Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Gordon Brown as President of the European Council?

The European level parties, which could have offered alternatives, failed before the European elections, contributed to their defeat at the elections, and they look set to fail in the newly elected European Parliament.

Without a coalition in the European Parliament with the necessary votes behind a better candidate, how much point is there in discussing the second term for José Manuel Barroso as President of the European Commission?

Show me a realistic alternative, and I will gladly continue the discussion, but Barroso is practically anointed, by an electoral college of 27.

Politics is the art of the possible. It is time to look ahead.


Two top jobs

If the Treaty of Lisbon enters into force, two top jobs will be filled: the new semi-permanent President of the European Council and the empowered High Representative/Vice-President.

This is why I presented the framework in the mock jobs advertisement: European Council recruitment: President and High Representative (14 June 2009).

Tony Barber on the FT Brussels blog added a concrete element to the discussion by speculating: Food For Thought: Gordon Brown as the EU’s First Full-Time President? (15 June 2009)

By adding a known personality, Barber does the discussion a service. For or against, he helps to ignite a forward-looking discussion.


Personality test or objective criteria?

Admittedly, at least one of the three top spots should go to a national of one of the big member states. What I find less convincing is that the President of the European Council would be a much greater asset for the European Union if he or she is an internationally known ex-leader (such as Tony Blair or Gordon Brown).

First of all, the Treaty of Lisbon seems to be written with a more ceremonial European Council President in mind; the member states have not presented a detailed job description even for public discussion. Secondly, the High Representative (not the President) is the one designed to run the foreign policy of the European Union. Thirdly, an ex-leader has no special muscle; other world leaders coolly assess the strengths and weaknesses of the European Union based on the force and cohesion of the EU, or the lack thereof; personalities come a distant second.

In my view, the candidates should be evaluated with a view their coming tasks: the whole panoply of EU affairs for the President of the European Council and foreign, security and defence policy for the High Representative.


More objective criteria

Gordon Brown and any other candidate should be judged on the merits – of country and person.

A European defence has to be the long term goal of the European Union, with NATO as an important military alliance.

In my opinion, due to their ambiguous relation to an EU defence and the transatlantic NATO relationship, Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, Malta and Sweden had disqualified themselves from filling the posts of President of the European Council and double-hatted High Representative.

Denmark has an opt-out in place concerning the common security and defence policy, although it is a NATO member.

The remaining countries and persons should be evaluated on their contributions.


The President of the European Council is supposed to chair and drive forward the work of the European Council. Therefore, the other evolving core areas of the European Union are important, when assessing the track record.

Schengen agreement

The Schengen agreement abolishes border controls between the member states. Ireland and the United Kingdom have opted out.

Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania are not yet inside, but for new member states a firm intent should be enough.



Denmark and the United Kingdom have opted out of the common currency. Sweden has not bothered to join, despite its treaty obligation to adopt the euro.

Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania have committed themselves to entry, but have not made it yet. The commitment should suffice at this stage.


Justice and home affairs

Ireland and the United Kingdom have opted out of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters under the Treaty of Lisbon. Denmark has opted out of justice and home affairs (JHA) as well as EU citizenship (de iure).


EU Charter of Fundamental Rights

Under the Treaty of Lisbon, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights – politically binding since December 2000 – would become legally binding. Poland and the United Kingdom have opted out.


Democratic reform

As long as the Czech President Vaclav Klaus and the Polish President Lexh Kaczynski prolong the ratification process of the Lisbon Treaty, their countries should be excluded from consideration for the top jobs.

Long term, a commitment to an effective and democratic European Union, beyond the Lisbon Treaty, should be the hallmarks of the contenders for the top offices.


Talent pool

If we strike the unwilling or negligent countries, we are left with the talent pool coming from 17 EU member states: Belgium, Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.

According to these criteria, the EU member states outside one or more core areas at this point are: Austria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Malta, Poland, Sweden and the United Kingdom.


Is it unreasonable to expect that Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or any other candidate for the office of President of the European Council or empowered High Representative comes from a member state engaged in all the core areas of EU policy (or committed to joining)?


Election procedure

The heads of state or government have granted themselves the right to appoint the President of the European Council and the new High Representative, but nothing prevents them from seeking open debate and the backing of the citizens of the European Union.

Public nominations of candidates within set deadlines and open campaigns with media debates are easy to arrange, if the political will is there.

Ralf Grahn