Council Reform: Solana Proposals
1. This note sets out the UK view on the
options put forward by Solana in his Barcelona paper on reforming
the Council for enlargement. The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary
have already set out broad objectives in this area (joint letter
with Chancellor Schröder, Hague Speech).
2. The Solana paper covers:
(a) ideas which do not require Treaty change:
(reform of European Council business, reform of the General Affairs
Council, transparency). The UK hopes that agreement can be reached
at Seville in these areas and implemented as soon as possible;
(b) those which require Treaty change.
This paper concentrates on the options which
do not require Treaty change.
The European Council
European Council to focus on major
Abolition of reports, conclusions,
other ``parasitic'' procedures.
Formalisation of rhythm of four meetings
per year and integration into normal pattern of EU activity.
Use of standard meeting procedures
Conclusions replaced by a brief summary
of decisions and agreed strategic guidelines.
Radical reduction of size of delegations;
no ancillary activities.
More structured preparation (including
reduction in council formations).
3. The Solana ideas generally fit well with
the UK idea of a European Council that returns to its original
strategic purpose, within an overall framework based on the existing
4. The key elements of the strategic role
that the UK envisages are: an annual discussion to set a rolling
agenda for the EU for the coming year and beyond; subsequent meetings
to assess progress against this agenda and to give guidance/take
decisions on the most difficult issues it throws up; andas
part of this processto have regular single-theme meetings
on the model of Lisbon and Tampere.
5. This would require major reform of the
way the European Council does its business, to put the time to
better use. At present, the typical first day of a European Council
is not an optimal use of time: lengthy table rounds; occasional
set piece meetings with third parties; too much ceremony.
6. Nor is the conclusions drafting itself
the best use of the European Council's time. Conclusions can act
as a means of cutting through the trickiest issues on the EU agenda,
and as guidance for future Council activity. But too often they
focus on secondary detail at the expense of the big strategic
picture. Heads of Government have to spend far too much time on
detailed drafting. The final product often bears little relation
to the discussions, and is too long to make the right presentation
impact. It is the opposite of a clear and simple picture of the
EU's strategic objectives.
7. On this basis, the UK believes that a
more strategic European Council might function in the following
(a) Current conclusions to be replaced by
a much clearer and shorter (10 pages maximum) statement identifying
progress made since the last European Council, issuing guidance
on the key unresolved issues and, annually, setting out strategic
priorities for the year ahead;
(b) Such a statement to be prepared in advance
(see below) with the bulk pre-agreed. Three of four big issues
to be left to the European Council with suggested options on these;
(c) Agendas to list three or four issues;
(d) Meetings to last one day only, starting,
as now, with the meeting with the EP President. But then: no extraneous
activity, no table rounds, shorter lunches, discussion limited
to the three or four issues and to continue until the statement
(e) Delegations to be far smallersay
an upper limit of 20.
8. All of which is not to say that the European
Council should abandon its discussions on the main international
issues (the MEPP etc) or its negotiating role. It will still have
to do the final deals on the biggest negotiations: future financing
in 2006, for example. But these can be better prepared, to avoid
the Nice experience: see below.
General Affairs Council (GAC)
A new Council of Deputy Prime Ministers.
A new Council of Europe Ministers.
Splitting the GAC into two formationsone
dealing with external relations, the other with horizontal questions.
9. The Solana paper correctly notes that
the GAC does not satisfactorily fulfil its horizontal function.
This should encompass: preparing European Councils; leading the
big horizontal negotiations (eg IGCs, enlargement); and co-ordinating
the work of sectoral Councils.
10. There are serious practical difficulties
with Solana's first two options. Many Member States do not have
a Deputy Prime Minister. Of those that do, the domestic role of
the post would not always fit well with an overarching EU role.
The Europe Ministers' Council option would also run into problems.
First, as with Deputy Prime Ministers, several other Member States
do not have such a post. Second, they may not have the influence
with big domestic Ministries necessary to make the compromises
needed in order to undertake the big horizontal negotiations effectively.
11. This leaves the third option of splitting
the GAC into two formations: one dealing with external relations
(to be called either a Foreign Affairs Council or the GAC(F));
and one dealing with horizontal issues (GAC(H)?). The idea is
attractiveprovided that there was a genuine separation
between the two Councils. But it would not necessarily involve
different Ministers, or Ministries. It would be a matter for Member
States to decide whether their Foreign Ministers/MFAs would be
the lead Ministers/Ministries in both GAC formations. A separate
GAC(H), with a different schedule of meetings, would give those
attending it the time and space properly to focus and negotiate
on these cross-cutting issues.
12. But the answer is not simply one of
creating a new Council, or for Member States to decide who sits
on it. It is as much about its tasks and working methods. So whichever,
if any, of these options emerges, it needs to be accompanied by
some reforms in the way the Council addresses the three main horizontal
tasks (preparation of the European Councils, the big negotiations,
co-ordination). Ideas include:
(a) Preparation of the European Council:
the key to this is GAC involvement in the agenda and Conclusions
process. One route to this is a GAC discussion about a month before
the next European Council, to agree the agenda and set the framework
and subject matter for the Conclusions. There might be follow-up
in the session on the immediate eve of the Council, to go through
the draft Conclusions, with a target of agreeing, in advance,
most of the text. This could be undertaken either by a restricted
meeting of the GAC (Ministers plus Perm Reps) or by a meeting
of Perm Reps/Personal Representatives. But either way, this process
would replace the Presidency pre-Council tour of capitalswhich
would in any case be impractical in an EU of 25 or more and is
increasingly difficult at 15.
(b) The Big Negotiations: The GAC as currently
constructed already plays a role on, for example, IGCs and enlargementbut
could do more. This is not primarily an issue of structures, but
of the time that Ministers in the GAC are able to devote to these
negotiations. The technicality of some of the issues means that
there is always going to be a role for Permanent and Personal
Representatives. But the GAC might set itself the task of resolving
the majority of the issues for decision before the dossier reaches
the European Council. The other advantage of a bigger role for
the GAC is transparency/accountability. It may be that future
IGCs, like the next one, will be prepared by Conventions. It would
not look right if much of the detail of subsequent IGC negotiations
were conducted by officials behind closed doors.
(c) Co-ordination: As far as co-ordinating
the work of other Councils is concerned, it is not clear that
any of the Solana paper options would work. The question would
be better addressed by the President of the European Council working
with the chairs of the sectoral Councils (shared out between a
Team of Member States) to drive through the European Council's
strategic agenda. But this would require Treaty change and cannot
be addressed until the IGC.
13. The GAC might also provide a model of
best practice for improved working methods in all Councils (ideas
like no table rounds, no presentations of Commission proposals,
How much of the legislative process
to open up?
How in practical terms to organise
Should rules be adopted to ensure
14. The UK is in favour of greater transparency
of Council proceedings.
15. We support complete openness when the
Council is legislating. Contriving artificial stages (opening
debate, explanations of vote) will encourage criticism that the
real discussion is still behind closed doors (although in an EU
of 25 plus, serious negotiation is likely in any case to take
place more in informal meetings). The presentational benefits
to the Union of increased transparency are high.
16. We should consider proposals on technical
organisation of public access. In addition to televising all legislative
proceedings, these might include: a camera point near the Council
room for Ministers to brief on arrival/leaving; stand up points
for broadcasters in front of the Council building; salles d'écoute
and TV screens for public and press. We would support sensible
measures to make interventions more concise, such as circulating
position papers and setting time limits.
Solana options (not requiring Treaty change):
Improved co-operation between successive
Appointment/election of chairmen
of certain committees for longer than six months.
Council Secretariat to chair some
17. These proposals are sensible and could,
in principle, act as an interim phase to more fundamental reform
at the IGC. Co-operation between successive Presidencies is a
good thing and already happens up to a point, but could be made
more systematic through, for example, more multi-annual programming
and allowing more tasks/chairing to be taken on by future Presidencies.
Appointment/election of Chairs of some committees/use
of the Council Secretariat could lead to the choice of "the
best man for the job" and a single person to drive through
specific projects lasting longer than six months.
Election of the President of the
European Council for a longer-term.
Appointment/Election of the Chairmen
of all Councils for a longer-term.
? Team Presidencies of five or six States
to chair all Councils and European Council.
18. The UK Foreign Secretary has already
set out a broad framework on reform of the Presidency, which is
partly picked up in the Solana ideas. This framework involves:
a reduction in the number of Councils (say 10); separate appointment
of chairmen of Councils for a longer period (say two and a half
years); chairmen of Councils to act together as a steering group
to follow through strategic direction given by the European Council.
19. We see merit in a model bringing together
the options put forward by Solana and look forward to this discussion.
20. One idea put forward by the Prime Minister
and Chancellor Schröder in their pre-Barcelona letter has
not been picked up by Solana. This suggested that decisions referred
to the European Council under Treaty basis subject to QMV should
be decided by QMV. This would include most Single Market legislation,
and most CAP decisions. Unanimity would still apply where it applies
now ie CFSP and some Third Pillar issues. We hope that agreement
can be sought on this at Seville.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office