The European Council and crisis management

Written by Ralf Drachenberg

The European Council and Crisis Management

Didier Seeuws, Prof. Desmond Dinan, Prof. Danuta Hübner and Mr. Peter Ludlow

Is the European Council doing a good job in crisis management, or is it reaching its limits in times of crisis? These, and other questions concerning the European Council’s recent performances, were discussed at the EPRS event The European Council and crisis managementon 16 February 2016 in Parliament’s Library main reading room in Brussels.

The panel of experts made up of Prof. Danuta Hübner, Chair of Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee, Prof. Desmond Dinan from Georges Mason University, Mr. Didier Seeuws, former chief of staff of first European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, and Mr. Peter Ludlow, from EuroComment, discussed similarities and differences between how the European Council has been and still is handling different crises.

Prof. Desmond Dinan stressed that the European Union (EU) is facing a political crisis of the first order, which is made up of a number of smaller crises. He also criticised the narrative that crisis in the past have supposed to have led to further integration, which in his opinion it had not. The other panellists had varying perspectives on the relationship between crises and further European integration.

Prof. Danuta Hübner expressed the concern of many Members of the European Parliament that there is no or very limited democratic accountability of the European Council and decisions made by them as well as institutional efficiency. Consequently she made the case for an enhanced role for the European Parliament in scrutinising the activities of the European Council.

Listen to the full policy roundtable,


The European Council and Crisis Management

Roundtable discussion ‘The European Council and crisis management’

Didier Seeuws provided insights into why certain decisions were made by the European Council during the financial crisis and highlighted the strengths and limits of these decisions. He also analysed the advantages and disadvantages of the institutional set up of the European Council. Peter Ludlow complemented the different perspectives by providing an historical comparative of the European Council’s management of the different crises. He outlined the varying contexts the European Council was in during each crisis and therefore evaluating which role, and how successful, the European Council was in dealing with each of them. He also provided insight into the significance of different actors within the European Council for managing the crises. All speakers concurred on the importance of the role of the permanent European Council President, created in the Lisbon Treaty, in crisis management.

The European Council and crisis management

Joséphine Rebecca Vanden Broucke, Head of the European Council Oversight and Scrutiny Unit (ECOS) of the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS)

In her opening address, Joséphine Rebecca Vanden Broucke, Head of the European Council Oversight and Scrutiny Unit (ECOS) of the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) outlined that the increasing number of extraordinary European Councils and Euro Summit meetings not only illustrates and exemplifies the significant multiplication of crises which the EU has had to deal with in recent years, but also the European Council’s growing role in crisis management, especially compared to the pre-Lisbon Treaty period.

She also presented EPRS’s in-depth analysis examining the role played by the European Council and its President in managing crises, which looks at the similarities and differences in the measures agreed upon by EU Heads of State or Government when engaging in crisis management.

The paper identified a substantial degree of interconnectedness between the three crises (sovereign debt, migration and foreign policy).

Interconnectedness of crises

Interconnectedness of crises

The analysis also shows that no common approach has developed at the European Council level for managing crises as each crisis has different causes, management is based on a different response and is made up of specific, often unique, circumstances. However, one can still identify similar challenges the European Council faces as it goes through certain phases in responding to a crisis. These phases include: (1) a failure to anticipate the crisis; (2) a lack of existing European tools to address the crisis; (3) the search for a common European approach; (4) a shift from a short-term to a long-term strategy and (5) the use of alternative approaches.

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