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The Taming of the Shrewish: The Presidency at the Heart of Informal Council Dynamics

Doreen Allerkamp

From its humble beginnings with the merely managerial duties of a formal chair, the Council Presidency has evolved into a crucial player in the decisive institution of EU decision making, although its impact is still largely underestimated in accounts of EU policy output. More than from its formal job description, the Presidency's influence results from the informal decision dynamics of the Council, particularly all the procedures to avoid open disagreement, and the manifest expectations it faces from its domestic audience, public opinion more broadly, its fellow Council members and the other EU institutions to achieve presentable results (the measure of a successful Presidency) at all costs. This causes the Presidency to wield every tool at its disposal, in particular those of the agenda-shaper and mediator and even, where necessary, unilateral sacrifice of its own national interest, to cajole Council members into an agreement. This paper explains this informal dynamic by drawing on a range of examples and demonstrates how, due to rotation, key decisions have become possible at critical junctures of the European integration process as member states have in turns been compelled to prioritize agreement in the Council over their own preferences.

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