A feature of each six-monthly presidency of the EU is that the member state in the chair runs its own website. National pride is very much at stake, and the sites become showcases for the presidency efforts.
However, not all is well in the virtual presidency world as the Germans have been complaining about their language not being represented on the sites and the EU's ombudsman has agreed that their complaints have not been treated properly.
All this started in 2004 when an association for the defence of the German language wrote to the Dutch and the Luxembourg governments asking from German as well as English and French languages to be presented.
For reasons that we can only surmise, however, both the Dutch and the Luxembourg governments rejected the complainant's request - slowly. The complainant's letter to the Dutch government of 21 April 2004 was only answered on 6 August 2004. The letter to the Luxembourg government of 2 September 2004 was only dealt with on 18 November 2004. Furthermore, the Dutch authorities replied to two e-mails sent by the complainant in English, although a reply in German had been requested.
That was enough to get the German association really worked up, sufficient for them to take a complaint to the council. Initially, though, the Council had offered the equivalent of "nothing to do with me guv". The member state holding the presidency was solely responsible for its website, it said.
EU ombudsman, P. Nikiforos Diamandouros was then drafted in, and he disagreed. In his draft report issued yesterday, he decided that the presidency was functionally part of the Council, so the presidency's websites could not be considered as "national" websites outside the reach of Community law.
He thus concluded that the council's failure to consider the Germans' complainant constituted maladministration, and called on the council to consider the complainant's request that the internet presentations of the presidencies should be made available in German as well.
Perhaps of more significance though, this finding confirms that the EU presidency is not a national "perk" but a functional part of the council that must obey EU rules. When Tony Blair took on the job last year, therefore, he was not acting for Britain for those six months, but for the EU. The presidency was not ours, but theirs.