The trio presidency in the European Union of the Lisbon Treaty

TitleThe trio presidency in the European Union of the Lisbon Treaty
Publication TypeRiport / Report
Év / Year2011
AuthorsBátory, Ágnes, and Puetter Uwe
Sorozat cím / Series TitleThe case of the Spanish, Belgium and Hungarian group presidency
Dokumentum szám / Document NumberWorking paper 01/2011
Oldalszám / Pagination14
InstitutionHungarian Europe Society
Város / CityBudapest

On January 1st, 2011 Hungary will for the first time ever take up the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU). The country is not alone in this endeavour as the Hungarian presidency is part of an 18-month group presidency. Together with Spain and Belgium Hungary is member of a so-called ‘trio’. Over the past several years the three countries’ preparations for their respective role as the country holding the EU presidency reflected the recognition that their tasks would be performed in the context of a wider group. The three member states form the third trio presidency of this kind in the history of European integration. This paper takes a closer look at the Spanish-Belgian-Hungarian group presidency and argues that this trio is special for two reasons. First, compared with the two previous EU trio presidencies Spain, Belgium and Hungary engaged in deeper and more extensive cooperation already in the run-up to their trio presidency. In this respect, this paper considers the procedures chosen for coordination and discusses how the administrations of the three countries opted for a complex drafting process of the joint presidency programme involving the line ministries in the three capitals. Second, the trio presidency of Spain, Belgium and Hungary coincides with the entering into force and the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty. The Treaty has significant repercussions for the way the EU functions and, in particular, how its presidency system is organised. The paper therefore also outlines this new institutional context and illustrates what the immediate consequences for the first trio presidency under the new system are. It is demonstrated how the rotating presidency is now part of a multiplicity of presidency arrangements involving a mixed system of permanent and rotating chairs. Overall, these new arrangements have significantly reduced the visibility of the rotating presidency. One of the main conclusions of this paper is that the institution of the trio group presidency is subject to a number of, at times, contradictory pressures. On the one hand, the rationale for the rotating presidency in providing effective and legitimate governance to the overall EU system of decision-making continues to be strong. A cohesive and well-designed trio presidency has the potential to counter-balance or at least mitigate a consequence of the the Lisbon Treaty, namely the fact that the role of individual member states in presiding over EU decision-making has diminished. On the other hand, the incentives for member state governments and in particular their most senior representatives – the heads of state or government and the foreign ministers – to invest political capital in the preparation of the trio and the respective presidency of their own country have been reduced substantially. How this tension between the demands placed on a country holding the rotating presidency and the decreased visibility and influence of the post internally and externally is resolved remains to be seen, and may differ from presidency to presidency. The model of the trio presidency can thus be expected to stay in an institutional limbo for some time. The paper is structured as follows. The first section below outlines and reviews the institutional context of the trio presidency after the entering into force of the Lisbon Treaty. Section two then connects the argument advanced here with existing research on EU presidencies. The third section of the paper turns to the case of the Spanish, Belgium and Hungarian trio presidency in greater detail and delineates the key aspects of the preparatory and the implementation stages. Finally, the paper concludes with reviewing the role of the rotating EU presidency and the trio format within the framework of the Lisbon Treaty by making particular reference to the case of the current trio presidency.

This paper has been prepared following a request from the Hungarian Europe Society. Thanks go to István Hegedűs for this initiative. The copyright remains with the authors. The paper can be accessed through the websites of CEU Center for European Union Research ( and the Hungarian Europe Society (

This paper has been written in the context of joint research project by the authors on the EU’s trio presidency model. Research has benefited from a CEU research grant. The authors are grateful to Stefan Cibian and Johannes Müller for their research assistance. The paper draws on over 20 anonymous expert interviews with officials from member state governments and the EU institutions, carried out in Budapest and Brussels in 2010.​

Rövid cím / Short TitleThe trio presidency in the European Union of the Lisbon Treaty
Teljes cím /Alternate TitleThe trio presidency in the European Union of the Lisbon Treaty - The case of the Spanish, Belgium and Hungarian group presidency