THE SUMMITRY SYNDROME2011-07-20
THE SUMMITRY SYNDROME
The Summitry Syndrome is one of the most serious ailments the European Union is suffering from today. It comes from the illusion that only the highest political leaders in a democracy are capable of taking difficult decisions and, therefore, should come together in the European Union to do so - more and more often.
The Syndrome originates from the desire of former French President Charles de Gaulle to govern the European Communities of the Six (including West Germany) from the Elysée in Paris. It brought him in 1960 to the proposal to form a political union with regular meetings of the French President and the other five prime ministers as the supreme authority. The European Communities were to be reduced to technical agencies advising the governments in the preparation of joint decisions. Negotiations on political union failed in 1962.
The issue of political union came back at the Hague Summit of December 1969. Thereafter de Gaulle ‘s original ideas have, nevertheless, been gradually implemented. In 1970 it was agreed to launch European Political Cooperation. Summits became regular European Council meetings in 1975 and they were “legalised” in the Single European Act of 1986. With the first Treaty on European Union in 1992, the European Council began to emerge as the supreme authority of the European Union as it now has become in the Treaty of Lisbon.
As Wolfgang Wessels writes in a recent paper attached to this item:
“Irrespective of the inconclusive written words of the EU primary law the body of the Heads of State or Government is the dominant master of the real world game in the EU system. The European Council is placed at the apex of the institutional architecture framing and constructing major dimensions of the EU polity, directing the EU politics and making decisions for major policies.”
He concludes his most interesting paper:
“With the creation of the office of the High Representative and the European External Action Service they have again opted for a complex and confusing path between a rationalized form of intergovernmentalism and a strengthened mode of supranationalism. In any case they have reinforced their own position at the apex and in the centre between the two areas.”
To which I would add that Summit Conferences have proven to be poor mechanisms for wise decisions. They are events of high publicity and personal vanity. Agreements are to be produced under great pressure. The process is undemocratic and lacks transparency. From (lack of) agreement at the Summit there is no appeal. European Council Conclusions and Declarations make poor reading. They are full of resounding, boastful and hypocritical statements. European Council conclusions lack legal force but have great political impact.
In my opinion, the Lisbon Treaty implies more intergovernmental control over the community method of decision-making, especially in external relations. For the European Union the Summitry Syndrome is a serious, possibly terminal disease.