The Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the European Union 2005

The Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the European Union 2005

URL (Internet address) : http://www.eu2005.lu/en/presidence/la_presidence/historique_pres/

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Past Luxembourg Presidencies 1957-1997

First Presidencies
First European Councils
Single European Act
1991 Presidency and the beginnings of Maastricht
1997 Presidency

First Presidencies

The first Luxembourg Presidencies of the Council of Ministers of the European Economic Community (EEC) were held in 1960, 1963, 1966, 1969 and 1972. In those days, the European Council did not yet exist. Europe was still being constructed behind closed doors. In Luxembourg, the meetings were held at the town hall. Public opinion was largely indifferent and the media impact of the meetings of the ministers for foreign affairs was extremely limited. Except, of course, when there was disagreement such as that which led France to pursue the "empty chair" policy over the financing of the Common Agricultural Policy in 1965. This incident underlined the difficult relations between the Commission and the Council, and between the Community institutions and the governments of the Member States.

The crisis was settled in January 1966 under the Luxembourg Presidency. This agreement became known as the "Luxembourg compromise" (an agreement on a disagreement), to quote Pierre Werner, Luxembourg Minister of State, the then President of the Council. This arrangement allowed a Member State to put its vital national interests in the balance against an appeal to a majority vote.

At that time, Pierre Werner adopted an approach which became the measure for all Presidencies: "I believed that the main task of my Presidency was to ensure the creation of an environment and a climate of negotiation while taking into consideration the exacerbated sensitivities of the partners seeking agreement. No one was to be left behind in a squabble of linguistic subtleties camouflaging a fundamental and persisting disagreement."

First European Councils

The creation of the European Council of Heads of State and Government, proposed by French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing at the Paris Summit in 1974, progressively changed the order of the stakes. Luxembourg presided over the European Council on six occasions: in April 1976, December 1980, December 1985, June 1991 and in November and December 1997.

The 1976 summit, which was presided over by Gaston Thorn, Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, was held during a period of stagnation in European construction. Europe was still reeling from the 1973/74 oil crisis and was facing several monetary crises which forced France to exit the currency snake. Implementation of a monetary union based on the 1970 Werner Report was postponed indefinitely. The report on a political union within Europe, submitted by the former Belgian Prime Minister Leo Tindemans, was not acted upon. The majority of the Member States did not wish to debate on the institutions and the Community’s future, or on monetary issues. The only progress made was a move towards a European Parliament election by universal suffrage.

During the second term of 1980, monetary issues determined the agenda. Pierre Werner, Prime minister of Luxembourg once again, sought to alleviate tension among partners. The British government led by Mrs Thatcher refused to participate in the exchange rate mechanism within the monetary system, which had been introduced in 1979, and demanded a major review of Britain’s contribution to the Community budget. France expressed misgivings about Portugal and Spain joining the Community. An air of gloom and pessimism predominated, with partners reluctant to make concessions.

Single European Act

In 1985, Luxembourg held the Presidency, with Jacques Santer as Prime Minister and Jacques Poos as Minister for Foreign Affairs, while negotiations on the Single European Act were conducted. Conceived by the Commission under Jacques Delors, the act was aimed at reviving European construction by creating an area without internal borders governed by the four liberties of free movement of people, goods, capital and services.

In terms of economics, the idea was to create a large single interior market capable of competing with Japan and America and governed by the rule of the qualified majority of votes in the Council, except for tax issues and regulations on the free movement of workers. Instead of one-third, three-quarters of issues would now be decided by qualified majority.

Politically, the idea was to improve and streamline political cooperation with regard to a joint foreign policy. This joint policy was implemented on issues such as the CSCE or the Middle East, but unity within the EC was far more difficult to establish when sanctions were to be imposed on the USSR because of Poland, on Argentina because of the Falklands War and on South Africa because of apartheid. In 1985, the European Community struggled to define the strategic objectives common to the Member States. New policies introduced in the treaty included a regional policy that was implemented but not codified, the environment, research and technology. Finally, the European institutions were given greater democratic legitimacy, in particular by broadening the European Parliament’s sphere of activity.

Jacques Delors wanted above all to introduce the idea of taking joint decisions although, at the outset, certain Member States did not even want to discuss the different aspects of European policy at a single venue. However, the combined efforts of Jacques Delors, Jacques Santer and Jacques Poos ensured the idea was realised.

1991 Presidency and the beginnings of Maastricht

During the first term of 1991, when Jacques Santer and Jacques Poos took over the Presidency for Luxembourg of what was still called the European Community, the world had witnessed many upheavals. The crisis in the Persian Gulf was at its height, Central and Eastern European countries were changing dramatically and facing economic and financial collapse, and the threat of civil war, due to nationalist and ethnic disputes, loomed in the Balkans and the USSR.

Four main European challenges were outlined: the aim was to set up a single market and further sectoral policies, create economic and monetary union, transform the Community into a political union and step up its action and influence on the world stage.

This Presidency, which started at the time of the Gulf War, ended with the onset of the war in Yugoslavia, where Santer and Poos led the initial mediation missions of the European Troïka. The attempts failed because Europe did not have the mechanisms to enable it to pursue a genuine joint policy, and the views of the Member States on the conflict differed greatly.

Despite these tragedies, two intergovernmental conferences were initiated under the Luxembourg Presidency - one on political union, the other on economic and monetary union. The Maastricht Treaty would later be based on the results of these conferences.

The Presidency submitted a first text on the political chapter, in particular on the future "Common Foreign and Security Policy". The text advocated communitising the foreign and security policy of the Member States of the future EU. In the long run, this would lead to the sharing of the hitherto sole authority of national governments on foreign and security policy within common, and hence supranational, political bodies. This time, however, the traditional confrontation between "communitarians" and "intergovernmentalists" threatened to block the whole process. In order to move ahead, the Luxembourg Presidency proposed a compromise by introducing the notion of the "three pillars": Community policy, Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and Justice and Home Affairs (JHA), the latter being dealt with on a purely intergovernmental level, as well as a possible gradual development of the EU towards a federation. This idea was heavily criticised at first and blocked by the British, who were against Economic and Monetary Union. Finally, however, it formed the basis for the Maastricht Treaty and subsequent treaties, after a Dutch project had been rejected.

Another key innovation of the Maastricht Treaty was the idea of European citizenship. The new right to active and passive voting in municipal and European elections in the EU citizen’s country of residence was added to the rights of establishment, free movement and residence.

1997 Presidency

The 1997 Presidency, when Jean-Claude Juncker was Prime Minister and Jacques Poos Minister for Foreign Affairs, started just after the conclusion of the Treaty of Amsterdam. Its enormous tasks were to:

1. prepare the ground for a credible European response to the employment issue at a time when the EU had around 18 million unemployed;

2. negotiate new consultative structures and an time schedule for introducing the euro, which involved all partners;

3. launch the enlargement process with all the candidate countries;

4. differentiate between the countries with which it would be possible to negotiate from the beginning of 1998 and those which would need additional support;

5. clarify relations between the EU and Turkey within the framework of the enlargement process;

6. face the thorny issues of Common Foreign and Security Policy, such as the peace process in the Middle East, diplomatic tensions with Tehran which were preventing the German ambassador from regaining his post and finally the offer of support and dialogue to the Algerian authorities following civilian massacres.

The Prime Minister and Employment Minister Jean-Claude Juncker had to use all his powers of persuasion to convince some governments to accept the idea that the Employment Summit, the first of its kind, would produce an outline of a European social integration policy, the "Luxembourg objectives".

Mr Juncker also managed to draw up the schedule for introducing the euro.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs Jacques Poos had to ensure his peers regarded enlargement as an ongoing and progressive process. Steps had to be taken so that membership negotiations, which were due to begin with some candidate countries in 1998, did not make the other countries feel they were being excluded from the enlargement process.

Turkey was invited to the European Conference, which formed part of the enlargement process. However, as that country was not included in the accession process, it rejected the conclusions of the Luxembourg European Council and broke off political dialogue with the EU. Talks were resumed at the end of 1999 during the European Council of Helsinki.


Last update of this page on : 29-12-2004