on Friday last week, the Centre for European Reform organised a conference entitled, “What future for the EU?” Keynote speeches came from Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, and Giuliano Amato, the former Italian Prime Minister and Vice President of the Convention on the future of Europe (which drew up the EU Constitution).

The various speakers largely addressed their comments based on the (increasingly likely) scenario that the Lisbon Treaty is done and dusted, and likely to be in force before long.

In particular, there was a great deal of discussion about what shape the new Lisbon Treaty institutions of Foreign Minister and permanent President might look like – perhaps worth summarising here.

The conference reinforced the fact that there are two different visions of what the permanent President should actually look like. One of those is the consensus builder, devoting their time to creating harmony within the European Council and speeding up progress toward ever-closer union, and the other being a figure for the global stage, a big name to represent the EU externally. No prizes for guessing which category a Tony Blair presidency would come under.

Giuliano Amato favoured an EU President more in line with the first description, saying that when they (delegates at the Convention on the Future of Europe) were drawing up the Treaty, “we thought of the President of the Council not as a world leader, but as a consensus builder in the Council”, later adding “We did not want a European Obama.”

Lord Kerr, a member of the House of Lords’ EU Select Committee and a former diplomat and Ambassador, agreed , saying that for the President, “the first task is cohesion and coherence”, rather than external representation.

However, the Economist’s Europe Editor John Peet said that whatever the language of the Treaty, the rest of the world would look to the President as a “symbol and spokesman of the EU,” adding: “this choice is going to say something about how seriously the EU sees itself as a world power”.

Lord Kerr said, “I think the European Council next week should do nothing about the President, because they don’t have a Treaty base”, but added that a new EU High Representative for Foreign Policy (currently Javier Solana), should be appointed immediately, taking on the EU Foreign Minister role as soon as the Treaty comes into force.

It was argued that they could get around the pesky provisions in the Nice Treaty to reduce the size of the Commission by telling whichever country takes the Foreign Minister job they would be without a Commissioner until a new one was formed under Lisbon.

Lord Kerr summed up the mood in the room, saying, “most people here reflect the general European boredom with institutional fatigue.”

However, David Heathcoat-Amory, MP for Wells, and also a former member of the European Convention which drew up the Lisbon Treaty, pointed out that “the public don’t want to move on from institutional questions”, because they still want to be consulted about the Treaty, on which they were promised a referendum. He said that despite this, “the EU will try to leave these institutional questions behind… I think they will rely on the self-amending parts of the Treaty, such as the passarelle clause, so you won’t have to ask the people again [in a referendum]”.

Indeed David was the only speaker at the conference who recognised that there is still a strong public appetite for some kind of overdue consultation on the Treaty, saying “we’re trying to make a popular Europe, not a politician’s Europe”.

Well said.

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