The Presidency of the Council of the EU is held by each of the 27 Member States in turn for a period of six months. The handover of the chair of the Council of the EU takes place from each rotating Presidency to the next one, on January 1st or July 1st each year. Following the Council Decision of 1 January 2007, the order of rotating presidencies was determined up until 2020. The assumption of the Presidency of the Council of the EU is a privilege and an obligation of each EU Member State, introduced in the Treaty establishing European Communities of 1957.
In order to achieve coherence and effectiveness of Council work towards implementing the Union’s objectives, it was decided in 2007 to establish the idea of a group of presiding countries. In particular, three consecutive Presidencies (the so called “Trio” presidency) coordinate their objectives for an 18 month period and prepare a common Programme which presents these objectives.
Each rotating Presidency ensures the smooth functioning of the Council, represents the EU in international conferences, organises meetings and sets the agenda for the Council, the COREPER and other Council preparatory bodies. The Presidency, also, promotes policy decisions, acting as an honest broker, aiming at reaching consensus among the 27 member states, in a way that always supports the EU interests. The Presidency has the opportunity to formulate, in cooperation with EU institutions, the decisions taken by the Council, on the basis of the dossiers that are inherited by previous Presidencies, as well as the forthcoming proposals. However, the Presidency can focus on certain important issues, which also, to a great extent, define the identity of the Presidency.
Chairing the Council of the EU is actually,
… acting in an executive capacity undertaking the planning, organising, coordinating and chairing of meetings of the Council and its preparatory bodies, as well as the various EU meetings including intergovernmental conferences.
… acting as mediator by steering discussions in order to reach consensus and by finding compromise solutions in issues between member states, as well as managing crises.
… representing the Council at meetings with other EU bodies, in particular with the European Parliament and the European Commission. In this context, the Presidency is responsible for promoting initiatives aiming to promote European integration and the smooth functioning of the EU’s institutions and ensuring continuity and consistency in European policy.
… concluding international agreements on behalf of the Union.
… acting in close cooperation with the General Secretarial of the Council for the efficient preparation within the Council.
The Presidency and other institutional actors
The Lisbon Treaty established new institutional actors: the permanent President of the EU Summits of Heads of State or Government of Member States (known as European Council), currently Herman Van Rompuy from Belgium, who leads the work in the European Council, and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, currently Catherine Ashton from the UK, who organises the work of EU foreign policy in the Council’s configuration for foreign affairs. These developments have modified the role of the rotating Presidency, as the European Council and the Foreign Affairs Council are no longer chaired by the Presidency.
The Presidency works very closely with both the President of the European Council and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
With the entering into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, the role of the European Parliament has been enhanced, as the ordinary legislative procedure (known as co-decision) applies to the majority of the EU policy areas, making the European Parliament a co-legislator, with the Council of the EU. Hence, the Parliament has been empowered and good cooperation with it is an imperative for a successful Presidency.