After the great media coverage of last week’s EU summit, few Europeans can have missed that the EU has been given a new leading duo in Herman Van Rompuy i and Catherine Ashton i. But in the shadow of the top job appointments another person was also appointed to take care of the EU machinery behind the scenes. His name is Pierre de Boissieu and he is something of an unknown quantity outside the corridors of Brussels.
Pierre de Boissieu is the new Secretary-General of the Council Secretariat. It is more of a civil servant post, which may explain why it was not given as many column inches as the two top posts. But the Secretary-General is really the person oiling the EU machinery behind the EU’s media personalities.
Responsible for 3500 employees
The job description states that the Secretary-General shall lead the Council Secretariat, which supports the EU Council of Ministers. The Council consists of the governments of the individual Member States and the Presidency rotates between them every six months. Until now, the Council Secretariat has focused on assisting the country holding the Presidency, but now it will also give support to the new permanent President of the European Council and to some degree the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
In practice, the post is best described as ‘the spider in the web’. The Secretary-General must keep track of all actors and act as an adviser, coordinator and administrator all at the same time. But despite its central role, the post is described in just one sentence in the Treaty of Lisbon. It says that “the Council shall be assisted by a General Secretariat under the responsibility of a Secretary-General appointed by the Council”. On 1 December, Mr de Boissieu will take up his post and will then become responsible for the Council Secretariat’s 3 500 employees.
Separating the roles
But let us stop and rewind the tape. The post of Secretary-General has been in existence since the establishment of the EU’s Council of Ministers as an institution. Up until 1999, that is. That was when the Treaty of Amsterdam entered into force, the post of High Representative was established and the Member States decided to place the High Representative in the Council. With this, that person was also given the title of Secretary-General and was able to add the not entirely simple abbreviation SG/HR (Secretary General/High Representative) to his or her CV. The change in job description for the post of Secretary-General pushed its former duties down to the post of Deputy Secretary-General.
This is the post that has been held by Pierre de Boissieu for the past ten years, so when he goes to work next week, he will be treading on familiar office ground. The duties are not unlike his previous duties. As Deputy Secretary-General he was already responsible for more or less the entire Secretary-General portfolio and the Council Secretariat, since the High Representative Javier Solana i has been busy with the EU’s foreign affairs and security policy. With the Treaty of Lisbon, the two roles are now separated.