PositionHelsinki European Council

The Helsinki European Council in underscored the need for substantial changes to the Council's working methods, and accordingly approved a series of recommendations, implementation of which was to be evaluated by the Secretary-General by mid-2001. The Secretary General's report, presented in Gothenburg, notes that "while the Helsinki recommendations have resulted in some encouraging improvements, the present arrangements overall fall well short of what is required if the Council is serious about equipping itself with effective structures and working methods to cope with a significant increase in members. Further efforts are essential if the Council wishes to remain an effective legislative and executive body after enlargement".On the plus side, since Helsinki and the four subsequent formal European Council sessions in Lisbon, Santa Maria da Feira, Nice and Stockholm, Presidencies have in general managed to limit the conclusions to fifteen pages and have, to a certain extent, followed the injunction only to include items which have actually been discussed during the proceedings. Moreover, the report notes that "Presidencies appear to have finally broken the bad habit of considering European Council conclusions as a backward-looking litany of Presidency successes". However, the Secretary General argues that conclusions are now often "artificially compressed", adding that "the result is that instead of giving a clear and understandable political steer to the Union, the conclusions tend, at least in part, towards micromanagement of the work of the Council and the Commission".Council.The GAC has followed the practice recommended at Helsinki of systematically dividing its agenda into two parts: external relations and horizontal questions (i.e. institutional affairs, general financial questions, cohesion policy, enlargement, etc.) including overall policy co-ordination (in particular preparing the European Council). "However, these changes are of a more formal and procedural rather than operational nature, and appear to have only marginally strengthened the authority and impact of the General Affairs Council on horizontal matters," according to the report.Experience has shown that after the "laboriously arrived at" agreement on sixteen Council configurations, some mergers are still giving rise to internal organisational difficulties for certain delegations. This means in fact that in certain cases the new formations have been conducted more as...

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