In a roundtable discussion on December 2nd, Dr Christine Arnold (Maastricht University) and Prof Wolfgang Wessels (University of Cologne) examined the European Council’s internal power relations and its responsiveness to the European public. The discussion was chaired by Prof Chrsitine Neuhold and commented by Afke Groen (both Maastricht University). 

Prof Wessels introduced into the debate by referring to the following paradox: on the one hand, the European Council consists of tough politicians who decide out of national interests by unanimity; on the other hand, this institution produces a relatively high output. As factors facilitating this output of European Council’s activities, Wolfgang Wessels pointed to some ‘pre-decision making’ and ‘intensive debates between the capitals’ taking place in order to have major problems solved before the European Council meetings. In the deliberations among the Heads of State or Government, package deals, opt-outs, the postponement of decisions and the presidency acting as an honest broker play an important role. Furthermore, he emphasized a ‘power-dimension’ arguing that even though small member states might not as often have the opportunity to speak, the existence of this opportunity at all would make deliberations at the European Council level attractive for smaller member states. Finally, Prof Wessels elaborated on the leadership role of the Franco-German couple and of Germany reluctantly acting as a hegemon. 

Dr Chrisine Arnold then contributed to the debate by presenting the findings of her draft paper “Reaching the Summit: Democratic Representation in the European Council” co-written with Christopher Williams. The authors examine to what extent the European Council – in their agenda and conclusions – has responded to the public opinion. In a second step, they asked whether the opinion of the whole European public is represented or rather the opinion of the country holding the rotating presidency. In her explanation of the results of a regression analysis, Christine Arnold pointed out that issues prioritized in the European Council conclusions overall correspond to the priorities of the European public as a whole. In contrast, those of the country holding the presidency correlate negatively with the topics dealt with in the European Council. As a conclusion, Christine Arnold proposes an alternative perspective characterizing the European Council’s policy agenda as supranational, as it responds to European wide instead of country specific opinions.

(Marieke Eckhardt)