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About this book

This systematic assessment of the -often opaque- European Council looks at its characteristics, leaders and output as well as its impact on EU supranational and intergovernmental dynamics. Taking account of historical and contemporary developments up to and beyond the Lisbon Treaty, it encourages in-depth understanding of this key institution.

Table of Contents

The European Council: Overview and History

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. Introduction: The Many Faces of the European Council

Abstract
‘Summits’ are often portrayed as epoch-defining events. Historical narratives and political myths tell us that the national leaders or commanders-in-chief of the great powers meet to agree on a lasting world order, to fix borders and thus decide the fate of nations. In line with such expectations, national leaders of EU states have also established their own summit, known as the ‘European Council’, and have used this institution since its creation in 1974 to shape fundamental developments in the construction of the European Union within contemporary history.
Wolfgang Wessels

Chapter 2. Multiple Approaches for Understanding a Contested Institution: Three Models

Abstract
Given the importance of the European Council’s role, it is not surprising that its position has been highly controversial. From French President Charles de Gaulle’s first proposal for the establishment of such an institution in 1960, right up to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s strong support for the European Council as a central element of what she calls the ‘Union Method’ (Merkel, 2010), this body has regularly been categorised as either the ‘Saviour’ or the ‘Villain’ of European integration (Bulmer and Wessels, 1987: 1–3). As a consequence, there is intense debate about the political functions and institutional features of the European Council.
Wolfgang Wessels

Chapter 3. Pre-History: The Birth of Institutionalised Summitry

Abstract
‘Le Sommet européen est mort; vive le conseil européen.’ (The European summit is dead, long live the European Council.) (Giscard d’Estaing, 1974) — with this exclamation the French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, as host and chairperson of the last nonregular summit, announced the creation of the European Council in Paris in 1974 (Moreau Defarges, 1988: 35).
Wolfgang Wessels

Chapter 4. History: Generations of Leaders and the Institutional Trajectory

Abstract
To understand the significance and the roles of the European Council it is necessary to study the history of this key institution over the four decades of its lifetime. Since a detailed study of each of the more than 130 summit sessions (see Figure 1.1) is not feasible I have chosen to concentrate on significant periods in the integration process (see Marhold, 2009; Marhold, 2011; Elvert, 2006; Loth, 2014). As a contribution to identifying major patterns of continuity and change, I propose to single out five periods within the European Council’s forty years of existence. Each of them focuses on generations of leading members in their respective historical contexts.
Wolfgang Wessels

The Role of the European Council within the EU Architecture

Frontmatter

Chapter 5. Political and Procedural Leadership: General Functions and Specific Powers

Abstract
As the European Council is widely regarded as the’ supreme political authority’ (Hayes-Renshaw and Wallace, 2006: 1, 173) or as the ‘principal decision maker’ (De Schoutheete and Micossi, 2013: 1; see also Chapter 2), this chapter takes a closer look at its functions within the Union’s institutional architecture. It studies the general procedural and political powers of the European Council within the EU policy cycle and it explores some of the institution’s specific tasks, particularly its powers as an elective body. Both de facto and de jure, several generations of members have considerably enlarged the responsibilities and powers of the European Council. They have, thus, asserted ‘an overall political leadership on EU affairs’ (Piris, 2010: 208).
Wolfgang Wessels

Chapter 6. Towards a New Institutional Balance? Trends in Inter-Institutional Relations

Abstract
A key point of interest in the study of the European Council as the ‘supreme political institution’ (Giscard d’Estaing as cited in Norman, 2003: 224; see also Chapter 2) is not only its claim to a leadership role (as identified in Chapter 5) but also its real impact on what is generally called the ‘institutional balance’ of the EU (see for example Monar, 2011; Jacqué, 2010a; Bonvicini and Regelsberger, 1988: 186–196; Jacqué and Simon, 1988: 119–129). It is, therefore, important to consider its relationships with other organs in the ‘institutional framework’ (as defined by the Lisbon TEU in Art.13). The European Council itself drew attention to ‘the balances which have always been an important feature of European construction’ (Dublin, December 1996).
Wolfgang Wessels

Inside the European Council: The Dynamics of Decision-Making

Frontmatter

Chapter 7. The Presidency: Charismatic Master or Facilitating Manager?

Abstract
How and why national leaders adopt consensual agreements in matters of high political salience for their states and their own domestic power positions is an intriguing and important issue in the study of the European Council. The following chapters look at the dynamics of the decision-making inside the European Council. They identify the opportunity structures (see Chapter 8) and negotiating instruments used to achieve consensus (see Chapter 9). They also analyse power-related factors and forces influencing the internal working of the institution (see Chapter 10).
Wolfgang Wessels

Chapter 8. Rules for Organisation: The Search for an Optimal Institutional Arrangement

Abstract
Every institution needs to establish a set of rules and standard operating procedures to ensure that it works properly. Organisational arrangements are not just matters of management and efficiency: formal opportunities and constraints also have considerable implications for the way power is exercised.
Wolfgang Wessels

Chapter 9. Decision-Making: The Ways to Consensus Formation

Abstract
Conventional common sense suggests that the national leaders are, arguably, strong-willed politicians who are not (re-)elected in national campaigns on a manifesto to design any kind of federal finalité for Europe but who are, supposedly, inclined to defend narrow and short-term national interests. As each member disposes of the right to a veto under the rules of consensus (see Art.15(4) TEU), this conventional wisdom would expect a series of internal fights and deadlocks which would destroy the weight and impact of the body and which would consequently reduce the interest and engagement of top national leaders in contributing actively to the European Council’s success. Traditional views would expect a vicious cycle involving limited or no success, leading to a downgrading of engagement which in return would lead to an even poorer performance by the European Council.
Wolfgang Wessels

Chapter 10. Decision-Making: The Power Dimension

Abstract
To provide answers to the puzzle of how and why national leaders adopt far-reaching agreements, it is necessary to look at the dynamics and constraints of leadership in the European Council, taking into consideration the impact of cleavages within the group of national leaders. Of particular interest are the relations between large and small Member States, which may lead to a restricted group of leaders and a large group of followers. Compared with the more formal sessions of the Council of Ministers, the differences in the power wielded by individual members are apparently more directly visible in the deliberations and decision-making within the assembly of national leaders. In this context the role of the Franco-German tandem and the potential power of Germany as a ‘reluctant hegemon’ (Bulmer and Paterson, 2013; see also Krotz and Schild, 2013) are highly relevant. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I argue that the European Council serves the interests of smaller states: This body provides the political leaders of smaller states with the opportunity to have their voices heard and thus reduces any trends towards a directorate dominated by the larger members. Besides the issue of power relations, this chapter also looks at the impact of other cleavages, such as party affiliation and integration attitudes.
Wolfgang Wessels

Activities, Agreements and Acts

Frontmatter

Chapter 11. Deepening: The Constitutional Architect

Abstract
The relevance of the European Council as a decision-maker in the real world of the EU system is illustrated by a broad and varied set of activities, agreements and acts. Part IV of this book analyses these more closely by looking at the European Council’s system- making in pursuit of ‘deepening and widening’ as well as its policy-making in core areas of economic governance, external action and the area of freedom, security and justice.
Wolfgang Wessels

Chapter 12. Widening: The Master of Enlargement

Abstract
Widening has for very many years been an essential part of system-making in the EU. The question of who should belong to the ‘family’, and under which conditions, has long been a vital matter for the Heads of State or Government. With an active enlargement policy (see for example Lippert, 2011; Schimmelfennig, 2001) the Union’s political leaders have pursued significant political objectives. One major motivation has been to stabilise the political order of nascent democracies in the South and then in the East, thus providing more security through shaping and influencing the development of the Union’s regional neighbourhood. In consequence accession issues have been high on the agenda of the European Council (Alexandrova et al., 2014).
Wolfgang Wessels

Chapter 13. Economic Governance: Towards a ‘gouvernement économique’?

Abstract
Besides studying system-making agreements, this book deals with the activities, agreements and acts of the European Council in key areas of EU policy-making. Issues of economic governance are particularly high on its agenda. The various monetary, fiscal, employment, social and other economic policies that constitute this domain are usually regarded as the most important, or are at least the most frequently discussed, areas of the European Council’s policy-making (see for example Puetter, 2014; Van Rompuy, 2010a). Following their problem-solving instincts, the Union’s political leaders since the 1970s have made regular and extensive use of the European Council to cope with the economic challenges facing their countries.
Wolfgang Wessels

Chapter 14. External Action: In Search of a Coherent and Effective Global Role

Abstract
Besides the economic items on the European Council’s agenda, national leaders have given high priority to strengthening the role of the European Union as ‘an effective actor’ (September 2010) or even as ‘a strong global actor’ (June 2014). During its lifetime the European Council has thus regularly played ‘its role in setting the Union’s strategic compass’ (Van Rompuy, 2012a: 14).
Wolfgang Wessels

Chapter 15. The Area of Freedom, Security and Justice: Pre-Constitutional and Pre-Legislative Functions

Abstract
The range of public policies with which the European Council concerns itself is increasingly broad and state-like. Besides economic and monetary issues and external affairs another area central to national sovereignty with which the European Council has become intensively involved is justice and home affairs (JHA). The Heads of State or Government have repeatedly and increasingly used the European Council to shape procedural and institutional opportunities for the Union’s involvement in significant issues in this policy field, which the Amsterdam Treaty labelled as an ‘area of freedom, security and justice’ (AFSJ).
Wolfgang Wessels

Conclusions and Perspectives: A Key Institution’? Rise and Decline?

Frontmatter

Chapter 16. The European Council: Looking Back to Look Forward

Abstract
Any observer looking at the record of the European Council may be puzzled about not just the number but also the diversity of this institution’s faces. However, based on the evidence summarized in previous chapters, one overall conclusion seems possible. In several forms and ways the European Council has turned out to be perhaps the key institution in the EU polity. Beyond such a general statement no single assessment of its political functions, institutional features and impact is convincing. There is no simple mono-causal argument to explain its past record and predict its future. The institutional models have proven useful in offering points of reference, but none provides a consistent analysis of the European Council’s varied set of activities and agreements which cover a broad range of public policies. The findings demonstrate considerable variations of performance. Intensive debate and disagreement about how to assess on the European Council’s overall role is thus possible and is explored below.
Wolfgang Wessels
Additional information