Finn Olli Rehn, last week in Davos, has been seen on Finnish media by 45% of his fellow countrymen.
In Brussels, being a member of the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, is about as high as an official can climb in the eurocracy. But just how well are those Brussels luminaries known back in their home countries?
Thanks to the commission itself, we now have a good idea. According to a telephone survey conducted by Eurobarometer – the results of which haven’t been published, but were presented to commissioners during a meeting Tuesday – the best-known is Finland’s Olli Rehn, the economic commissioner who has been in the press almost constantly thanks to the eurozone crisis. He also contemplated running for president of Finland last year, which undoubtedly helped boost his score.
According to the survey, obtained by Brussels Blog, 45 per cent of Finns said they had seen or heard Rehn in the media, far ahead of the rest of the commission – including its president, Portugal’s José Manuel Barroso, who finished 9th with 31 per cent of Portuguese respondents saying they’ve seen the former prime minister on local media.
At the bottom of the list were commissioners from two of the largest member states: France’s Michel Barnier, who only 8 per cent of French respondents said they had heard or seen, and Britain’s Cathy Ashton, who came in at 16 per cent.
The complete list after the jump.
New York Stock Exchange on August 4, 2011. Image by AFP
In a sign of the severity of this week’s market turbulence, Olli Rehn, Europe’s economics commissioner, has cut short his holiday and will be back in Brussels today. Rehn is to address the press corps at midday – presumably to undo some of the damage caused by an explosive letter penned by his boss, José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president.
In his letter – which was sent to the eurozone heads of government on Wednesday, but released to the press on Thursday – Barroso acknowledged that the big decisions taken at a eurozone summit on July 21 were not having the intended effect on financial markets. He also called for a “rapid reassessment” of the eurozone’s €440bn bailout fund just two weeks after leaders had armed it with new weapons following a torturous, months-long debate.
Olli Rehn, the European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs
The debate in the Greek parliament has begun, and pressure is building ahead of the key meeting of eurozone finance ministers on Sunday which – in the event of parliament’s passage of a new €28bn austerity plan – will both approve a quick €12bn in aid to Athens and set up the outlines for second Greek bail-out package.
One of the unwritten rules of a financial panic seems to be that the more severe a crisis is, the more scripted and repetitive public officials become.
When they announced their provisional rescue package for Greece on Sunday, European officials pointed not only to its size – at least €30bn- but also its details. For euros and details are what the markets have been demanding these last frustrating weeks.
As with many things involving the European Parliament, there is an air of unreality about this week’s confirmation hearings of the nominees to the next European Commission. It would be entirely mistaken to think that the process bears much resemblance to the kind of rigorous hearings that presidential appointees are obliged to undergo in the US Senate. To judge from the proceedings so far in Brussels, the questions asked in the European Parliament’s committees are far less probing, and the nominees are able to get away with answers that are at best platitudinous, at worst utterly incoherent.
There are some honourable exceptions. The best performance has been that of Belgium’s Karel De Gucht, the EU trade commissioner-designate, who wasn’t afraid to speak frankly about his opposition to a carbon border tax, a policy favoured among others by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Equally authoritative were Spain’s Joaquín Almunia, who will run the important competition portfolio, and Finland’s Olli Rehn, responsible for economic and monetary affairs. This trio looks set to be the powerhouse of the next Commission, along with France’s Michel Barnier, the internal market commissioner-designate.
Enlargement of the European Union is, almost imperceptibly, moving forward once more. EU foreign ministers are expected next week to forward Albania’s membership application to the European Commission for an opinion. This is a necessary technical step on the path to entry – small, but important.
The Commission is already preparing opinions on the applications of Iceland and Montenegro. The opinions will take quite some time to deliver – longer for Albania and Montenegro than for Iceland – but the machinery is now in motion.
To follow up on Monday’s blog, in which I suggested it was extremely unlikely that Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini would achieve his ambition of becoming the European Union’s next foreign policy chief, the obvious question is – well, who will get the job?
Three names keep cropping up. One is Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, a Dutchman who has served as Nato’s secretary-general since 2004 and who is about to be replaced by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister. The second is Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister, who is another ex-premier. The third is Olli Rehn, a Finn who is the EU’s enlargement commissioner.