How many of us bother to look at what European leaders decide when they meet in Brussels or elsewhere? Did you know that their main decisions are published as “Conclusions” of the European Council? They have a major impact on our lives, directly or indirectly, with the processes they set in motion. But they are only selectively reported on and seldom studied in detail, as they should be.
We decided to take our magnifying glass and go through the most recent European Council Conclusions, those adopted by the EU leaders at their meeting in Brussels on 19-20 March 2015. We did not focus on the predictable, like approval of the Energy Union as such and declarations on jobs, growth, Ukraine and Libya. We rather tried to discover small gems that might go unnoticed but still have important repercussions for European politics and citizens, all of us.
It is interesting how the conclusions on the Energy Union stress the need for coordinated supplies and network interconnections, while tiptoeing around the very sensitive issue of national sovereignty, especially regarding decisions by countries about their energy mix and development of indigenous natural resources. A similar intricate dance takes place around the need for transparency and the propensity for secrecy: Transparency is good and should be reinforced regarding agreements for buying gas from external suppliers, but when it comes to commercial gas supply contracts “the confidentiality of commercially sensitive information needs to be guaranteed”. You can see who has got the better lobbyists here…
Do you remember the trade negotiations with the US, the (in)famous TTIP? In a bullet under the growth and jobs section of the Conclusions, the EU leaders ask for every effort to be made for agreement to be reached by the end of the year. Obviously aware of public concern and even outright hostility, they conclude that “Member States and the Commission should step up efforts to communicate the benefits of the agreement and to enhance dialogue with civil society.” In other words, expect a charm offensive in the coming months, but of course don’t expect that you can change the predetermined agreement on TTIP.
Interestingly enough, the EU is also embarking on a campaign to counter “Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns”. This is the last bullet in the Russia/Ukraine section of the Conclusions and foresees the establishment of a communication team and the preparation of a strategic communication action plan by June, under the High Representative (i.e. Mogherini).
In addition to adopting its Conclusions, the European Council issued a brief statement on Tunisia. In it the Council promised intensified cooperation on counter-terrorism, strengthening “Tunisia’s promising democracy” and assisting in economic and social development, things that make good sense following the recent terrorist attack in Tunis. In a more controversial move, Council President Tusk hosted a limited participation meeting on the sidelines of the European Council meeting, to discuss the situation in Greece. Participants included Greek Prime Minister Tsipras, Ms. Merkel and Mr. Hollande, Mr. Juncker and ECB President Draghi, as well as Eurogroup President Dijsselbloem. This was not a decision-making meeting, Mr. Tusk said afterwards, but was rather meant as a “reality check” and for mutual trust building.
All this and much more happened in the two days of the latest European Council. We tried to focus on a few things that may have not been part of the mainstream business but are still important. We will continue to follow closely decisions made and actions taken by European leaders and institutions, to keep them honest and you informed, hopefully increasing the transparency, democratic participation and legitimacy of the Union in the process.