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The EU is trying to decide what kind of personality it wants for the new position of president.
BRUSSELS — “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?” U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger couldn’t have known three decades ago how long and loudly his plaint about the multiheaded bureaucracy would resonate.
The phrase has been repeated in Brussels to the point of becoming cliche while pro-European Union forces have worked to get to where they are today: ready to install a president of the European Union, along with a high representative for foreign affairs, both tasked with making the EU more visible on the world stage.
Now that the new Lisbon Treaty creating these jobs has been ratified by all 27 member states it will come into force Dec. 1. So the race is on to fill the new positions and deliberation is hitting the mainstream, catching up to that which has gone on for years largely behind closed doors.
However, no one’s quite sure what lies on the other side of the finish line for the “winner.” The Lisbon Treaty officially creates the position of president, to be appointed by the EU’s heads of state for a two-and-a-half-year term and preside over summits, but there’s not much of a job description. Whoever is named as the EU’s first president will indelibly define the nature of the presidency.
Initially, there was zest for a strong personality, someone who would not only be picking up the receiver on Kissinger’s desired hotline, but would get his or her own calls answered by other world leaders. There are few European leaders who are recognizable on other continents; Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy are not on the job market.
Campaigns are primarily being conducted through surrogates — no one owns up to “running.” But as long as several years ago, and as few as 10 days ago, the person considered to have the best odds was former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Since leaving office two years ago, Blair has kept his profile high as the Quartet’s special envoy for the Middle East, he has experience as a head of state and he’s pro-Europe in a sea of U.K. skepticism. Despite widespread disapproval for Blair’s support for the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, numerous press articles speculated he could be appointed immediately upon the treaty’s full ratification.
But at the head-of-state summit last week in Brussels, parties on the European left — of which former Labour leader Blair is a member — decided they would prefer to have the position of high representative, effectively ruling out fielding a candidate for the president position as well. (This is part of the very complicated political game of divvying up the top institutional jobs in a grand agreement. The European Commission presidency and European Parliament presidency are both currently held by center-right politicians, so the other major parties, Socialists and Liberals, are looking to exert their influence over the new president and high-representative posts.)