The UK Presidency of the European Community

By Nash, Michael L. | Contemporary Review, September 1992 | Go to article overview
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The UK Presidency of the European Community


Nash, Michael L., Contemporary Review


THE Presidency of the European Community(1) is one of those conventions which have grown up, rather like the conventions of the unwritten British constitution, and have now become institutionalized. Not mentioned in the original Treaty of Rome, it was first acknowledged in the Single European Act.(2) What is the Presidency (strictly, of the European Council of Ministers)? It is the rotating office held by each of the member states, originally in alphabetical order according to the name of the state in the native language.(3) It is six months' stewardship of Community affairs.(4) It is the opportunity for (the member state) to display its European credentials by advancing the cause of Union and stamping its own |vision' on the future of the Community. It is |being in the European limelight'. It is occupying the |Presidential cockpit' for six months.(5)

Thus it gives the member state the chance to choose themes for its Presidency, even to choose its own logo. The logo for the UK Presidency, which runs from July 1 to December 31, 1992, was chosen as long ago as February 5, before the General Election, thereby showing a certain confidence and optimism on the part of the Conservative Party. At a special launch, the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, introduced the logo of the UK Presidency, a silver lion, looking as if it were chasing the twelve stars of the Community, or, according to less kind interpretations, trampling on or devouring the stars. It was, to the ruling party, |A lion at the heart of Europe -- an energetic, lively, intelligent lion'. It lacked a name. A competition for children to name the lion was also launched, and eventually he received the name |Rory' (horrible pun or sop to the Scots?) from a little girl of nine, Catherine Louise Mann, who felt the UK would be |fierce, but kind with decisions'.(6)

Thus launched, christened and window-dressed, what will be the themes of the UK Presidency? Its last Presidency was in 1986, when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. She gave the end of term report in Strasbourg, and Britain was then in some respects the blue-eyed boy of Europe, for we had signed the Single European Act before anyone else. This Presidency will be our fourth in twenty years. With the present members, the next UK Presidency would be in 1998, but almost certainly the Community will have been enlarged by then, (one of Britain's themes) so our next Presidency might very well be well into the next century. This may explain the publicity of the launch. It may also explain the Queen's state visits to France and Germany this year, and the significance attached to them, and even the royal visit to Malta, which is an applicant state.

Interestingly one of the points which bothers Malta most in its application is how it itself would deal with the Presidency, for it places a strain on the resources and skills of even the largest member states.(7) The UK is placing more emphasis this time on the part Wales and Scotland play in an integrated UK, and the European Council in December will take place with some splendour and ceremony in the royal palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh.

History is a game with its own rules, so although a member state may choose themes, it also inherits problems and unresolved disputes from the previous presidency, and it cannot necessarily anticipate what will happen in the wider political scene during the current six months. The Lisbon |summit' of late June 1992 has at least decided that Jacques Delors may extend his own Presidency of the Commission by two years -- until 1995, when the Presidential term will be extended from four to five years. M. Delors may have ambitions for the French Presidency, and so this extended term serves also the purpose of keeping him in high office until then. The other candidates, Ruud Lubbers and Sir Leon Brittan, are left cooling their heels until next time. It shows the unwisdom of saying you have things practically tied up, as Lubbers is on record as saying.

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