President of the United States vs. President of the European Union

What would the Lisbon Treaty change ?

, by Fabien Cazenave, Translated by Jasmine Goldstein

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

President of the United States vs. President of the European Union

The Treaty of Lisbon creates the function of ‘President of the European Union’. Would he really be the equivalent of the President of the USA ? Would they be on a level of equality should a disagreement appear ?

One of the great innovations of the Lisbon Treaty is the creation of a “President of the EU” in its article 15 of the TUE. This would avoid (and replace) the rotating Presidency of the EU Council every six months.

In fact, the frequent rotation is a problem that every European Party retained of Nicolas Sarkozy’s most recent intervention in front of the European Parliament. Indeed, the parties disapprove the lack of consistency in the leadership of the European Union, whilst it is facing the biggest financial crisis since the 1929 Wall Street crash.

Henry Kissinger : “Who do I call if I want to call Europe” ?

Henry Kissinger’s famous question is still relevant today : in order to react with Europe, the United States must gather all the European countries around them : France, Germany, United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Czech Republic, etc…

In other words, they are better off evolving without waiting for each representative’s agreement, as they are all in different national contexts. Let’s not forget the war in Iraq in 2003, when George W. Bush skilfully took advantage of the divisions between the Europeans in order to finally launch an attack on Saddam Hussein, without a mandate from the UN, thus trespassing international law.

With a single figure expressing him/herself in the name of all Heads of States and Governments, we would no longer have to face this kind of problem, as the representative of the European Union, which counts 495 million people, would address the President of the USA directly. Moreover, it would allow the citizens of both the USA and the EU to give Europe a real face. Consequently, the European Union would become a more unified bloc, subsequently emerging as a crucial negotiating partner, in the same way as the Chinese, Russian and American Presidents.

A future President paralysed by his functions in the European Union ?

The Young European Federalists, in one of their most recent resolutions, favour the President of the European Commission in the future triumvirate which the Lisbon Treaty creates.

So why do Federalists seem to privilege the President of the European Commission ? This is because he will have democratic legitimacy, since he will be elected by the European Parliament. Indeed, the reason why some would like the Lisbon Treaty to make the election of the EU President a direct vote is because, in the current state of the Treaty, the EU President would be confronted with a problem of legitimacy vis-à-vis the political body which will have elected him: the European Council.

Indeed, the European Council is made up of Heads of States and Governments who are democratically elected, in other words, who have received a mandate for representing the citizens of their country at the international (and therefore also the European) level.

Can the President of the European Union take decisions which might go against the will of several European rulers?

The example of Iraq clearly shows that divergences of opinions often happen, although most Europeans seemed opposed (to different degrees) to the war. The President of the European Union, according to article 15 (6; c), should work towards facilitating cohesion and consensus within the European Council. Therefore, he will not be able to adopt a position which might damage the cohesion, and will have to follow whatever decision the Council will take… when it takes one…

A stronger, freer American President

This is where the major difference between the future American and European presidents lies:

- The President of the USA is elected by US citizens (although indirectly) therefore he can claim legitimacy to express his views worldwide as those of the country.

- The President of the EU will never be free to express his views fully, as his legitimacy is granted by the Council, which can choose to withdraw his mandate at any given time if he goes too far in any matter. He will therefore have to be very (overly?) cautious all the time.

No equilibrium will be reached between the two positions, even though the concept seemed appealing. Of course, one must bear in mind the difference in the personalities of the two presidents. Nicolas Sarkozy’s behaviour was welcome by every political group during the financial crisis thanks to his dynamism. Should next American President be isolationist – he would not be the first – he would provide the EU President with a real (diplomatic) window of opportunity. However, the differences between the two systems do not let us hope for a real change in the struggle for power that exists between the two shores of the Atlantic.

Here is the difference between the American federal system, which allows for a clear representation on the international stage, and the “halfway” political system of the European Union. Intergovernmentalism has reached yet another limit.

Image: created by Fabien Cazenave.

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