Crunch Day for Europe President

This is it.  All will be decided later today or perhaps tomorrow if the deliberations in the European Council of Ministers about the position of President of the Council and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs continue late into the next day.  We are already hearing stories about participants taking one, two or even three shirts to see them through.  (They are almost all men – hence the shirt question).

Well, will our very own TB make it?  Tony’s chances do seem to have revived during the past two days, but whether he can overcome the “small country” challenge is still not certain.  Some of the tiniest EU states don’t want a large country holding the post as they fear this will smother them.  So we are now seeing an attempt at a classic EU fudge – find the lowest common denominator and go with that regardless of whether or not that is the best and most effective decision for Europe as a whole.

This mindset has led to Belgian Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy emerging as the front-runner.  I hardly think Belgium is a shining example of how to run a country.  A population of about 10 million is split into two linguistic groups with three federal regions, a system which is so unworkable that Belgium was recently without a federal government for nearly two years as the various parties were unable to agree on a coalition.

The other two small countries who are realistic contenders aren’t much better.  Peter Balkenende from Holland verges on the Thatcherite.  Luxembourg has, as ever, staked its claim.  Yet can anyone take Jean-Claude Junker seriously when the entire population of Luxembourg is only 488,000.  Yes 488,000 compared to over 60 million in the UK and Germany’s 82.5 million.  I am tempted to use that dreadful Americanism – “give us a break!”

There are two other factors working against our Tony.  Most importantly, the Socialists do not have a majority in the European Council.  The system of qualified majority voting used gives that to the EPP.  Moreover, the Socialist governments do not always all vote the same way.  Just to muddy the waters further, the Socialist and Democrat Group in the European Parliament has waged a strong campaign, which some Socialist governments have bought in to, that the Socialists should let the EPP have the President while the Socialists make a concerted bid for the High Representative.

The small country and/or EPP bid for the President position may well be the way it goes today.  I understand that there is everything to play for, and unusually in the EU the result has not been fixed in advance.  Since the Socialists are going for the High Representative, could this be what Tony ends up with?  I gather he may not be averse to the idea.  The job will, after all, be to act as the face of the EU across the whole globe and the post holder will also control the world-wide network of EU missions (embassies).

Crunch time indeed.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Crunch Day for Europe President

  1. Daniel Oxley

    Mary, Your point about taking seriously presidential candidates from the smaller states of the EU is an interesting one. Personally, I think that the amount of money contributed to the EU by the candidates country is significant; he who pays the piper calls the tune.
    From this perspective your prefered candidate, Tony Blair is more acceptable. Two nations contribute on a net average basis to EU funds, Germany and the UK. Germany’s Angela Merkel cannot be considered very seriously, she would hardly fit the criteria of an EU Commissioner in that she has not yet been expelled from Government, been mired in scandal or lost credibility with her electorate.
    This leaves the door open for Blair who in any case paid handsomely for the position when he gave away the UK rebate. Surely two billion pounds every year since 2005 is enough.
    The best selection would be to have a public election in all 27 states but this does not seem to be how the EU works. We will have an unelected President, 27 unelected Commissioners and an elected Parliament which does not have the power to legislate.

  2. I am sure that, having read this, those funny little foreigners are going to rush forward to fight the corner of your “very own TB”.

  3. french derek

    I object to your downgrading of Van Rompuy. He is the only one who has succeeded in forming a government in what you rightly describe as an “unworkable” political system. If that is not a qualification for the President of the Council, then what is? However, I oppose the appointment of Van Rompuy for those same reasons: he seems to be the only one capable of holding together a government in Belgium.

    I note, also, that you omit Vaira Vika-Freiberga from your review. Apart form her aberration in supporting the Iraq invasion, she stands head and shoulders (morally) above Blair. Just read her CV.

  4. Martin

    …he [Van Rompuy] seems to be the only one capable of holding together a government in Belgium.

    Or perhaps ABL (Anyone But Leterme). Yves Laterme seems to be the opportunist who stirred things up: I think people are drawing back from the abyss.

    In particular the constituency boundary disputes (round bilingual Brussels) might well be approaching solution:

    http://www.lalibre.be/actu/belgique/article/542315/bhv-sera-scinde-affirme-marcourt.html

    I note with interest that Mary said that Belgium had no government for two years: I believe it was 192 days in 2007: I assume Mary was there at the time, so it must have felt like two years!

  5. maryhoneyballmep

    Martin, My recollection is that it was much longer than 192 days, and as you point out, I was there. If you look at the archives on this blog you will see the comments I made at the time. In any event, the length of time without a government does not affect the substantive comments I made about the post of President of the European Council.

  6. Martin

    I have reached an age where I would be delighted if 192 days felt like two years!

  7. Martin

    Your blog last year is at

    http://thehoneyballbuzz.com/2008/07/18/broken-belgium/

    As far as I can see, the difference in time-spans relates to whether we talk about ‘without a government’ or ‘effectively without a government’.

    My source for 192 days is
    http://crisisinbelgium.blogspot.com/2007/12/end-of-crisis-at-least-for-moment.html ,
    which also discusses the way in which Mr Van Rompuy’s predecessor Yves Leterme “opened up Pandora’s box. And largely won the elections of June the 10th [2007].”

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