Thursday 22 October 2009

Charlemagne and President of the European Council

Is any Briton suitable for Europe’s top job?”, asked Charlemagne’s notebook (21 October 2009). The blog post brought to my attention that two members of the European Parliament, Herbert Reul and Klaus-Heiner Lehne, have launched a petition with criteria concerning the country of origin, when electing the first President of the European Council.

Any organisation needs to take recruitment seriously, especially for top jobs, and the European Union has to take account of both states and individuals.



The Grahnlaw blog post ”President of the European Council” (10 February 2008) and hosts of other articles on this blog have called for a principled discussion about the election of the holder of the new office. They have elaborated on the theme and they have included study of the where the different member states stand in relation to the “objective” criteria. (There are more qualifiers than Luxembourg.)

Here are some of the points in the 10 February 2008 post, which discussed the election procedure and the factual criteria:

“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.”


We can always discuss the relevance of different criteria, but even at this late stage the petition by Reul and Lehne is an excellent opening among elected politicians in this respect.

Let us hope that the election procedures receive the discussion they merit.

Ralf Grahn

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