Ferrero-Waldner views team presidencies as a "good compromise"
"Clarity for planning of the Austrian EU Presidency in 2006"
Brussels, 27 October 2003 - Between sessions at the Intergovernmental Conference in Brussels today, Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner said a good compromise had been found on how to design the future system of EU presidencies. "This shows that our intensive efforts at the level of the Intergovernmental Conference have already borne fruit and that we are on the right track. It also shows that the system of assigning this issue, as I had proposed, to a kind of working group has already yielded constructive results," Ferrero-Waldner continued.
The latest proposal is that of a team presidency model based on the equality of the Member States and a system of equal rotation, which also helps to achieve coherence in the work of the Council of Ministers. "Our concern about getting a sufficiently flexible timeframe for the transition from the old to the new presidency system has also been taken into account. This gives us timely clarity for our planning. Because if the old system remains in force, Austria will hold the presidency in the first half of 2006. Under this proposal, the new system cannot be introduced prior to this date without Austria’s consent", the Foreign Minister said.
However, in this context Ferrero-Waldner also emphasised that the issue of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers formations "is closely correlated to other institutional issues, notably that of the Presidency of the European Council" and said that this fact should not be disregarded. "Here too, we will have to find a solution providing for parallel enactment. In my view, there should not be an elected President of the European Council as long as the old presidency system remains in force," Ferrero-Waldner stated. The Austrian Foreign Minister therefore welcomed the fact that the Presidency in its accompanying note expressly confirmed the principle that "nothing is agreed unless everything is agreed."
According to Ferrero-Waldner, a very positive feature in this context is that the function of horizontal coordination is to lie with the Council of Foreign Ministers. "It would not be acceptable to us if the chair of the Council of Foreign Ministers and hence the coordination role were to be passed on to the President of the European Council. That would be an infringement of Europe’s institutional equilibrium," the Foreign Minister said, simultaneously pointing out that with the agreement on the Presidency of the Council of Ministers a regulation had only been found for one partial aspect of the institutional framework. "A good deal of work remains to be done on our way to a satisfactory package encompassing the whole set of institutions," Ferrero-Waldner emphasised.
Asked about the details of the compromise proposal, Ferrero-Waldner explained that in principle she considered it an acceptable compromise to link the six-monthly rotation of the presidencies of the Council of Foreign Ministers and of the Permanent Representatives Committee (COREPER) with teams that shared the chairs in other Council formations over longer periods of time. "I am quite open with regard to the issue of whether 3 or 4 team members should hold the chair for 12, 18 or 24 months. It must be ensured, however, that the teams do not invariably get entangled in endless internal discussions about the composition of the different Council formations. I like the solution of assigning the chair of the subordinate bodies to the Member State that holds the Presidency of the respective Council formation. That helps to ensure vertical coherence", Ferrero-Waldner stated.
The Foreign Minister also expressed her agreement with the proposal that the EU Foreign Minister should take the chair in the External Relations Council. "We might also consider a specific regulation with regard to the chairmanship of the Political and Security Committee (PSC). But this issue has to be examined once the details regarding the status of the Foreign Minister have been resolved. I also agree with the proposal that the concrete composition of the teams should be unanimously agreed by the European Council at a later point in time, once the principles of a system based on strictly equal rotation paying due regard to the geographic equilibrium and the differences between Member States have been laid down in the Constitutional Treaty or Protocol," Ferrero-Waldner said.