Before rushing ahead to wreck one undeclared candidacy or advance another for the Presidency of the European Council, some principled discussion should take place regarding the framework, the procedures and the qualifications.
Let us start with the institutional setting for this post, as agreed in the Treaty of Lisbon. The intergovernmental conference inserted a new Article 9b into the Treaty on European Union (TEU), which offers the framework (Official Journal 17.12.2007 C 306/16-17):
Article 9 B
1. The European Council shall provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development and shall define the general political directions and priorities thereof. It shall not exercise legislative functions.
2. The European Council shall consist of the Heads of State or Government of the Member States, together with its President and the President of the Commission. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shall take part in its work.
3. The European Council shall meet twice every six months, convened by its President. When the agenda so requires, the members of the European Council may decide each to be assisted by a minister and, in the case of the President of the Commission, by a member of the Commission. When the situation so requires, the President shall convene a special meeting of the European Council.
4. Except where the Treaties provide otherwise, decisions of the European Council shall be taken by consensus.
5. The European Council shall elect its President, by a qualified majority, for a term of two and a half years, renewable once. In the event of an impediment or serious misconduct, the European Council can end the President's term of office in accordance with the same procedure.
6. The President of the European Council:
(a) shall chair it and drive forward its work;
(b) shall ensure the preparation and continuity of the work of the European Council in cooperation with the President of the Commission, and on the basis of the work of the General Affairs Council;
(c) shall endeavour to facilitate cohesion and consensus within the European Council;
(d) shall present a report to the European Parliament after each of the meetings of the European Council.
The President of the European Council shall, at his level and in that capacity, ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy, without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
The President of the European Council shall not hold a national office.
The Lisbon Treaty forms the basis, but the details clearly need preparation and implementation. Preparatory discussions are ongoing, but the political decisions concerning the “job description”, administrative and other resources, as well as the election itself are expected to be made during the second half of this year, during the French Council Presidency.
This brings us to the procedure, which would be more important to discuss than the personalities at this stage.
The all too probable worst case scenario is that an electoral college of 27 heads of state or government deal behind closed doors and that the citizens are only offered the result.Even the conclave of cardinals is larger, though the procedures look pretty equal at the present stage. To leave the citizens of the European Union waiting for a puff or two of white smoke – after customary leaks, rumours and speculation – would be a sad state of affairs, irrespective of the outcome.
The European Council has the powers, if the will is there, to arrange open nominations, public debate and transparent decision making, with support and reasons given openly.
Let us apply pressure, in case our leaders do not automatically seize this opportunity to reconnect the citizens with the European project.
In the short run, let us not forget that most of the above applies to the empowered High Representative/Vice-President, too.
In the long run, the “President of Europe” should be given a clear democratic mandate, be it as the chief of a politically accountable executive or as a more symbolic figure-head.
The third issue is to look at the qualifications needed for the job. Different viewpoints are not only necessary, they are highly desirable. My own main substantial criteria would be weighted towards scrutinising the candidate and his/her country with the following in mind:
* Ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and conduct during the reform process.
* The Eurozone
* The Schengen area
* The Charter of Fundamental Rights
* Commitment to the CFSP and CSDP based on dual EU and NATO membership
* Commitment to a future democratic European Union
Finally there come the personal qualities of the candidates, like trustworthiness, vision, leadership, communication and negotiation skills.
They can be evaluated and discussed by the leaders and the citizens during the campaign, when we know who are running and get a chance to see them in action.