Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Best EU High Representative?

Sweden’s Fredrik Reinfeldt has consulted outside the public sphere, and soon he will have to deliver. Thursday evening in Brussels, 27 heads of government or state (and José Manuel Barroso as president-elect of the EU Commission) will try to reach agreement, or at least a decision on the new top jobs under the Lisbon Treaty.

If competence and engagement in European Union affairs decide the outcome, the new president of the European Council is Jean-Claude Juncker, now prime minister of Luxembourg. The prime minister of Belgium, Herman Van Rompuy, is a newcomer on the European scene, but he is seen as a potential compromise candidate by some, who appreciate his mediating skills and his country’s long and constructive role in European integration. Latvia’s former president, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, has even less direct involvement in EU affairs, but the ongoing integration of new member states in Central Europe and gender balance have symbolic value.

Dutch premier Jan Peter Balkenende, Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves and former Finnish prime minister Paavo Lipponen are among those who have been mentioned in the discussions.

Tony Blair remains the official candidate of the UK Labour government, despite being a divisive figure in Britain as well as in the rest of the European Union.

High Representative

Yesterday, Tony Barber on the FT Brussels blog asked the rhetorical question: “Whatever happened to the idea that Europe’s top jobs should go to the best qualified candidates?”

In the blog post Massimo D’Alema: Pair of Safe Hands, or Disaster in the Making? (16 November 2009), Barber clearly came out against appointing D’Alema the new EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy.

If British media (including the FT) were really concerned with competence in EU affairs, they would strongly have endorsed the candidacy of Jean-Claude Juncker for the European Council presidency. Instead, we have seen a steady stream of ridicule and innuendo about “Lilliputians”, even in quality media based in the UK.

Still, the question about the competence of the high representative is worth asking. Let us put it like this: Are there more qualified candidates in the running than Massimo D’Alema?

As far as we know, Downing Street 10 and David Miliband himself have ruled out the prospects of Britain’s foreign secretary (since 2007) running for the post of EU high representative.

Thus, the question can only be put with regard to other potential candidates. If Britain, France and Germany refuse to propose their best names, or any candidates, the pool of potential candidates is further diminished.

This is the power vacuum Barber mentions, and the candidature of D’Alema is one answer to fill it. What is Barber’s alternative?

In terms of personal competence, Sweden’s foreign minister Carl Bildt would probably come out on top in Europe (regardless of Miliband), so should the European Council (and Barroso) opt for him?

In my humble view, if each job was given to the “best man”, the outcome would be Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Council and Carl Bildt as high representative, both politically from the centre-right (European People’s Party).

Package deal

This leads to the question hard to avoid: Should our national leaders forget their joint declaration (No 6), attached to the Lisbon Treaty, that “due account is to be taken of the need to respect the geographical and demographic diversity of the Union and its Member States”?

The heads of government or state clearly stated that the two new jobs and the Commission presidency were to be decided as a package deal. They did not specifically mention political affiliation or gender, although clarity would have been preferable to obfuscation.

If we see the top jobs as a political package deal, the Commission presidency has already gone to the EPP: José Manuel Barroso. Besides, the EPP has made its man, Jerzy Buzek from Poland, president of the European Parliament (probably to be followed by a social democrat).

Is it unreasonable if the socialists want more, and the liberals and women want something before the two remaining posts are decided?

Did the process become party political and unedifying only now, Tony Barber?

Ralf Grahn

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