Why a plural, you may ask? With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009, isn’t there simply one permanent President of the Council? Well, not really is the answer. Things are rarely simple at EU level, as outlined below.
Permanent President of the Council
Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009, the Council has a permanent President, elected for two years and a half (renewable once) by qualified majority (though the first President, Herman Van Rompuy, was appointed unanimously).
The President of the European Council mainly has two tasks:
- The representation of the Union that has a legal personality under the Lisbon Treaty; and
- The chairing and coordination of the European Council.
So basically, the President sets the agenda (even though the role of the Secretary-General of the Council – currently Pierre de Boissieu – is not to be underestimated), brokers deals, gives feedback to the other institutions and shakes hands.
The appointment of the Permanent President and the fact that the European Council now is a formal institution have also rendered the physical meetings of the European Council more regular, the recurrence of meetings being set at twice per 6 months (except if a special meeting is required).
Rotating Presidencies & Who does what?
Contrary to what some think, the appointment of a Permanent President has not put an end to the system of rotating presidencies, under which the Presidency of the Council is held in rotation every 6 months by a different Member State, in accordance to a pre-defined order set in a Council Decision.
Under Art. 16 par 9 of the Lisbon Treaty, Member States will continue to chair most of the Council configurations (see Section B – “How Council Works”), except for the Foreign Affairs Council, which is chaired by the High Representative, and the European Council (heads of State and Government), which is chaired by the permanent President. The same combination will apply to the Coreper chairmanship, although some documents indicate that as regards foreign affairs preparatory bodies, a split will exist between those chaired by the rotating presidency and those chaired by a representative of the High Representative.
In other words, the chairmanships of meetings will be as follows:
- European Council: chaired by Permanent President
- Foreign Affairs Council: chaired by the High Representative
- Eurogroup (initially an informal monthly meeting of Economy and Finance Ministers of the Member States of the Euro area that has received a formal status through the Lisbon Treaty): chaired by the Eurogroup Chairman, appointed separately by the Council members for a two and a half year term.
The country holding the rotating Presidency plays an important role in organising the work of these Council configurations, both in terms of their political agenda and in terms of advancing legislative procedures.
Since 2007, each of the rotating Presidencies works in “troika”, i.e. in close cooperation as a “Trio of Presidencies”, with both the preceding Presidency and the next one, to ensure a certain level of coherence and planning over 18 months, rather than just 6 months. This coherence is ensured by the fact that the trio of presidencies must put present to the General affairs and External Relations Council at least one month before the 18-month period starts, their joint programme, prepared in collaboration with the Commission.
Until 2020, the order is:
The weight a Presidency has on a country must not be underestimated, when one considers that over a 6 months period they organise an average of 3500 meetings!