The European Council
Foreword by Jacques Delors
It is striking that in the ferment of reflections and proposals on institutional issues which surrounds the work of the Convention on the Future of Europe virtually nothing is said about the role and functions of the European Council, which has brought together regularly since 1975 the heads of state and government of the European Union.. In the copious literature on the institutions of the EU references to this organ are similarly few and far between. It is almost as if, at the dizzy heights where these "summits" take place, the lack of oxygen discourages enthusiasm for investigation or reform. Hence Notre Europe is grateful to Helen Wallace and Philippe de Schoutheete for having helped to fill part of this void. They have taken to their task with an eye for pragmatism and clarification which seem to me ideally suited to the subject. The fact that the European Council had no legal basis from 1975 to 1986 and that it has continued to operate without anything which remotely resembles internal rules of procedure has not stopped it from being the source of all the major decisions taken over the past quarter of a century. Economic and monetary union and enlargement are just two apt examples. It is a real paradox that this organ, so intergovernmental in its composition that it has aroused deep fears since it was created, should have become the permanent engine for deepening European integration. Thus it has become evident that the European Council plays - and should continue to play - an irreplaceable role in the recurrent efforts to develop a politically integrated Europe. It is equally clear, however, that successive enlargements have led to some malfunctions which risk becoming explosive with the imminent almost doubling of the number of member states. In Tony Blair's now famous words: "We cannot go on working like this". Our two authors offer a very clear analysis of the different functions of the European Council and this enables us to focus on its malfunctions as a productive way of sketching possible directions for reform. I am grateful to our authors for not succumbing to the temptation to make sensational proposals. Instead they have sought to hold firmly to the ground of the reasonable in the three core requirements which they emphasise: to establish rules of procedure; to revitalise the "general affairs' function of the Council of Ministers; and to redefine the role of the Presidency. Their commentary is permeated with welcome common sense, such as, for example, the insistence that it is futile to overload the agenda of the European Council with issues which lead to foreseeable high profile failures. Similarly they point to the danger of making an excessively theological contrast between intergovernmental and Community methods, a contrast which the whole history of the European Council invites us to discard. This observation presupposes of course that the Commission is left to play fully the role assigned to it by the founders of the European Union. It is indeed the Commission which has the capacity both to ensure continuity and to make innovative proposals. As experience demonstrates, it is the Commission that is well placed to enable the European Council to concentrate on the essential issues and not to lose itself in an overloaded agenda which becomes impenetrable for the ordinary citizen. Notre Europe is proud to issue this short, clear and well-documented study on a much neglected subject. It is indeed the "reference document for which those interested in European institutions have been waiting". Rarely is this comment so apt.