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.
I was fortunate enough to speak with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt on Tuesday about how the European Union is going about the task of choosing its first full-time president and its next foreign policy high representative.
The longer our conversation progressed, the more I realised how damaging to editorial standards, not to mention the people’s understanding of politics and government, are the competitive pressures on modern news organisations to be ahead of the rest of the pack. For this particular EU story has, over the past few weeks, produced a cornucopia of nonsense as every broadcaster and newspaper has fallen over its rivals in a fruitless and fundamentally misguided attempt to show that it, and it alone, has got the lowdown.
As European Union leaders gather for their two-day summit in Brussels, the word is that the British government’s effort to have Tony Blair selected as the EU’s first full-time president is running into trouble.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has just finished a round of afternoon discussions with other European socialist leaders, trying to persuade them that Blair deserves the job. The talks did not go well.
There can be few presidential campaigns that have kicked off with the declaration “I am not a dwarf”. But this is what Le Monde quotes Jean-Claude Juncker today as saying in the interview in which Luxembourg’s prime minister reveals he would consider being a candidate for the European Union’s presidency “if the call came”.
I have interviewed Juncker and seen him in action more than a few times over the years, and I can confirm that he is not a dwarf – though I have heard other disparaging terms applied to him that need not concern us here. What most interests me is the enormous gulf in perceptions of Juncker’s potential candidacy between the UK and certain mainland European countries.
This is a short note to let everyone know that Tuesday’s Financial Times will carry an article looking at who will be the lucky person appointed as the European Union’s first full-time president (assuming, as seems more and more likely, that the EU’s Lisbon treaty comes into effect next year).
So, readers – who do you think should be the first president?
I’m in Hamburg today wondering what would happen if next Sunday’s German election were to produce not some messy, inconclusive result, but a clear-cut victory for one party or the other in the ruling Christian Democrat-Social Democrat grand coalition. What might this mean for the allocation of top jobs in the European Union?
Of course, unless the opinion polls are wildly wrong, it is inconceivable that the Social Democrats will emerge as the largest party in the Bundestag. The post-reunification fissures of the German left seem to have doomed the SPD to second place in perpetuity behind the Christian Democrats. But if the inconceivable were to happen, then Angela Merkel would no longer be chancellor and would presumably be looking for a new challenge and a new job.