Since its birth, the multiple-headed European hydra has been challenging to understand for the big and the powerful as well as for the simple citizens. In his new book, A Journey, Mr Blair writes that the former US president George Bush was confused by the presence of Guy Verhofstadt at the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa. ‘He didn’t know or recognise Guy, whose advice he listened to with considerable astonishment,’ Mr Blair writes. ‘He then turned to me and whispered, “Who is this guy?” “He is the prime minister of Belgium,” I said. “Belgium?” George said, clearly aghast at the possible full extent of his stupidity. “Belgium is not part of the G8.” ’ Mr Blair explained to Mr Bush that Mr Verhofstadt was there as ‘president of Europe’. Belgium held the presidency of the EU council at the time. Mr Bush responded: ‘You got the Belgians running Europe?’ before shaking his head, ‘now aghast at our stupidity’, Mr Blair writes. Would Mr Bush be less perplexed after the deep evolutions encountered willy-nilly by the EU in recent years? (The Telegraph, 1 September 2010). The post-Lisbon EU is both a functioning machine, which showed its resilience in facing the economic and financial crisis, and a graveyard of more ambitious political dreams. Its robustness in matters of policy combines with its apparent intrinsic limits as a polity. The failure of the constitutional process showed that the European political community was not ready to take the step of becoming a sovereign body with full state-like paraphernalia (among other things a fundamental charter and a founding moment, symbols, the claim of a common historical heritage, the direct exercise of universal suffrage to elect accountable supreme representatives, competing transnationally for the definition of the public good). An alternative is that the EU is evolving towards a new kind of political system for which the constitutional reference is irrelevant; for example, a regulatory state relying on participatory demoï-cracy. In both cases, however, the question of legitimization remains inescapable. The challenge has been to make Europe more visible and legible. The multiplication of figures designed to incarnate the EU is part of this vision. The EUCO has been since its creation the keystone of the embodiment of European integration. It is, first, its composition, as the gathering of heads of state or government, that turns it into the ruling cenacle of the few and the
powerful. Second, it is its significance as the ‘European family meeting’ in intimacy, to go beyond a past of wars and competition to prepare a common future. The embodiment is ambivalent. National leaders who act and are accountable as such are invited to compromise and to speak in unison for Europe. The EUCO depends on the prestige and authority of figures rooted in national spaces and at the same time demands a transcending of these national matrices. Another delicate balance – or tension – is between the unexciting reality of European politics and the need for dramatization. Brussels is perceived as poor in drama: middle-aged men in grey suits making horse-dealer compromises about very technical policies. Nevertheless, a survival of the constitutional process is the belief that Europe needs faces and voices. The creation of the position of president of the EUCO is the major outcome. The building of this emerging role may be influenced by existing institutional and communicative structures. The first question is the relationship between the presidency of the EUCO and the national rotating presidency: are the two functions complementary or competitive, or do they blur into each other? The second question is the extent and the modalities of the transformative effects of the presidency of the EUCO on the usual limits of European communication. The first part of this chapter presents briefly the approach in terms of symbolic politics and defines the European communicative pattern. The EU is to be understood as a consociation of states that circumscribes political communication at an elitist level and takes for granted existing identities at the risk of reinforcing diversity and making it more difficult to manage. The second part assesses the potential costs and advantages of the ongoing institutional change in matters of communication. The decline of the salience of national presidencies may provoke the narrowing of the window of opportunity offered by the function in the country leading the EU to speak more and better of Europe in its national space. This possible loss is to be measured against the gain resulting from the personalization of European politics around Van Rompuy. The third part deals with the narratives of Europe underlying European summits. These narratives go beyond circumstantial factors and link evolving institutional logics with long-term representations of the European political order.