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From the FT’s Westminster blog
Cathy Ashton is Europe’s new foreign policy supremo. Even friends are stunned that someone so low key could have been elevated to such a high profile job. To date she has served as EU trade commissioner, leader of the Lords, and as a junior justice and education minister. Here are 10 more details about her: Read more
So it looks as if it is to be Herman Van Rompuy, Belgium’s prime minister, as the full-time president, and Catherine Ashton, Britain’s EU trade commissioner, as the foreign policy supremo. This is the culmination of eight years of efforts, starting with the EU’s Laeken Declaration of 2001, to reform the bloc’s institutions and give the EU a more dynamic world profile.
Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister, thinks the EU had a historic opportunity in its grasp and flunked it – at least as far as the full-time presidency is concerned. The British government itself was saying more or less the same thing until tonight. It was adamant that the EU needed a big-hitter as president to convince the rest of the world that the EU was going places. Now it has participated in a classic EU trade-off that has produced exactly the result it said would be no use to anyone. Read more
The sun is shining in Brussels and the sky has an unseasonably blue, cloudless, late-November-in-Rome quality as European Union leaders make their way here for the summit of summits - the event where they will choose the EU’s first full-time president and new foreign policy chief. I wonder if the weather will be so fine when the leaders finally drag themselves away from the negotiating table after what is shaping up to be a night of relentless hard bargaining.
By general consent, the frontrunner is Herman Van Rompuy, the amiable, haiku-writing Belgian prime minister. Even a speech he gave in 2004 that reveals him to be an implacable opponent of Turkey’s entry into the EU (Turkey has been an official candidate for the past four years) doesn’t seem to be doing Van Rompuy any harm. Well, why should it? It fits in perfectly with the views of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Read more
My colleague Philippe Ricard wrote a fine piece in Monday’s Le Monde about the scarcity of women candidates for top positions in the European Union – not just the first full-time president and the new foreign policy high representative, but the next 27-member European Commission.
He made the point that if only a few women are nominated to the new Commission, the European Parliament is likely to cause real trouble when the nominees appear for their confirmation hearings, expected to start in December. The legislature does not have the legal authority to reject individual nominees, but in 2004 it demonstrated that it had the political strength to force their withdrawal when it torpedoed the appointment of Rocco Buttiglione, an Italian conservative, as justice commissioner. Moreover, the parliament does have the legal power to reject the Commission in its entirety – the so-called “nuclear option”. Read more
The winner of this year’s FT ranking of European finance ministers, France’s Christine Lagarde, talks about tackling the economic crisis. Read more
I confess to a certain surprise at the way that Massimo D’Alema is climbing up the list of candidates for the post of European Union foreign policy chief. At first sight the former Italian prime minister and foreign minister ticks far too few boxes to get the job. But there are, in truth, some straightforward reasons for his ascent – none of which reflects well on the EU.
First, the unticked boxes. 1) His communist past. This is usually condensed into: “He’s a former communist and therefore unacceptable to Poland and other EU countries, which suffered under Soviet domination while the Italian communist party was gorging itself on covert funds from Moscow.” In fairness, D’Alema abandoned communism 20 years ago. I spent five years in Rome covering Italian politics, and he never struck me as an extremist or a hardliner. Quite the opposite: he was highly pragmatic, in a shifty kind of way. Read more