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Josephine Sylvestre: Council Presidency

As the turbulent year of 2020 drew to a close, so did Germany’s six-month Presidency of the EU Council. It decided to lead with the motto ‘Together for Europe’s Recovery’, clearly alluding to the crisis during which it took over and the recovery plan it supported to implement (EU 2020, 2020).

What is the Presidency?

The Council of the European Union, not to be confused with the Council of Europe or the European Council, represents the legislative branch of the EU together with the Parliament (EU 2020, 2020). Each Member State has the role of presiding over the Council for a six-month term, alongside the permanent President of the Council Charles Michel (who, fun fact, did his Erasmus at the University of Amsterdam!). Since the treaty, the rotational presidency role shifted to a focus on legislative power rather than political power (Vasnonyte, 2020). Furthermore, the order in which the Member States would succeed one another was organised in trios, with every trio 'leader' being a stronger economic member state. For example, Germany's late 2020 Presidency was the first of the trio, with Portugal and Slovenia taking the seat in 2021. The trios are aimed to be as balanced as possible in terms of geography, size and years of membership to the EU.

In the general sense, the president's role can be set out in three main tasks: planning and chairing the meetings of the Council to ensure the efficiency of negotiations and maximum cohesion between member states, representing the Council in front of other EU institutions such as the Parliament and the Commission, and representing the Council before the Parliament during the legislative process.

Notably, Germany played a significant role in passing the budget last year. All 27 Member States accepted the new seven-year budget (worth over €1 trillion) and the corona-crisis recovery fund, but it had not been an easy road (The Economist, 2016). Rule-of-law abiding conditions on spending accompanied the budget proposal, which led Hungary and Poland to threaten a veto (Economist, 2020). It was only when Germany issued a supplementary proposal, without compromising the rule of law's importance, that both countries signed the proposal. This allowed Germany's presidency to finish on a high note, which was vital for Angela Merkel, particularly with the upcoming 2021 national elections signalling the end of her long-standing pro-European era.

Will the rotational system live on?

When the reform of the rotational system was announced in Lisbon 2008, many were sceptical about how this would influence the legislative process and how this new version would ensure a sense of responsibility in each member state, especially given the expansion of the union (Ambroziak, 2012, p. 125). The January 2016 copy of the Economist compared the system to Zaire’s dictatorial cabinet-reshuffling method, where they say ‘the greater cost is to the quality of EU law-making’ (The Economist, 2016). On the other hand, arguments favouring the system say that each country feels more ownership and responsibility for EU affairs when they ‘are periodically placed in charge of them’. However, given that countries now need to wait 14 years for a second go, there is a clear possibility of a lag in this sense of ownership (Politico, 2016). It was predicted that once Croatia (as the last new member state to preside) finishes its term (in early 2020), a holistic reform in the rotational presidency will ensue, potentially eliminating it altogether.

But for now, over to Portugal.

How will they handle the presidency during the crisis?

What approaches will they take in regards to the vaccination programme?

Will they fulfil the controversial EU-Mercosur Agreement as a priority, despite the crisis?

Written by Josephine Sylvestre, Amsterdam Chapter of European Horizons.

Read more about it:


Ambroziak, A. (2012). The Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Managing the Process or Creating the Policy?. Yearbook of Polish European Studies. 15. Retrieved from:

Anonymous. (2020). What is the Presidency of the Council of the EU?​​​​​​​. Retrieved January 06, 2021, from

Stop the music. (2021). The Economist Online. Retrieved from:

Vaznonytė, A. (2020). The rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU – Still an agenda-setter? European Union Politics, 21(3), 497–518.

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