Much needed leadership in times of crisis

A.D. Papagiannidis and Nikos Frangakis
The Lisbon Treaty was awaited with interest – if not with trepidation – in Greece, where ratification had proceeded smoothly, while the mainstream political forces, the media and academia were expecting that institutional change would serve as an incentive for a more active Europe.[1] The fact that new provisions of the Lisbon Treaty started working just as a severe, real-time crisis situation was underway (even more so, a crisis in which Greece was instrumental indeed) served to make the treaty’s implementation and the Union’s institutional mechanisms in general a major issue.
The figure of Herman Van Rompuy was initially greeted with some reluctance, although not in a negative way, given the lack of “international stature” of the Belgian ex-Prime Minister. References to his consensus-building prowess or even to his haiku-writing were often found in the media; but when the Greek debt crisis (and the search for some sort of “European solution”) erupted, Van Rompuy’s role in conducting European Council Summit operations, especially in March 2010, and in bridging the bitter differences between Germany and France or rather between Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, brought him centre-stage in Greece.
Based on this crucial test case of low-intensity leadership, Van Rompuy’s tendency to favour more regular (and more focused) European Council sessions was greeted positively. The uneasy equilibrium between the Van Rompuy Presidency of the European Council and the current (rotating) Spanish Presidency looks set to create problems – which, in turn, would be solved by yielding more powers to the President of the European Council. The fact that the “slow rotation” of Eurogroup/ECOFIN Councils – along with the hands-on personality of Jean-Claude Juncker, who also proved instrumental in the Greek debt issue – had positive results for crisis management (especially in the dramatic May 2010 sessions, where the support mechanism of the economies of Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain (PIIGS) was pieced together, with International Monetary Fund assistance) accents this evolution.[2]
The figure of Catherine Ashton, at the helm of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, was seen as a letdown insofar as expectations for “more Europe” in foreign relations were fuelled by the Lisbon Treaty. Her performance in office served to confirm initial hesitations.

In Greece, progress towards a more credible European foreign policy is viewed positively. But the creation and perspectives of the European External Action Service (EEAS), as a tangible instrument towards this goal, have obtained very little interest. In the same way, expectations from the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), an element of direct democracy on the European level established in the Lisbon Treaty, are quite high in Greece – both in public opinion and in academia. But the Commission’s proposal for setting up the ECI mechanism has remained largely unknown.

[1] See, among others, G. Anastassopoulos: in: TO VIMA, 10 December 2009; P.K. Ioakimidis, in: METARRYTHMISSI, Vol. 35, May 2010.

[2] For a balanced/critical approach to the post-Lisbon Treaty Europe, see Loukas Tsoukalis: Europe in a Changing World [in Greek], in: International and European Politics (Vol. 17), p. 17; P. Ioakimidis., First Impressions from the application of the Lisbon Treaty, p. 45.