The Presidency of the Council is one of the most important leadership positions in the institutional setup of the European Union (EU). Yet, the treaties defining this institutional setup are largely silent on the Presidency’s powers, roles, and functions. Apart from a single paragraph in the Treaty on European Union, which limits office holders to member state representatives and establishes equal rotation as the general selection principle for filling the post, the treaties just mention that “the Council shall meet when convened by its President . . .” (Article 237, Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Official Journal of the European Union, 2012). Thus, little can be learned about the Presidency from reading the formal constitutional rulebook.
Research on the Council Presidency endeavors to shed more light on the Presidency’s roles, functions, and powers in Council negotiations and the EU decision-making process more broadly. It does so by examining the causes and effects of lower-level formal rules, informal norms, and behavioral practices that have been established over time. The Presidency fulfills key tasks in the organization and management of the Council’s work as well as its external representation by exercising a number of procedural prerogatives and administrative resources that put it in an advantageous position vis-à-vis other member states.
The fact that the Presidency can potentially use its elevated position in the Council’s decisionmaking process to advance its own private interests raises two interlinked questions: First, why do member states grant the Presidency these powers, if they can potentially be used to their disadvantage? Second, is the Presidency actually able to use these powers to advance its own policy priorities and preferences? Not surprisingly, much research on the Council Presidency has focused on these two questions, and this review is organized around theoretical and empirical answers to them.