Herman Van Rompuy

Van Rompuy meeting with Britain's David Cameron at Downing Street on Monday

The less-watched parallel process to selecting the new head of the European Commission has been Herman Van Rompuy’s effort, backed by several member states, to come up with a work programme for the new commission president that will lock him in for the next five years when it comes to policy programmes and priorities.

Even though advocates of such an idea appear to be pushing the same policies that are mentioned in nearly every EU summit communiqué, several countries – including strange bedfellows like the Netherlands and Italy – have argued such an agenda is in some ways more important than the leader who takes over the commission in November. They insist it will enable Europe’s prime ministers to put their stamp on the next commission and its priorities after the European Parliament was seen to have dragged the current one around.

As a first step towards agreeing such a programme, Van Rompuy, the outgoing European Council president, on Monday circulated a four-page “strategic agenda” for the new commission, which he hopes to get agreed at this week’s high-stakes EU summit. We wrote about it here, but as usual for readers of Brussels Blog, we’re providing a bit more detail for those more interested, including a copy of the document, which we’ve posted hereRead more

Van Rompuy at last month's EU summit. Will December's summit agree to the contracts?

When is a eurozone bailout not a eurozone bailout?

It’s a question that sherpas to the EU’s presidents and prime ministers will be grappling with on Tuesday when they are scheduled to debate a new proposal from Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president, intended to further centralise economic decision-making in Brussels.

Under the 9-page plan (first uncovered by our friends and rivals at Reuters; we’ve posted the copy we got our hands on here), a country that is struggling economically could agree to a “contractual agreement” with Brussels that legally codifies its economic reform programme.

In return, that country could avail itself of a low-cost loan that would only be disbursed in tranches to insure compliance with the “contractual arrangement”. Oh, and one other thing: the European Commission would monitor the country to make sure its complying with the “contractual arrangement”.

Legally-binding economic reform agreement. Low-cost eurozone loans. European Commission monitoring missions. Sounds a bit like a bailout, no? Well, because it would be available to all eurozone countries, Van Rompuy doesn’t call it a bailout. In eurocrat-ese, it’s a “solidarity mechanism”. And if sherpas give it the signoff Tuesday, it will be debated by EU leaders at their December summitRead more

The politics and rituals surrounding the selection of a new pope are even more opaque and mysterious than the back-room negotiations over a long-term EU budget (a recent source of obsession at the Brussels Blog).

Herman Van Rompuy, the European council president, has added to the sense of papal mystery surrounding the resignation announced on Monday by Benedict XVI with the release of a terse, two-line statement. Read more

The big question entering Thursday’s summit is whether Herman Van Rompuy, the European council president, can find the right balance between the UK’s demands for an austere long-term budget and France and Italy’s calls for a more robust one. The more Van Rompuy stretches toward the Brits and fellow budget hawks by reducing his proposal, the more those on the other side of the debate pull back. Eventually, the whole thing could snap.

But on the eve of the big meeting, Van Rompuy may have found a clever way to give his budget more elasticity: By increasing the gap between budget commitments and payments. Read more

Van Rompuy discusses EU budget with Finnish prime minister Jyrki Katainen last week.

Sometimes draft communiqués Herman Van Rompuy sends around to national capitals ahead of an EU summit are interesting for the proposals that are in them. And sometimes they’re interesting for what the European Council president has left out.

The “draft guidelines for the conclusions” distributed earlier this week to national delegations ahead of the February 7 summit – obtained by Brussels Blog and posted here – falls very clearly into the second category.

While there is a lengthy section discussing the need to expand trade ties with the US, Japan, Canada, Russia and China, and another on the need to support “democratic gains” post-Arab Spring, the two most interesting topics are listed as “p.m.”, or pour mémoire, which loosely translated means “to be added later”.

The first pour mémoire topic is Mali, where the EU has been trying to catch up with events after Paris sent troops without much consultation with EU allies. And the second is the 7-year EU budget – known in euro-speak as the Multiannual Financial Framework, or MFF. Read more

Van Rompuy, left, has set out a different vision of common eurozone debt than Barroso, right.

Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president, published the latest iteration of his plan to overhaul the eurozone this morning, just a week after his counterpart across the Rue de la Loi, European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, offered his own blueprint.

Van Rompuy’s 14-page outline includes many of the ideas he’s been proffering since October, including a requirement that all eurozone countries engage in “contractual arrangements” with Brussels, committing them to economic reform plans, and the creation of a eurozone budget. Barroso’s plan has similar elements.

But it’s worth noting where Barroso and Van Rompuy differ, because it could have major implications for the direction the eurozone heads in the coming months. And the differences are perhaps nowhere more evident than on one of the issues that has bedevilled the eurozone since the outset of the crisis: so-called “eurobonds”.

 Read more

Van Rompuy is, once again, asking summiteers to endorse the idea in draft conclusions.

When José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, unveiled his blueprint for the future of the eurozone last week, aides acknowledged it contained some blue-sky ideas that were meant to provoke debate as much as set firm policies.

But EU presidents and prime ministers may be asked to endorse some of its more controversial ideas if a leaked copy of the communiqué for next week’s EU summit is any indication – including a plan to have all eurozone countries sign “contractual” agreements with Brussels akin to the detailed reform plans currently required only of bailout countries. We’ve posted a copy of the draft, dated Monday, here.

The idea of the Brussels contracts was originally advocated by the summit’s chair, European Council president Herman Van Rompuy, ahead of October’s gathering. But in the end, summiteers only agreed that such a plan should be “explored”Read more

Martin Schulz, far right, with his fellow EU presidents ahead of budget talks on Monday.

Just how bleak do things look for next week’s summit intended to reach a deal on the EU’s next €1tn seven-year budget?

Only hours after French prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault threw cold water on the latest compromise effort, another major player in the game – Martin Schulz, the European parliament president – said he now expected the high-stakes summit to come up empty.

“I’m very sceptical about an agreement next week,” Schulz told a small group of Brussels-based reporters, arguing that the compromise put out yesterday by Herman Van Rompuy, European Council president, was significantly different from that offered by the Cypriot presidency just two weeks ago – a sign of “how deep the division is within the Council.”

Van Rompuy’s proposal (a leaked copy of which we’ve posted here) has set off another round of recriminations, helping turn a meeting this morning of EU ambassadors into a complaint-fest, diplomats said. But Schulz said he believed the biggest stumbling block remained Britain, which is the only country calling for a complete EU budget freezeRead more

Rajoy is still angered by Spain's snubbing during Mersch's selection earlier this year.

If you thought the long, drawn-out saga of Yves Mersch’s nomination to a seat on the European Central Bank’s powerful executive board could not get any stranger, think again.

The Spanish government this morning informed Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president, that it objected to the fast-track “written procedure” Van Rompuy had begun in order to get Mersch finally seated in the job. The procedure – which was begun after the European Parliament refused to sign off on the nomination last month – was due to end today, making it possible for Mersch to take the long-empty seat by November 15.

But the Spanish veto means Mersch now can’t go through and the appointment battle, which has dragged on for nearly ten months, will have to be taken up by the EU’s presidents and prime ministers when they summit in Brussels later this month.

The question gripping the Brussels chattering classes now is: Why? Was Madrid trying to fire a warning shot across the bow of the ECB and Berlin, which have been ratcheting up the pressure over the conditions of a long-expected Spanish rescue programme? Senior officials insist the real reason is far more prosaic. Read more

Van Rompuy sent the note to national delegations yesterday, ahead of today's summit start.

The issue of a collective budget for the 17 eurozone members has come roaring out of nowhere to become one of the most contentious issues heading into today’s EU summit. It’s included both in the draft conclusions sent around by Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president, and in his report on the future of the European Monetary Union.

The proposal is so contentious – the French see it as a nascent supranational budget that would spend on things such as unemployment insurance; the Germans a small, targeted fund to help start short-term programmes such as job training schemes – that Van Rompuy yesterday sent around a “background note” to national delegations to flesh out the idea.

The note, seen by Brussels Blog, contains eight separate questions about the eurozone budget and other parts of his EMU report that have drawn controversy, in an apparent attempt to steer tonight’s discussion around the summit table. We’ve posted a copy after the jump. Read more

Britain's David Cameron meets EU's Herman Van Rompuy at Downing Street last year.

Aides to Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president, have circulated an updated draft of conclusions for next week’s EU summit and, according to a copy obtained by Brussels Blog, they have retained controversial proposals for a single eurozone budget and “contracts” between eurozone countries and Brussels on economic reform programmes.

Unlike the previous proposal by Van Rompuy’s staff, which was labeled “guidelines” and intended only to generate discussion, the current text (a copy of which we’ve posted here) comes in formal “draft conclusions” form – a technical yet significant difference, meaning there was widespread support for the ideas in talks with eurozone member states.

As we reported ahead of this week’s Conservative party conference in the UK, the idea of a eurozone budget has even gained support from the British government, which views it as a way for the 17 eurozone countries to increase their spending on a European level even as the UK freezes its commitment to the EU-wide budget for all 27 members.

However, in a tweak of the Van Rompuy language that appears aimed at Britain, the communiqué makes clear that any plans for a eurozone budget – or “fiscal capacity” in eurospeak – would be separate from negotiations over the EU-wide budget, which is known as the multiannual financial framework: Read more

In today’s dead-tree version of the FT, we have a front-page story on an eight-page “draft guidelines for the conclusions” for this month’s EU summit, a document that includes some bold new ideas, like requiring eurozone countries to sign “individual contractual arrangements” with Brussels on their economic reform plans.

We thought we’d post the document (see it here) for Brussels Blog readers to get a fuller view. The parts we found most interesting begin on page 7. Senior officials caution the draft is being used to stimulate debate so that Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president, can come up with a more concrete consensus heading into the summit about what can be achieved.

Indeed, the cover sheet of the draft calls it a “state of progress regarding the various topics on the agenda”; still, since it was cobbled together after Van Rompuy’s series of meetings with eurozone leaders over the past month, it reflects the thinking of a lot of national leaders, particularly in the bloc’s largest countries. Read more

Van Rompuy this week at the UN. MEP Goulard called his letter "empty (and quite insulting)".

The ongoing saga of the European Central Bank’s empty seat on its six-member executive board appears to be, well, ongoing.

Senior members of the European Parliament’s economic affairs committee met yesterday for a brief coordinating session and decided to, yet again, postpone the confirmation hearing for Yves Mersch, the Luxembourg central banker whose quest to secure the empty seat has been the subject of intense internecine fighting for more than nine months.

To update readers, Mersch’s nomination is now being held up by the committee because they believe no woman candidate was seriously considered for the post. Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, wrote to the parliament in the last week to explain leaders’ positions – but committee members found the response “very thin,” prompting the decision to put off a confirmation hearing again.

Sylvie Goulard, a French liberal MEP who is a senior member of the committee, told Brussels Blog in an e-mail she found the Van Rompuy letter “empty (and quite insulting)”. Excerpts from the letter are after the jump. Read more

Pope Benedict XVI, eurozone head of state?

Even in the midst of the eurozone crisis, senior officials in Brussels are occasionally able to maintain a sense of humour. Case in point: A press release sent out this afternoon by the office of Herman Van Rompuy announcing yet another emergency eurozone summit – on April 1. Read more

Belgian strikers demonstrate in Brussels earlier this month to protest new austerity measures.

Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president, announced overnight (via his now customary way of communicating to the press: Twitter) that he will hold a previously-unscheduled summit of all 27 presidents and prime ministers on January 30.

The gathering is expected to deal with the new intergovernmental treaty to enshrine tough budget rules that leaders hope will be completed by the end of the month — though with a huge amount of eurozone debt coming due in January, the gathering could yet transform into another crisis summit. Diplomats say its likely to start around lunchtime.

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/euHvR/status/149194091232624641"]

One slight problem with that, however. Belgian media is reporting this morning that local unions have announced an event of their own for January 30: a general strike to protest new austerity measures announced by the just-formed government of prime minister Elio Di Rupo. Their ire is focused on proposed changes in pension laws that would force delays in early retirement. Read more

Herman Van Rompuy, left, with President Barack Obama at last week's EU-US summit.

Fellow Brussels Blogger Josh Chaffin has a scoop in this morning’s paper on the five-page “interim report” on EU treaty changes for this week’s summit written by Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president, which we were able to get our hands on yesterday.

Our story focuses on what is likely to be the central element debated about the report – the suddenly fashionable proposal to do a quick-and-dirty, limited treaty change through the hitherto obscure Protocol 12 of the EU treaties, which is described on page 3 of the Van Rompuy document, which Brussels Blog loyalists can read here.

But there’s much more to digest in the report, and as is our practice, we thought we’d give a more extended evaluation here on the Blog. Read more

French president Nicolas Sarkozy arrives at the summit this morning.

The big European Union summit will be divided in two parts today, with all 27 EU leaders meeting in the morning before the session is narrowed to the 17 members of the eurozone in the afternoon.

The Brussels Blog has obtained a copy of the 12-page draft of the morning gathering’s communiqué, circulated to summiteers this morning, and unless things change at the meeting, it looks like there will be no final decision on the one thing the 27 had hoped to finish today – a plan to recapitalise Europe’s banks.

The draft “welcomes progress made” by EU finance ministers during their 10-hour meeting on Saturday, but says the work will not be officially signed off until another meeting on Wednesday – the first official acknowledgement that leaders from all 27 EU countries (and not just the eurozone) will have to meet again next week. Whether that meeting will be the heads of all 27 governments or just their finance ministers remains to be seen. Read more

Merkel and Sarkozy at their post-summit news conference Tuesday evening in Paris

The letter Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel sent yesterday to the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, contains a lot of ideas that have been discussed previously in Brussels and not gone very far, raising questions as to how much of the new Franco-German agenda can actually be implemented.

But reading between the lines of the letter, one theme that has gone almost unnoticed is the seeming sidelining of the institution that is supposed to be at the centre of European integration: the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch headed by José Manuel Barroso.

Suggesting that Van Rompuy head regular summits of eurozone heads of state as “the cornerstone of the enhanced economic governance of the euro area” is only part of the seemingly anti-Commission tenor of the plan. Read more

As the international community prepares for a gathering of political leaders in Qatar next week to discuss the crisis in Libya, it is worth watching the recent travels to Brussels and other European capitals of Jean Ping, head of the African Union commission. Read more

Beleaguered Japanese officials are already grappling with a humanitarian crisis wrought by a biblical earthquake and tsunami, and the prospect of apocalyptic meltdowns at a pair of stricken nuclear reactors. Add to their list of woes one European commissioner.

That would be Gunther Oettinger, the energy commissioner, whose ill-judged remarks about the crisis on Wednesday have helped to make a bad situation worse. Read more