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Session 3: A practitioners’ perspective: The role of the European Council for national decision-makers

The session was opened by Funda Tekin pointing out that the focus now turned from the European perspective to the national dimension by allowing practitioners’ to speak on the role of the European Council for national decision-makers.

Thomas Westphal, Head of Department for European Affairs/Federal Ministry of Finance, began his contribution by putting forward that the Lisbon Treaty serves a caesura for the European Council since after the Treaty came into force, the European Council gained importance: It was, amongst other, equipped with a president as well as a solid structure. The strength gained was also due to various crises with the European Council being centre stage. However, on the other side with time passing the institution became less transparent and more output-oriented. As to the domestic level he argued that ministries suffer from the fact that they are not able to witness the process of European Council conclusion making and, hence, cannot give advice. A way of bringing European Council activities to the national debate though is enabled by the plenary of the parliament being visited by the chancellor just before going to the European Council meeting.

Klemens Fischer, Minister plenipotentiary and Head of Department of the Permanent Representation of Austria to the European Union, also identified the Lisbon Treaty as crucial for the European Council as it brought along tremendous and far-reaching changes for its delegates as well as delegation offices. As to the dynamics between the EU and domestic level, he elaborated that politicians and their connectedness to their national parliaments legitimatized European Council activities.

Ivonne Nasshoven, Advisor at the Office of the Ministers’ of State in the Federal Foreign Office, structured her contribution alongside three elements explaining different functions of the European Council. She began with elaborating that it operates as a political institution not only able to make decisions but also bound to national decision-makers. Secondly, as an institution that has the capacity to solve problems that are of political nature. The third one is its signalling function, meaning that it is necessary for the European Council to not only comment on issues but also find solutions.

In the subsequent debate, speakers focussed on answering the following four questions posed by Emmanuel Mourlon-Druol, University of Glasgow and represent four thematic strains traceable in the conference so far. The first one touched upon the perception of the EU effect on national decision-makers. The second inquiry asked for the role of the European Council as to its performance as a strategic and crisis manager. The next question dealt with the institutional balance of the European Union and, in this context, the strength of the European Council. Lastly, questions of legitimacy and democratic deficit were posed: How can the European Council’s decisions be legitimized.

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