Derek E. Mix
Analyst in European Affairs
Changes introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, the European Union’s (EU’s) reform treaty that took effect on December 1, 2009, have a significant impact on EU governance. The EU is an important partner or interlocutor of the United States in a large number of issues, but the complicated institutional dynamics of the EU can be difficult to navigate.
The Lisbon Treaty makes substantial modifications in the leadership of the EU, especially with regard to the European Council, the Council of Ministers, and the EU’s rotating presidency. Every six months, the “EU Presidency” rotates among the 27 member states. Under the treaty, however, the leader of the presidency country no longer serves as the temporary chair and spokesman of the European Council, the grouping of the EU’s 27 national leaders. This duty now belongs to the newly created President of the European Council, who serves a once-renewable two-and-a-halfyear term.
In addition, the foreign minister of the presidency country no longer chairs the meetings of EU foreign ministers in the Council of the EU (commonly known as the Council of Ministers). This duty is now performed by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, another newly created position whose holder serves a five-year term and is both an agent of the Council of Ministers and a Vice President of the European Commission. Many of the day-to-day duties of the rotating presidency country, however, will continue under the Lisbon Treaty.
Ministers of the presidency country will still chair all of the meetings of the Council of Ministers other than in the area of foreign policy. The presidency country is expected to continue preparing and arranging these activities, and playing a leading role in the Council of Ministers to forge agreement on legislative proposals. The presidency country is also expected to help formulate a few broad policy priorities for its tenure. The EU remains in an extended phase of institutional transition as the new arrangements of the Lisbon Treaty are implemented, and the rotating presidency country is expected to support the development of the new institutions and positions. Hungary holds the rotating presidency for the first half of 2011, and Poland will hold it for the second half of the year. Spain and Belgium held the rotating presidency in 2010.
EU foreign policy decisions of a political or security-related nature require unanimous intergovernmental agreement among the 27 member states. In many other issues which may relate to external affairs, however, EU members have agreed to pool their decision-making sovereignty. A number of additional EU actors often have particular relevance in these matters. The President of the European Commission represents the EU externally on issues that are managed by the Commission, including many economic, trade, and environmental issues. Many of the issues in which the European Parliament acts as a “co-legislator,” such as trade and data protection, relate to external affairs. Some observers also suggest that the Parliament has become an increasingly important forum for debating international issues.
Changes in the structure of EU governance may be of interest to the 112th Congress. For more information, also see CRS Report RS21372, The European Union: Questions and Answers, by Kristin Archick and Derek E. Mix and CRS Report RS21618, The European Union’s Reform Process: The Lisbon Treaty, by Kristin Archick and Derek E. Mix.
Date of Report: May 16, 2011
Number of Pages: 10
Order Number: R41088
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