More than a Prestigious Spokesperson: the Role of Summits/the European Council in European Political Cooperation, 1969-1981

9780415857338How did the emergence of the European Council (EUCO) affect an established order in a specific European policy area? This question is a central one in studying the first years of existence of the EUCO, and indeed in scrutinizing its evolution in a longer-term perspective. This chapter aims to show the capacity of the EUCO, created in December 1974, to steer and change elements of the established order in one of these policy areas, namely European Political Co-operation (EPC).

During The Hague summit in 1969 the EEC heads of state or government agreed on the principle of furthering political co-operation, and the so-called Luxembourg Report of 1970 outlined recommendations for co-operation in the field of foreign policy. Four years later, the EEC heads of state or government, gathering in Paris, decided to create the EUCO – that is, the holding of regular and frequent meetings among themselves, their foreign ministers, and the pres- ident (and often vice president) of the Commission. The Nine declared in par- ticular that they ‘consider it essential to ensure progress and overall consistency in the activities of the Communities and in the work of political co-operation’. The EUCO was thereby meant to become a bridge between political co-operation and Community activities.

As in many other areas of activity of the EUCO, there exists virtually no extensive analysis of the role and impact in EPC of the newly created institution. Based on a wide selection of archival sources from the British, French and German governments as well as the EEC, this chapter analyses the interactions between EPC and summitry in four steps. First, it presents the relationship between EPC and ad hoc summits; then it delves into the role of the EUCO in EPC; third, it tries to assess the extent to which the EUCO acted as a trigger to extend the areas covered by EPC, and finally it examines how the EUCO dealt with foreign policy beyond the EPC remit. Taken together, the four parts of this chapter show that, far from being a mere prestigious spokesperson of EPC, the EUCO helped political co-operation and foreign policy to go beyond the initial EPC framework. More widely, the chapter illustrates the ambivalence, the efficiency and the limits of the EUCO as an institution during this period. It highlights not only how the regular meetings of EEC heads of state or government, starting in 1974, changed EEC inter-institutional relations, but also how the EUCO itself evolved over time.

Published in François Foret and Yann-Sven Rittelmeyer, The European Council and European  Governance: the Commanding Heights of the EU, (London: Routledge, 2013).

Reviewed in West European Politics, 2014.

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