Friday 27 November 2009

Van Rompuy and Ashton jobs: State of the European Union?

Few questions have attracted as much comment in the Eurosphere as the (s)election of Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton to the new top jobs of the European Union under the Lisbon Treaty. Between deep despair, vitriol and angelic official optimism, few emotional notes have been missed. Is there any sense in adding to the virtual deforestation the nominations have caused on the web?


The proof of the pudding will come in two and a half years for the president of the European Council, Van Rompuy, and in five years for the high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Baroness Ashton, who will also be vice-president of the EU Commission.

However, not content to wait that long, we may want to take a glimpse at the future through the eyes of a few cooler heads, experts in European affairs.

Antonio Missiroli

Two cheers and one lesson for the EU, by Antonio Missiroli (European Policy Centre EPC, 23 November 2009; 2 pages) is a short commentary, which starts by saying that the choice of Van Rompuy is fully in line with the profile drawn (albeit vaguely) in the treaty.

The appointment of Ashton was more unexpected, but despite her relative inexperience she could grow in and on the job.

The European Union does not achieve a single telephone number, but rather has a Brussels-based switchboard, a new system which may need some time to take root and shape.

The nomination debate, kicked off by the ‘spin’ offensive launching Tony Blair, and the procedure left much to be desired.

Next time, in 2014, the institutional profiles, the political rationale and the procedure must be thought out in advance. Personalities matter and public opinion has shown great interest. The European Council can still appoint its ‘chairman’, but the main Europarties should publicly nominate candidates for Commission president and HR/VP. This would enhance the democratic legitimacy of the choices.


Piotr Maciej Kaczynski and Peadar o Broin

Piotr Maciej Kaczyński & Peadar ó Broin have written an analysis, Two new leaders in search of a job description (Centre for European Policy Studies, CEPS Policy Brief No. 200/25 November 2009; 4 pages), where they describe the posts of the president of the European Council and the high representative/vice-president as outlined by the Lisbon Treaty.

The authors note the risk that the president and the rotating Council presidency may clash, but the permanent president is also supposed to drive forward the work of the European Council. The prerogatives of the permanent president need to be more precisely defined in the Rules of Procedure of the European Council, due to be adopted in December.

The new powers of the “double-hatted” HR/VP and the sharing of responsibilities for EU external relations raise a number of critical institutional questions.

The discussion of the points to be settled offers a good background to the decisions to be taken by the European Council 10 to 11 December 2009. The table at the end presents a clear overview of a muddy situation: the external representation of the European Union. (‘differ’ in point 6 should be read ‘defer’, I presume)


European integration is not a mausoleum, but a building site. Both papers have the merit of preparing the ground for future debate and decisions.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Do you find EUSSR myths fascinating? Are we EU citizens worth a better European Union? Educate yourself; there are already 487 Euroblogs aggregated on multilingual On most of the blogs you can comment and discuss our common European future.

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