David Miliband

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

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

As Tony Blair’s chances of becoming the European Union’s first full-time president fade, so the chances go up that David Miliband will be the EU’s next foreign policy supremo.  This is the picture emerging on the second day of the EU summit in Brussels.

The killer blow to Blair’s prospects was delivered by Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, who let it be known that she would prefer the EU’s first permanent president to come from one of the EU’s smaller states.  By definition, this rules out Blair. Read more

The fuss over who will be the European Union’s first full-time president is obscuring the less sexy but potentially more important question of who will get the two or three most powerful jobs in the next European Commission.  A good many governments would prefer to see one of their nationals in a truly influential economic policymaking role in the Commission than occupying the EU presidency, which may turn out to be a more hollow job than once foreseen.

Commission president José Manuel Barroso says he will not nominate his new team until EU leaders have chosen their new head of foreign policy, a post that entitles its holder to a Commission seat.  Any country wanting a big economic portfolio at the Commission will therefore steer clear of putting forward a candidacy for the foreign policy job, because there is only one Commission seat for each nation. Read more

With a mere 27 members (all European heads of state or government, admittedly), the electorate that will pick the European Union’s first full-time president and new foreign policy high representative is even smaller than the conclave of Roman Catholic cardinals that chooses a new pope.  But this isn’t stopping other European busybodies from trying to muscle in on the decision.

Take the main political groups in the European Parliament, for example.  They have no formal say in the matter whatsoever.  Nonetheless, the parliament’s socialist group appears confident that it has an informal understanding with the centre-right European People’s Party that the full-time EU presidency should go to a EPP politician and the foreign policy post should go to a socialist. Read more