European Council president

Thorning-Schmidt, left, and Merkel at last week's EU summit. Is the Danish PM's star falling?

With Jean-Claude Juncker’s confirmation as European Commission president by the European Parliament in two week’s time something of a foregone conclusion, attention in Brussels corridors has turned to the other two top jobs that are due to be decided at a special summit July 16: European Council president and High Representative for foreign affairs.

According to officials and diplomats, there was much discussion of candidates’ names on the sidelines of last week’s EU summit, and while two weeks is a long time in politics, a few trends are emerging:

1. Momentum to get a centre-left candidate into the European Council presidency is stalling. Going into last week’s summit, it was widely assumed that because the centre-right European People’s party (EPP) got one of their own atop the Commission, the Council job would go to the centre-left Party of European Socialists (PES). But that conventional wisdom has changed. 

As Brussels shuts down for the Easter holiday, those of us at the Brussels Blog would like to leave readers with a joyous thought to contemplate over the break: Arnold Schwarzenegger as president of the European Council.

As far fetched as the idea may seem, at least one former advisor to the Governator thinks it’s a runner: Terry Tamminen, who served as cabinet secretary (essentially chief policy advisor) to Schwarzenegger during the Austrian-born movie star’s tenure as California governor.

In a Schwarzenegger profile published in the new issue of Newsweek, Tamminen says he has already raised the possibility with his former boss.

“In the next few years, the EU will be looking for a much more high-profile president – somebody who can unify Europe,” Tamminen is quoted as saying. “The French won’t want a German, and the Germans won’t want an Italian. How about a European-born person who went off to America and…could return to be the Washington or Jefferson of a new unified Europe?” 

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. 

When does No mean Yes – or maybe?  I’m not venturing here into the treacherous territory of date rape law, but rather thinking of what politicians say when they’re asked if they want to be the European Union’s first permanent president.

Take Felipe González, Spain’s socialist prime minister from 1982 to 1996.  Rumours have swirled around Brussels for months that González is interested in the job and that President Nicolas Sarkozy of France would be pleased to see him get it.  González’s fellow Spaniard, Javier Solana, who is the EU’s foreign policy high representative, is on record as saying last June that he believes the ex-premier “has the energy and the capacity for the job”.