General support with selective criticism for new EU officials

Maja Cimerman and Jure Požgan
Good relations with Van Rompuy restored
The President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, visited Slovenia on 1 December 2009, the day when the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force. On that occasion, the Slovenian Prime Minister (PM) Borut Pahor expressed his conviction that Herman Van Rompuy will “cope with the task” and will be able to “slowly slowly” build a new European institution. During the press conference with Herman Van Rompuy, the Slovenian Prime Minister also explained that he first endorsed the former British PM Tony Blair for the position of the new President of the European Council, because he believed that the European Union needed a leader with a strong political personality who will empower this new EU post. However, with European countries predominantly supporting Herman Van Rompuy, Slovenia backed the Belgian candidate as well. Borut Pahor also emphasised the importance of having a person with a sense for social dialogue and social questions leading the European Council.[1]

Close scrutiny of rotating presidency in light of Slovakia’s turn in 2016

Vladimír Bilčík
Since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force in December 2009, Slovakia’s representatives have been assessing the practical changes in the EU’s institutional architecture rather sporadically. Slovakia’s politicians were consumed with the domestic agenda while campaigning before the country’s parliamentary elections on 12 June 2010. EU institutional issues did not figure prominently in Slovakia’s political debates in the months before the elections. Rather, the salient topics included questions about managing the economic crisis, including, for instance, intensive debates about the financial situation in Greece. Interest in EU institutional reform was largely confined to Slovakia’s diplomats and foreign policy-makers, especially those who are present in Brussels either at the country’s Permanent Representation or in other institutions such as the European Parliament and the European Commission.

A Technical approach to the Lisbon Treaty

Mihai Sebe
The European Council Presidency – between ignorance and disregard…

The Netherlands and the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty: a wait and see attitude

Simone Wolters
Herman Van Rompuy
With regard to the appointment of the President of the European Council, the Dutch media speculated about the Dutch Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, as a rival to Van Rompuy.[1] Balkenende himself denied that there was an active lobby from his side to obtain the position.[2] The national parliament debated about the position of Balkenende in this procedure. The opposition stated that the credibility of the Dutch Prime Minister was downgraded by his apparent ambition to become the first President of the European Council. Politicians in The Hague had mixed feelings about the appointment of Van Rompuy. However, they share a positive view on the appointment of a representative of a small member state.[3]
Little reference has been made in the last months to the role and person of Van Rompuy. The attitude of the Dutch press could be interpreted as an attitude of “wait and see”. The few articles that refer to Van Rompuy himself describe him as a calm consensus seeking person and a pragmatic.[4] In the Netherlands, the idea of more European Council summits, as proposed at the informal summit in February 2010, was not received well. The Dutch Prime Minister has stated that in his opinion four summits should be sufficient.[5]

Implications for Turkey: a full-fledged accession strategy needed

Zerrin Torun
In Turkey, the Lisbon Treaty was regarded as a necessary step for an EU that is less introspective and more open to challenges which may arise from enlargement.[1] It was argued that the treaty would bring the EU closer to a political unity, which would be in the interest of each and every candidate country, with the warning that Turkey now needs a full-fledged accession strategy, as the political identity of the Union is getting stronger.[2]

New posts for more coherence

Stephen Calleya
The new President of the European Council is regarded as the individual who is supposed to bring further coherence to EU policy-making. As former Belgian Prime Minister, he is highly respected and was well received during his brief visit to Malta earlier this year. There is an assumption that his role will supersede the role previously held by the member state of the rotating presidency, but there is a great deal of ambiguity among public opinion about the exact extent to which the rotating presidency modality will be made redundant. The fact that the Spanish EU Presidency has adopted a more or less “business as usual” attitude when it comes to their presidency has not helped to clarify the precise role that the new President of the European Council is expected to play.
The new High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is regarded as an important new actor that should provide a more coherent foreign policy perspective to the EU decision-making process. Criticism of Catherine Ashton in the international media has not been mirrored in the Maltese press. Most of the attention has focused on the policy platform that she is seeking to introduce in line with the Lisbon Treaty agenda with a particular focus on reform of the EU’s diplomatic service.

Large member states stand in the way of Jean-Claude Juncker as first President of the European Council

Jean-Marie Majerus
In Luxembourg, most politicians, as well as public opinion, were happy with Herman Van Rompuy’s nomination as Belgian Prime Minister. He seemed to be the right man in the right place, able to give this neighbouring country the prospect of finding a viable compromise on how Walloons and Flemings could continue living together in peace and mutual understanding.
In the eyes of the Luxembourgish community, the natural candidate for the post of President of the European Council could not have been anybody other than Jean-Claude Juncker. However, in the weeks preceding the decisive Brussels Council, the international press revealed rumours and speculation announcing that Juncker would not be the first President of the European Council. During the decisive Brussels Summit in December 2009, Jean-Claude Juncker could have asked for a vote because “a large majority of delegations were ready to support my candidacy.”[1] One major member state, however, was not keen to support him, but “my friend Van Rompuy did not meet any opposition at all.”[2] Thus, in order not to risk a split in the Union because of his person, he decided to withdraw his candidacy and support his friend Van Rompuy. These rather sad events “left a bad souvenir, but no bitterness,”[3] according to the Luxembourgish Prime Minister.

Both small and big states are equally important to the EU

Jurga Valančiūtė
Lithuanians are happy that the new European Council President came to Lithuania for one of his first official visits
Considering the activities the new the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, the event that called the most attention was that one of his first official visits as President of the European Council was made to Lithuania. Commenting on the event, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said it was very important that the new EU leader had chosen Lithuania for one of his first official visits. According to her, “this indicates that both small and big states are equally important to the EU.”[1] However, there is no wide discussion on the changes to the role of the rotating council presidency, but, as Lithuanian officials state, it is in the interest of Lithuania that the visibility of the country holding the rotating presidency would be preserved and that non-formal meetings of the European Council would be held in it.[2]
Opinions on Ashton’s work split

Divergent views over Van Rompuy and Ashton seem largely negative in Italy

Jacopo Leone
Since his appointment as the new President of the European Council in November 2009, Herman Van Rompuy has inspired sceptical comments and pessimistic analyses, both at the political level as well as in the Italian media coverage. Indeed only few voices, although highly respected, have appeared to reject this general negative opinion.
The Italian political leaders expressed common frustration on the appointment of Van Rompuy. Pierluigi Bersani, leader of the main opposition party, has spoken of a “low profile” personality, which symbolises a bad start for the EU after the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.[1] More prudent in his statement has been the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who described the decision as “the only possible compromise.”[2]
Moreover, a deep scepticism over the political figure of Van Rompuy also characterises the comments in the Italian press and research community. The ‘opaque Flemish leader’ has often been judged as a minimalist choice, lacking the strong personal authority which is deemed necessary to effectively operate in a fragmented and confused EU.[3] Van Rompuy’s nomination seemed, therefore, to suggest a lack of political ambition, the loss of a truly pro-European sentiment among national leaders, and the demise of any aspiration of global leadership by the EU.[4]

Jury still out on Lisbon

Shane Fitzgerald
The provisions of the Lisbon Treaty are probably more familiar to the weary voters of Ireland than to any other citizens in Europe. Although two hard-fought referendum campaigns saw everything from abortion to military conscription to unemployment being deployed as political weapons and distractions, the core innovations of the treaty did get a fair airing and are relatively well understood. Less well understood is how exactly these innovations will play out in practice. The work of President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, for example, is watched with interest in Ireland but, in the context of a landscape of European political leadership that remains cluttered and contested, a consensus as to the skill with which he is carrying out his duties has yet to be reached.