Van Rompuy plans shake-up of EU summits

EU Observer (Link) - Honor Mahony (December 11, 2009)

The new EU president, Herman Van Rompuy, is planning to shake up the regular gatherings of EU leaders to make them less formulaic so that they result in decisions that have immediate relevancy.

The summits, which take place at least four times a year in Brussels, will have their attendance streamlined and will produce conclusions which are �operative� and contain a message which is �readable and visible� for the European public.

Until now, summits have been numerically weighty affairs - involving over 50 people including foreign ministers, and often resulting in impenetrable conclusions the length of a short novel.

This is partly due to the fact that the post-meeting statements are carefully pre-written by ambassadors before being passed up the political food chain and partly as a result of the EU increasingly feeling obliged to take note or react to certain political situations beyond its borders as a matter of rote.

Speaking about future meetings of EU leaders, which he will start to chair from 2010, Mr Van Rompuy on Thursday evening (10 December) said: �We have to constitute a group, a club, that gets on, that works for the same cause, namely the European Union.�

He emphasized that the European Council�s principle members are the heads of state and government, calling them the �hard core.� Other ministers - such as those in charge of foreign affairs or finance - may attend from �time to time� depending on the agenda.

Meetings will also take place more frequently and result in more political decisions, according to the former Belgian prime minister, known and chosen for his low-key style.

He said the main focus of his two and half year tenure would be the economic situation, suggesting that if the continent wants to hold on to the �European way of life� it has to grow by 2 percent, double the official projections for the EU�s battered economy.

Mr Van Rompuy intends to hold informal and formal meetings over the coming months so that in half a year�s time, the bloc has a �good strategy� for tackling the crisis, which has resulted in soaring unemployment and public debt in several member states.

The first informal meeting has been called for February, just ahead of the traditional Spring summit, where governments will try and agree a long term economic plan to bring the union to 2020.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy said Mr Van Rompuy�s address to EU leaders on Thursday evening was an �insightful contribution.� Both he and his German counterpart welcomed the fact that the new president will be able to take part in all EU ministerial meetings, giving him an oversight across all policy areas.

In addition, several EU leaders welcomed the new slimmed-down format of the meeting, with foreign ministers not invited to take part in this week�s two-day summit, the first under the EU�s new Lisbon Treaty.

It means they can sit around one table and not have to watch each other�s interventions on a TV screen, a more relaxed set-up seen as conducive to more fluid discussions.