In the blog post On the “President of Europe” (25 October 2009), Nosemonkey is mostly right about the President of the European Council. The post is (or should be) far from being “President of Europe” – either in terms of profile or power.
According to Nosemonkey, it does not matter who gets the gig. It is a meaningless position.
This is how the Lisbon Treaty outlines the new post: It lacks executive powers, and the chairman does not even have a vote, when the national leaders meet in the European Council. The President chairs the four annual meetings (and possibly a few extras), and is meant to give the European Council’s work momentum and to build consensus. International representative duties should not interfere with the work of the High Representative.
I would not go as far as to call the position or the choice of person meaningless. Chairmen can and do influence the bodies they lead, through agenda setting, persuasion, representation, reporting in public etc.
The European Council is the most powerful institution of the European Union (in tandem with the Council), so there are less important chairmanships around.
On the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, UK Foreign Minister David Miliband presented his understanding of the candidate and the task:
“We need someone who, when he or she lands in Beijing or Washington or Moscow, the traffic does need to stop, the talks do need to begin at a very, very high level."
A Blair presidency would be very good for Britain as well as very good for Europe, according to Miliband.
On the one hand, David Miliband toes the party line, promoting Labour’s candidate and former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and he eloquently morphs the post of the President of the European Council into something entirely new, the image of a world leader with the highest amount of clout. He manages to point out the Tory leadership’s astounding lack of concern for British interests.
On the other hand, Miliband’s statements have given new impetus to critical press articles, and the comments sections have overflowed with negative observations about Blair and Miliband.
The Stop Blair petition has now grown to 40,950 signatures, and the signs of popular support for Blair are scarce, both in Britain and the rest of Europe.
The backers of Tony Blair’s undeclared campaign have tacitly or expressly (Nicolas Sarkozy, David Miliband, parts of the British press) wanted to turn the new job into something much more than foreseen by the Lisbon Treaty, something resembling a “President of Europe”.
While it is in order for the European Council to elect its chairman ─ practically every collegiate body has one ─ these leaders have failed to recognise that the cosy understanding among the 27 attendants is not enough for a high-powered representative for Europe. Such a person needs more democratic legitimacy than that.
The leaders backing Blair have made three mistakes:
1) If they want something more than the Lisbon Treaty, they have to change the substance of the post, not subvert the amending treaty.
2) If they want a more commanding international presence as their President, the election procedures need to be changed to give the holder democratic legitimacy.
3) If they support Tony Blair, they alienate ever growing segments of the EU population from their union.
Sadly, the promising David Miliband has joined the club of mistaken leaders, by backing the wrong horse on the wrong grounds, against the will of EU citizens.