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The UK presidency of the European Community.

THE Presidency of the European Community(1) is one of those conventions which have grown up, rather like the conventions of the unwritten British constitution, and have now become institutionalized. Not mentioned in the original Treaty of Rome, it was first acknowledged in the Single European Act.(2) What is the Presidency (strictly, of the European Council of Ministers)? It is the rotating office held by each of the member states, originally in alphabetical order according to the name of the state in the native language.(3) It is six months' stewardship of Community affairs.(4) It is the opportunity for (the member state) to display its European credentials by advancing the cause of Union and stamping its own |vision' on the future of the Community. It is |being in the European limelight'. It is occupying the |Presidential cockpit' for six months.(5)

Thus it gives the member state the chance to choose themes for its Presidency, even to choose its own logo. The logo for the UK Presidency, which runs from July 1 to December 31, 1992, was chosen as long ago as February 5, before the General Election, thereby showing a certain confidence and optimism on the part of the Conservative Party. At a special launch, the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, introduced the logo of the UK Presidency, a silver lion, looking as if it were chasing the twelve stars of the Community, or, according to less kind interpretations, trampling on or devouring the stars. It was, to the ruling party, |A lion at the heart of Europe -- an energetic, lively, intelligent lion'. It lacked a name. A competition for children to name the lion was also launched, and eventually he received the name |Rory' (horrible pun or sop to the Scots?) from a little girl of nine, Catherine Louise Mann, who felt the UK would be |fierce, but kind with decisions'.(6)

Thus launched, christened and window-dressed, what will be the themes of the UK Presidency? Its last Presidency was in 1986, when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. She gave the end of term report in Strasbourg, and Britain was then in some respects the blue-eyed boy of Europe, for we had signed the Single European Act before anyone else. This Presidency will be our fourth in twenty years. With the present members, the next UK Presidency would be in 1998, but almost certainly the Community will have been enlarged by then, (one of Britain's themes) so our next Presidency might very well be well into the next century. This may explain the publicity of the launch. It may also explain the Queen's state visits to France and Germany this year, and the significance attached to them, and even the royal visit to Malta, which is an applicant state.

Interestingly one of the points which bothers Malta most in its application is how it itself would deal with the Presidency, for it places a strain on the resources and skills of even the largest member states.(7) The UK is placing more emphasis this time on the part Wales and Scotland play in an integrated UK, and the European Council in December will take place with some splendour and ceremony in the royal palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh.

History is a game with its own rules, so although a member state may choose themes, it also inherits problems and unresolved disputes from the previous presidency, and it cannot necessarily anticipate what will happen in the wider political scene during the current six months. The Lisbon |summit' of late June 1992 has at least decided that Jacques Delors may extend his own Presidency of the Commission by two years -- until 1995, when the Presidential term will be extended from four to five years. M. Delors may have ambitions for the French Presidency, and so this extended term serves also the purpose of keeping him in high office until then. The other candidates, Ruud Lubbers and Sir Leon Brittan, are left cooling their heels until next time. It shows the unwisdom of saying you have things practically tied up, as Lubbers is on record as saying.

Because a presidency is six months out of time, it does not in itself interrupt the flow of world events. The troika system of foreign ministers -- of the previous, the present and the next presidencies -- is therefore a very good idea in the co-ordination of foreign policy, only recently in a treaty sense part of the brief of the European Community. The themes of the UK Presidency, which are the completion of the Single Market and the Enlargement of the Community, have to be seen embedded in other current and on-going issues. The ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, the second revision of the original Treaty of Rome, now of course has received a setback after the Danish Referendum result, but in some way it will be confirmed within the next few months, and the question for the UK is whether ratification of Maastricht must precede negotiations for enlargement or whether negotiations can begin anyway. After Lisbon, it would seem the former option has been chosen already. Britain favoured the latter, but this option ran the risk of accusation of clouding the issue to its own advantage, as enlargement will necessarily be |widening' at the expense of |deepening' the Community, and part of Maastricht is strengthening the institutions. After thirty years, the institutional structure is no longer suited to the needs of an expanded Community -- it must be changed in some way.(8)

The real leitmotif of the coming Presidency is not of course Rory the lion but economic and financial convergence within the member states, the implementation of the package known as Delors II. This links many different issues, such as the proposition that there can be no genuine single market without a single currency, leading in turn to the vexatious question as to where the European Central Bank should be, and also the European Monetary Institute. It should of course, by logic, be sited in the most important financial centre in Europe, namely London. But has London forfeited its chances, because of the UK Government's attitude towards Delors II? Or can some compromise be reached, whereby the bank is situated in London but with a German President? (This was the compromise solution with the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development -- situated in London but with a French President.) Or if it must be in Germany, then not in Frankfurt, but in Bonn, to compensate for its lost status as the capital of a federal and united state.(9)

Germany also raises the question of the number of MEPs and the next European elections in 1994. Britain must address the issues of a redistribution of MEPs in the light of an expanded Germany, and what kind of common electoral process can be used in 1994. John Major has already conceded the possibility of some kind of proportional representation for the European elections for Britain, while ruling out such an internal national possibility, (except, contradictorily, for Northern Ireland). Interestingly, in this context, the European Parliament has indicated, in the Martin Report(10), that it would not give its assent to future enlargement unless |the democratic deficit' was eliminated. If not eliminated, this means some important concessions to the decision and law-making functions of the European Parliament. This may well include, as Maastricht provides for, the election of the President of the Commission by Parliament.

The UK's promotion of new member states thus has to be linked with other issues. The British Presidency should recognize that the arguments for majority voting on nearly all matters become overpowering as the Community increases from 12-16 and later on to 20, 24, or even more members. Providing future financing is settled, the negotiations for the admission of new states, (Austria, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland and perhaps Norway being in the first line) could then open in late 1992 or early 1993, aiming at accession in 1995.(11) The negotiations should be facilitated by the recent agreement on the European Economic Area, the sharing of many resources and schemes and expertise by the states of the European Community and the European Free Trade Area. Then Turkey, Cyprus and Malta must be considered. |All are European democracies', said Tristan Garel-Jones, perhaps surprisingly.(12) Association Agreements with Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia (over whose integrated future there now hangs a doubt) crucially all acknowledge the prospect of eventual membership.

Whatever happens, both the UK and the European Community will not be quite the same the other side of the current presidency. Britain must emphasise that the state holding the presidency has a duty first and foremost to manage Community and inter-governmental business, and it must be seen to prioritize this. In doing so and being seen as the guardian of the Acquis Communitaire, the UK may find that much of that role leaves an indelible imprint upon itself.


(1.) Soon to be called |the European Union'. (2.) Single European Act 1987, ss.2, 30. (3.) Since the Third Accession Treaty 1985 the alphabetical rotation has been abandoned. For the period 1993 to 1998 the order will be: Denmark, Belgium, Greece, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Luxembourg, United Kingdom and Portugal. (4.) Julian Priestley: Implementation of Maastricht Treaty, Efficiency and Democracy. (Paper given at Federal Trust Conference, London, May 20-21, 1992.) (5.) Gary Miller and John Pinder, The Community Presidency in 1992: an opportunity for Britain. Discussion Paper produced by members of the Trans-European Policy Studies Association for the Conference |Problems and Opportunities of the British Presidency of the EC', as above. (6.) Press Release from Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 5 February 1992. The selected logo was designed by Minale Tattersfield, total cost 15,000 [pounds] for design and development of logo. See also: The UK Presidency of the EC, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, p.20. (7.) Miller & Pinder, above. (8.) Garret Fitzgerald, The role of the Presidency in European Union, p.14. (9.) Peter-W. Schluter, EMU: institutional timetable and economic effect, p.7. Gary Miller & John Pinder, above, pp.5, 6. (10.) Julian Priestley, above, p.2; Garret Fitzgerald, above, p.15. (11.) Four of the applicant EFTA states are neutral, considerably altering Defence Policy balance, as only Ireland is neutral within the Community at the present time: Miller & Pinder, above, p. 15. (12.) Tristan Garel-Jones, Problems and Opportunities of the UK Presidency, Keynote address to the Federal Trust Conference, May 20, 1992.

[Michael L. Nash is a lecturer in Law and European Studies in the Business School at City College in Norwich.]
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Author:Nash, Michael L.
Publication:Contemporary Review
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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