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We might be faced with this situation sooner than we think: on Thursday Belgian Prime Minister Leterme handed in his resignation to the Belgian King due to his five-party coalition government being about to collapse with the Flemish Liberals and Democrats pulling out over the “BHV” affair with less than three months left before Belgium takes over the reigns of the EU Presidency on the 1st July.

Moral-political question: should they be allowed to run the EU Presidency? I have heard all three answers in the last 24 hours:

  • Yes, of course, because with the new institutionalised troika system, Belgium will be supported by Spain and Hungary and/or in any case the country holding the Presidency is simply following the Union’s priorities so their input is minimal. Also, Belgium is known to work particularly well when there is no government in place and, hence, they will probably even do a better job with a “Caretaker government”!
  • No, because how can Belgium lead from the front, find compromise solutions, broker deals and demonstrate leadership – fair point!
  • Don’t know: is the majority view because most citizens are clueless about what the EU Presidency is, let alone what it is supposed to do – a sad state of affairs.

Then I heard someone comment on the radio – no fear Herman Van Rompuy – a Belgian – will come to the rescue as the President of the European Union!

The reality is that Belgium will most probably muddle through with the support of the Spanish and the Hungarians and with a structure and system which seems to just keep rolling, despite institutional upheavals such as the “NON” to the EU Constitution or the Irish No to the Lisbon Treaty.

But do we simply want to push through and hope that the institutional snowball takes us forward? Clearly not and, hence, this latest possible scenario demonstrates that Europe still has a long way to go and needs to mature…

Blaming it on the Belgians though would be unfair as other Member States like the Czech Republic have been in the hot seat without a Government.

Russell Patten

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The creation of a European diplomatic service is one of the long expected innovations brought in by the Lisbon Treaty. A fundamental of European integration is the belief that the EU has a global mission, but so far it has lacked the tools to carry this out.

This might be changing however with the new post of High Representative of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy held by Baroness Catherine Ashton and the upcoming European External Action Service (EEAS).

The European Parliament will not let the Commission and the Council set up the new body by themselves. Source: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/frankenstein/hollywood.html

According to the Treaty, the Council is responsible for setting up the EEAS, a not-so-easy task given that the body is supposed to be a mixture of the Commission and the Council.

With concrete proposals expected from Baroness Ashton end March and a final agreement end April, it is hard to go further than questions:

What will be the structure?

Which kind of and how many national diplomats will be put forward by the Member States?

What portfolios will it share with or take over from the Commission (development and cooperation, humanitarian aid, neighbourhood policy)?

Who will represent the EU in major negotiations, for example on trade and climate change?

For those interested in the details, Europolitics gathered draft organisational charts from Baroness Ashton (page 1) and a counter proposal from the German delegation (page 2).

Hence there are many options and many complications even before you take into account that the European Parliament (EP) wants to scrub in. The EP is not supposed to have much to say on it but is playing the card “if you want me to approve any budget on this, you better let me in on all the rest”.

MEPs Elmar Brok (EPP, German) and Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE, Belgium) for the Foreign and the Constitutional Affairs Comittees respectively are leading this battle. They have expressed 7 priorities highlighting two main preoccupations, namely oversight from the Parliament and as much influence as possible for the Commission on the EEAS to “protect” it from being controlled by national agendas (also see page 3 of the Europolitics document).

The final question, however, lies in the national agendas. Regardless of the body or the structure, the point is how much of a mandate will the EU nations give to the EEAS?

It will take years of work for national players to develop enough trust both in the body – to defend their best interests – and in the system – so that they accept losing on some issues whilst knowing  they will win on others.

– Talander

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Now that the Lisbon Treaty has come into force and the new Commission is up and running, who do you think is the most powerful person in Brussels? Who truly sits in the seat of power?

Is it Barroso, Ashton, Buzek, Van Rompuy, or Farage – or someone else entirely? We want to know what you think, so vote in our poll by clicking here.

– The Editors

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eu lobbying, eu lobbyists, eu lobbying tips, lobbying, brussels

So who do I call? (Credit © European Union, 2010)

Once upon a time, there was a great leader of the new world who had a vision of creating a bilateral arrangement with the old world, and so he asked his political advisors whom he should speak to in Brussels.

His advisors usually responded to his questions in a flash, but this time around they looked at each other perplexed and informed the great leader that they would have to research the matter in great detail.  Having investigated the matter quite thoroughly, the advisors returned and, instead of giving him the answers he sought, suggested that their young European intern from the European Commission would be best placed to explain the complex web of people and procedures…and so the nightmare began.

The young intern turned to the great leader and asked what kind of bilateral arrangement he had in mind? He replied proudly that he wanted to urgently create a new arrangement where the US and Europe would pool their knowledge and resources to eradicate all forms of the flu once and for all, and that both regions would equally donate US$25 billion to the initiative.

The advisors all looked at each other, some raising their eyebrows; others were heard to sigh deeply, whilst others scratched their heads and looked confused, realising that the night would be long.

The young intern turned to the great leader and said:

“You should probably first speak to the President of Europe, sometimes referred to as the Head of the Council of Ministers, because he is the top guy in Europe.  This is a new job, so he has only been in power for a few months – a lovely chap called Van Rompuy who is very keen to engage on the world stage, but since he does not have any real powers, I would advise that you contact José Manuel Barroso because he has been around for a long time and is President of the European Commission which is responsible for policy and legislation. But there again, Sir, as you know the Commission is a weakened institution, and I am not sure that they would be able to push your great idea without the support of some important people!”

The great leader interjected and asked how many other important people there were in Brussels that he should consider meeting as he was very busy and needed to speak to the most important leader.

The intern blushed and explained that there was another President, namely that of the European Parliament, the only democratically elected institution representing the interests of European citizens. At this point the great leader said that this was the man! But then the intern began to look agitated.

“Well go on then,” the great leader enquired of the intern, “explain to me if I should not see him, what other President should I consider?”

The intern went on to explain that it was not so much other Presidents as other Prime Ministers, such as Mr Brown and Ms Merkel, although she is a “Chancellor”, and, of course, there was Mr Sarkozy who was actually another President.

The great leader looked him in the eye and said:  “But this Mr Sarkozy, is he more or less important that the other Presidents?” Now there was a question…

The intern was by now fully engaged and explained that this President and those Prime Ministers were really very important indeed because they were the leaders of the three most important countries in Europe and that they were actually more important than the President of the Commission, the Parliament, and the so-called Council of Ministers, and that if he really wanted to conclude this agreement he would definitely need their support.

The great leader reflected on what he had just learnt and finally proclaimed that he understood that he had to speak, not to one, but to six Presidents, and that in many ways he thought this very original and democratic, albeit it a little exaggerated. But he was nonetheless willing to give it a go, so he ordered his advisors to set up these meetings and told them he was going to Brussels the next day.

Upon hearing this news, the most senior advisor grew paler by the second and eventually asked the great leader to consider some additional factors. The great leader, pleased with his earlier solution, managed to grunt “What else now!?”

The advisor explained that he would not be able to visit all six at the same time or in the same place. The great leader looked more perplexed than ever and asked exactly how many places he would have to visit in order to meet them all. Having studied the calendar of the EU institutions the intern stated proudly that the great leader would have to first go to Brussels, then Strasbourg because it was Parliament plenary week, and finally to London, Paris and Berlin.

“Anything else, I should be considering?” asked the great leader.

A dead silence reverberated around the room as the advisors gathered their courage to explain that there were indeed a few more people to consider, such as the EU Health Commissioner John Dalli, but that he was on business in Malta next week, and then there was Baroness Ashton, the Commissioner responsible for foreign affairs and security policy who was also Vice-President of the Commission and a great ally of America, and then of course there was the Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response who would have to be considered. And why not the head of the WHO in Geneva?

The great leader, known for his composure, sat back, put his head in his hands and was heard mumbling.

“So I have to see six Presidents/Prime Ministers/Chancellors in five locations, three Commissioners, one in Malta and two in Brussels, and some leader in Geneva – so that makes 10 people in seven cities.”

Surveying his advisors he asked: “So if I see all 10 people in 7 cities all will be fine?”

By then he knew the answer and challenged his intern to surprise him. The intern, knowing that he was coming to the end of his work placement, provided a very pragmatic answer.

“They will most likely all agree with you, Sir, but at the same time they all disagree with each other, and reaching an agreement could take literally years as the EU decision-making process is based on full stakeholder participation and consultation and is therefore very time consuming!”

Itching to speak, but not daring to, one of the other advisors finally mustered up all his courage and explained that as far as he knew there was also the Prime Minster of Spain whom the great leader should meet, because his country currently holds the EU Presidency.

“In fact”, the advisor continued, “you should also speak with the Prime Ministers of Belgium and Hungary because they share the Presidency with Spain in this new troika system.”

His fellow advisors were astonished at their colleague who had neglected to mention the role of the national parliaments which have now been given the power to reject EU proposals if they feel the issue could be dealt with better by them.

“How many of these are there?” the great leader asked.

“Oh, only 27 for the moment,” replied his advisors.  “But there could be 30 very soon…”

The great leader, who by then was lost in deep thought, very quickly came out of his reverie to claim that he would abandon his initiative with the EU altogether and instead would propose it to the UN, as this would definitely be quicker and would resolve the problem at a global level.

All looked at each other, and for the first time that morning smiles appeared on all their faces. The perfect solution had been found!

“No wonder the EU was not at the final table negotiating the climate change no-deal!” reflected the great leader that evening.

– Russell

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This meeting is off-limits! (Stop sign by Peter Griffin via PublicDomainPictures.net)

With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the Council of the European Union “is obliged to meet in public when it deliberates and votes on European legislation”.

Good, it makes everyone’s jobs easier, except perhaps for Ministers and diplomats. But will it work? Doubtful.

As one journalist informed The Lobby, the breakfast meeting of one of this week’s Council meetings lasted until two in the afternoon!

Apparently, diplomats were stuck outside the negotiating room drinking coffee for hours, unable to follow the breakfast meeting via their usual listening room (adjacent to the negotiation room), as they no longer have this option under the new Treaty.

This was echoed by a Council official The Lobby spoke to earlier in the week, who stated when asked how negotiations during a certain Council were going, “I don’t even have access”.

This begs the question of whether Lisbon has taken us from closed sessions to eternal breakfasts and never-ending lunches – effectively turning these into closed sessions, out of sight of the web streaming cameras.

In the quest for more transparent decision-making, have we ended up with an even more opaque Council?

– Emil

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The sealed signatures of the Treaty of Lisbon (© European Communities, 2009)

Some would clearly say yes. Others will just look at you with big open eyes and ask what you are on about?!

When sitting in Brussels and dealing with EU affairs, the Lisbon Treaty is a BIG thing because it gives more power to Brussels to make policies and legislation which will directly impact businesses and the lives of millions of people and, ultimately, move the EU cause forward, dare I say, positively.

But if you are a citizen sitting in your armchair, what would you be thinking?

“Oh god, more interference from Brussels, more power to those grey technocrats who will simply come up with more rules to bend or unbend my bananas, perhaps even change the natural orange colour of my carrots, or better still tell me where to place my electric plug in relation to my bidet – at least to those Europeans who know what they are supposed to be used for!”

If you are a businessperson sitting at your desk, you will be considering what new laws Brussels will come up with which will impact, and most probably, restrict the way you do my business, which means you will need to spend more time, resources and money representing and defending your interests when all you really want to do is go about doing your business!

And here lies the irony. In their wisdom, those who came up with the Lisbon Treaty, aka the Constitution, wanted to make a better Europe, one that would work more efficiently, that would conform to citizens’ wishes, one that would get the thumbs up from the Europeans. Yet, on the whole we Europeans do not understand what the EU is about. Only 47% turned up to elect the new Parliament – the institution with at least the same amount of power to that of the Member States, but the only one actually elected by the people – and in many instances the EU is an unknown quantity…sorry to say this, but this is the majority perception.

So, what should we make of all this? It comes down to communications from Brussels to the Member States, but also the buy-in from the Member States themselves – that is surely the greatest challenge. Our respective governments and parliaments have to become de facto EU allies, rather than partners in crime, but this will take a long time. The good news, however, is that we have plenty of it…after all the European Union, now for the first time a legal entity, is only 52 years old – “barely out of nappies” to some; “in the prime of life” to others.

– Russell

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When races for top jobs are on, a complicated combination of criteria come into the picture. In EU politics, this matter is even more complex since a balance has to be found between big and small EU countries, north and south, men and women and left and right.

This is reflected in the current race for the new top jobs of President of the Council and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Indeed, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has admitted that it will be difficult to fill all the criteria.

The UK is putting a major hurdle in the way called Tony Blair. UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown still backs Mr Blair for being the first President of the EU, despite his unpopularity in several countries over his support for the war in Iraq. In addition, pro-Europeans do not see a politician from the UK as an ideal candidate for this post since the UK is neither in the eurozone nor the Schengen area. Mr Brown said that Mr Blair is the only UK candidate for these EU jobs, supposedly ruling out the possibility of UK Foreign Minister David Miliband becoming the foreign policy chief.

The EPP and the PSE will play a key role in the determination of the top. Indeed, they agreed that the President post will go to the EPP and that the foreign policy position will be a socialist. This deal should exclude Mr Blair’s candidacy as President of the Council.

Mr Brown wants a high profile EU President that can give a ‘face’ to Europe in the world. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders prefer a facilitator and consensus builder rather than a big name that could put them in the shadow. Ideal candidates for them are Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy, the Dutch Prime Minsiter Jan Peter Balkenende, and Luxembourgian Jean-Claude Juncker. All of them are from the EPP.

Such a scenario could lead the way for a more forceful foreign policy chief from a big country, and a socialist. Massimo D’Alema, former Italian Foreign Minister who is supported by the socicalists is seen as the frontrunner if Mr Miliband confirms his unavailability. Mr D’Alema’s candidacy also has the support of the centre-right Italian Government, but his past as an affiliate of the Italian Communist Party could be a major obstacle for receiving support from the Eastern European countries.

Mr D’Alema is considered more pro-European and left-wing than Mr Miliband. Therefore, Mr Balkenende could be favoured for the post of President, since he is considered less federalist and more right-wing than Mr Van Rompuy.

A special summit to choose the top jobs will be held on 19 November, but leaders still have a long way to go. However, The Lobby feels that early candidates are going to be ditched along the way, as usually happens in negotiations for EU posts.

And where are the female candidates?

– Ilja

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Rob bw

Not the future EU President

Before continuing with this blog-post I would like to clarify one thing, once and for all.

I will not be announcing my candidacy for the new role of EU President.

Some of you may be surprised that I was in the running at all.  In fact, I never formally announced my candidacy, but one night in Stoumelings I understand that my name was banded around (did you now? – ed) – perhaps half in irony, who knows? – but nonetheless, Brussels is a small place and such talk can spread like wildfire.  Sooner or later my name could have been mentioned in the company of Tony Blair, Herman Van Rompuy, and Jan Peter Balkenende.

I cannot deny that I considered it for a fleeting moment, but in the end I have taken the decision that if the Swedish Presidency were to come to me and say that there had been consensus on my appointment in the Council I would have turned it down.  Why?

Because – and let’s be honest here – I cannot, in the words of UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, “stop the traffic in Beijing,” even if I wanted to.  Furthermore, if the job is merely that of a glorified Chairman (as now seems to be its destiny), intent on finding muddy compromises between the EU-27, I don’t feel that this is the role I want the President of Europe to have.  I would be going against my own principles.

The President of the EU! Population 500 million.  The largest trading bloc in the world.  Yet the economic giant will remain a political pygmy if its President is reduced to the role of a non-descript fonctionnaire.

Many Europeans cannot name a single MEP, let alone the President of the Commission, but it would be nice if they knew who the President of the EU was.  After all, he or she will de-facto be representing their interests in the halls of the White House and on the roundabouts (so it would appear) of Beijing.

So unless the new President’s role is wide-ranging, attention-grabbing, and media-attracting, I hereby rule myself out of the running.

– Rob

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As already mentioned by The Lobby in June (see Pirates could secure two seats in new European Parliament) the Swedish Pirate Party has secured another seat in the European Parliament following the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.

Amelia Andersdotter, 22, is on her way to Brussels, thanks to the Lisbon Treaty, perhaps ironically, a Treaty she is personally not in favour of. But as she says herself in an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, “if it now has to enter into force, it’s good that the Pirate Party gains another seat…[as] two people can perform double the amount of work” (free translation).

She effectively becomes the European Parliament’s youngest MEP.

Well done, say we at The Lobby!

– Emil

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The Lobby poll on the Irish referendum closed on Sunday, and you may (or may not be) pleased to know that our results were almost identical to that of the actual poll on the emerald isle.

For The Lobby poll, 66% voted yes to the Treaty, 31% no, and 3% would have spoilt their ballot paper.

In the official referendum, 67% said yes and 33% said no (presumably the other 1% spoilt their ballot paper – we cannot be sure).

Either way, if the Treaty needed any further bolstering it can look to our poll as representing an alternative voice of the people.  Now what do you have to say about that Mr Klaus?

– Rob

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