Stanley's blog

Overall responsibility of an EU Member State for relations with the Union institutions and the other 26 countries lies with the foreign minister. The foreign minister of the rotating presidency is president of the Council and chairs the General Affairs Council. Official communications between other ministries and their equivalents in other Member States are channelled through their respective foreign ministries. This is contrary to the very spirit of the Union, where other Member States do not fall within the same ‘foreign’ category as non-EU countries. This system is anachronistic and only inertia and vested interests inhibit reform.

The entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty provides the opportunity for such reform. The EU foreign policy chief will chair the Foreign Affairs Council, which deals exclusively with non-EU countries. The General Affairs Council will be composed of foreign ministers and chaired by the Presidency’s foreign minister. Hitherto, EU foreign ministers have effectively acted as Europe ministers. The foreign ministers will have their own Council after the new treaty comes into force. Should not the General Affairs Council be composed of Europe Ministers with the necessary authority for coordination within their governments?

The ‘institutional’ role of Member State foreign ministries should cease. Individual ministries should work directly with their equivalents in other Member States with Europe Ministers merely coordinating.

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  1. An interesting idea, but 2 questions:

    (1) Will there actually be much on the agenda for a ‘General Affairs Council’ once the foreign policy issues are taken away?

    (2) What do you do with countries that have been unable or unwilling to make the post of Europe Minister?

    I suppose if a few countries went along the Europe Minister route from 2009 others would follow…?

  2. (1) Oh yes: the General Affairs Council is the main coordinating Council and also addresses an increasing number of dossiers which fall within the competence of more than one Council

    (2) The system would not work unless all 27 Member States agreed; but if most did, it’s hard to imagine a small number refusing.

  3. Would you then propose the “Europe minister” to be a different person than the foreign minister, or could there be a double-hat for the respective minister?

    In Austria, for example, there is one minister for “European and International Affairs”.

  4. This reform is all right. It facilitates the work of ministers by dispensing the functions and work load. But it will have some effects (not entirely constructive) inside the government apparatus of member states, especially those of new ones, which still do not have well established EU affairs coordination mechanisms. It might be that the administration of foreign affairs ministry would not want to relinquish its current standing for other ministries. It is already here in Lithuania that the big row (I would say power struggle is taking place) over who will represent the country in the new General Affairs council: The ministry of Foreign Affairs or some high representative for EU affairs from the Prime minister office. And this struggle is a win-lose situation, doing nothing good good for the country whatsoever. I would say that it is a problem of not enough mature Lithuania’s administration system rather than EU’s and it is just an example what a huge effect the EU treaty changes (in this instance the separation of the GAER Council) may have inside member states.

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