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Session 1: The European Council and the future of the EU

On Monday, 16 January 2017, the first session of the SUMMIT dissemination conference featured a lively discussion on the future trajectory of the European Union (EU). The session was split into two parts, the first involving Andrew Duff (European Policy Centre, Brussels), John Erik Fossum (ARENA/University of Oslo) on the panel, the second part involving Peter-Christian Müller-Graff (Heidelberg University) and Uwe Puetter (Central European University, Budapest). Uta Stäsche (Free University Berlin) and Sophie Vanhoonacker (Maastricht University) joined the panel as discussants. The session was chaired by Michael Kaeding (TEPSA, University of Duisburg-Essen). 

Andrew Duff started his presentation by stating that a revision of the European treaties will be on the agenda once ‘Brexit’ has happened. Identifying key developments of the institutional architecture of the EU since the more recent crises and the post-Lisbon situation, such as the weakening of the European Commission and the malfunctioning of the rotating presidency system, Duff put forward a number of proposals that would reinstate the institutional balance. These proposals ranged from removing the Commission President from the European Council meetings, giving the European Council a proper law making function and a more explicit role in governing the other Council formations, and instigating stronger accountability of the European Council towards the European Parliament.

John Erik Fossum’s presentation identified three potential future trajectories of the European Council and the European Union as such: The EU as a segmented political order, consolidation of the euro zone of the core, and fragmentation of the EU. Building on the fusion thesis, Fossum linked each of these trajectories to different models of the role of the European Council.

Peter-Christian Müller-Graff elaborated on the legal aspects of the historic emergence of the European Council. He stressed the fact that the role of the European Council differs largely between policy fields. Building on a historical excursion on the creation of the institution in an intergovernmental framework in 1969, Müller-Graff noted that the European Council unites national and European executives alike, without disposing of autonomous executive powers on the European level. He concluded by stating that the European Council will be necessary as a back-up power bench, as long as substantive power rests with EU member states.

Uwe Puetter stressed the new routine of decision making in the European Council by pointing to the higher frequency of European Council summits and the seizing of power by the institution in all relevant policy areas since the entering into force of the Maastricht treaty in the early 1990s. Underlining the fact that the mobilization of financial resources rests with the national level, Puetter suggested that the European Council will be more active than ever and member states will be hesitant to delegate power to the supranational level.

Discussants and commentators stressed the centrality of the European Council, for instance in legislative acts, in case of a future treaty revision, questioned the legitimacy of European Council meetings, and expressed the need to delineate the legislative and executive powers of the European Council. Others highlighted the lack of accountability of the European Council vis-à-vis the European Parliament and demanded a democratization of legislative and executive powers at the European level.

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