No. 35




History of Presidency of European Union – Attention shifted from administration to politics *

08 June 2017


RiTo No. 35, 2017

  • Paavo Palk

    Paavo Palk

    Head of the Political Department of the European Commission Representation in Estonia, historian

Organization of meetings and events in the Presidency country as well as laying out of the agenda and facilitating the agreements have always been the main tasks of the Presidency country of the EU. The increased number of Member-States and discussion topics has also increased the importance of the Presidency country in influencing politics throughout the EU’s history. As the number of Member-States has increased, their interests have also become more diverse. And when the European Parliament received more rights to participate in the decision-making processes the Presidency country was forced to work more actively towards finding compromises in the EU legislation. From that point onwards it went beyond merely organizing meetings.

The growing political burden is also reflected in the increasing number of staff of the Presidency country in the permanent representation of the Member-State to the EU in Brussels. In 1975, Ireland increased the number of their staff from 15 to 24. In 2001, Sweden increased their staff from 91 to 151, and in 2009 – from 120 to 180. This year, Estonia will increase the number of staff  in the Permanent Representation of Estonia to the EU from 80 to 200.

The Presidency has also attracted more media and public attention to the Presidency country in the second half of the 1990es and in the beginning of the 2000s, when most Presidency countries would organize two sessions of the European Council.

The Member-States have stated in the Treaty of Lisbon that the responsibilities of the Presidency country in supervising the activities of the European Council and the foreign and security policy are to be handed over to other institutions, as the Treaty was based on the agreements reached during the Convent on the Future of Europe. Most of the members of the Convent wished to see a better integrated Europe, more akin to a single state.

It is interesting to note that this year more summits than ever within the last five years will be held outside Brussels. First, the unofficial European Council meeting on Malta, followed by the summit in Rome to celebrate the 60th anniversary of signing the Treaty of Rome. Apart from that, a meeting of the European Council focusing on the social issues is scheduled for Gothenburg in autumn. It is also possible that another EU summit will take place in Tallinn in autumn this year. This one will focus on digital matters.

It is only natural to ask if the influence of the Presidency is being used in the national interests. Most of the researchers claim the exact opposite. In most cases the Presidency country is more modest in protecting their own interests and more centred on achieving a consensus between all Member-States, and then a consensus between the Council of the European Union, which represents all the Member-States, and the European Parliament.

Scientific articles often point out that small states have had more success with their Presidencies than large states, as they have been better at finding compromises. The Presidency also once again highlights the fact that small countries are, so to say, overrepresented in the EU from the point of view of size and population. They hold the Presidency as often as the large states, and have the same rights and responsibilities.

* Responsibility for the views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.