N° 35, 2011/3 – Presiding over the European Union. Presidency of the European Council and System of Government


edited by Michel Mangenot, 2011/3 (n°35)


Michel Mangenot – The European Council’s Presidency: A Sociology of an EU Institution

While the European Council has long been considered a mere interstate body within the European political system, its presidency has been studied both in terms of responsibility without power or as an opportunity to pursue national interests, an opposition that has proven somewhat ineffective. Hypothesizing the Europeanization of the presidency, this introduction analyzes this function as an institution even though it has does not have that formal status. Gradually institutionalized since its modest inception in 1952, it has since the 1980s acted as a system of government in its own right, which raises questions about the incarnation, rotation, delegation, and temporality of power. Lastly, this introduction presents the papers that make up this thematic issue and develop a new historical and political sociology of the presidential office from the perspective of inter-institutional relations and competition between European institutions and no longer between Brussels and national capitals only.


Ana Mar Fernández Pasarín – The Reform of the Council Presidency: paving the way for a new synergy with the European Commission?

The reform of the presidential system exerts an influence over the dialectic of power between the Council Presidency and the Commission. Since the late 1990s, several key innovations have been introduced to the rotating system in order to improve the continuity of the Council’s work. These functional changes such as the new stable, team and super partes presidencies involve a break from the traditional “national profile of the Presidency. The aim of this article is to analyse this process of institutional conversion and to explore how it seems to affect the relationship with the Commission. The hypothesis rests on the idea that the reform of the presidential system, and in particular the increasing tendency towards communitarisation that it sets in motion, is an intervening variable for the development of co-operative rather than conflictive inter-institutional dynamics.


Yann-Sven Rittelmeyer – The Institutionalization of the European Council’s Presidency: Institutional Dependence and Franco-German Inflections

Following its pragmatic emergence in the EU political landscape, the Presidency of the European Council was the most visible part of the rotating Presidency until the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. An in-depth analysis of this function shows its long dependency on the half-year exercise. The Institutionalization of the Presidency of the European Council was primarily marked by two periods of inflection during which the behaviours of the actors, especially French and German leaders, have tailored a presidential role dissociated from the rotating presidency. The emergence of this supranational role has led to heightened tensions over questions of identity, due to its exercise by national leaders. Moreover, the secondary nature of its legal formalization as regards reflections and codifications by the actors themselves is clearly underlined by this institutional construction.


Yves Buchet de Neuilly – Under the Hold of the EU Presidency: Diplomats’ Structural Moves, Reconstruction of Interests, and Strategies. Structural Shifts and Building Diplomatic Strategies and Interests within the Council

Although access to the EU presidency is usually seen as an opportunity for Member States to put forward their own agenda, we cannot understand the effects of the EU presidency within such a state-centric, homogenizing approach, which naturalizes a state’s interests. The resources offered by this status as well as the constraints it imposes change the relative position of Member State representatives as well as their options, expectations, and strategies. The impact of this structural move is not the same for all representatives of a single Member State (here, France in 2008). The varying degrees of investment in the role of the presidency depends primarily on the balance of power and the dynamics and institutions in each field of EU public policy.


Véronique Charléty – How to Prepare for the EU Presidency: National Strategy and Transfer of Practices.

Even after the Lisbon Treaty, the rotating Presidency of the Council is still considered as a political opportunity to be seized by member states as a tool to prove their level of European integration in terms of administrative capacity and efficiency. As a result, the member state concerned by this exercise often makes a demonstrative effort at both national and international levels. With a view to better preparing for Presidency, member states often choose to implement targeted training programs, and sometimes a 3-months to one-year intensive training program. The main objective of these programs is usually to strengthen the administrative capacity of the officials in charge of European affairs by transferring know-how and good practices. Another overall purpose of these programs is to bring to the foreground a common administrative culture. The complexity of the missions incumbent upon the member state exercising the presidency, justifies this effort in training and transfer of expertise. It also makes the use of this « Presidency momentum » as an instrument of legitimization in relation to national and European public opinion.


Sophie Vanhoonacker, Karolina Pomorska, Heidi Maurer – The Presidency in EU External Relations: Who is at the helm?

In the Common Foreign and Security Policy the rotating chair is replaced by the long-term chairmanship of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR), while other areas of EU external relations remain with the rotating presidency. This contribution first examines the historical development of the Presidency in EU external relations. In line with the focus of this special issue it pays special attention to the position of the Presidency vis-à-vis other institutional players. Secondly, it examines the post-Lisbon situation. The double hat of the HR as chair of the Foreign Affairs Council and Vice President of the European Commission radically affects inter-institutional relations. While the HR may bring more continuity and leadership, the position also raises new coordination challenges : not only within the Council and amongst various institutions, but also amongst different dimensions of EU external relations.




Alban Davesne – National Authorities Responding to the Europeanization of Healthcare Access: An Interactionist Approach Built on European Practices

We only have a patchy knowledge about how national authorities responded to the Europeanization of health care access, following the Kohll and Decker rulings on cross-border patient mobility. National responses have often been portrayed as being related to the level of misfit between national institutions and European law. A comparative study of how Swedish and French authorities reacted to cross-border health care developments shows that a more interactionist approach is needed. This paper therefore retraces the processes of implementation and engagement in European policy-making, showing that domestic usages matter the most in the different making of the French and Swedish EU health policies.


Areas of Research


Mehdi Arrignon – Are Employment Policies Being Europeanized? A Comparative Analysis of the “Activation” Reforms in Spain, France, and the Netherlands


Critical Readings


Florence Delmotte – European Stories: Intellectual Debates on Europe in National Contexts