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Posts tagged with: Herman Van Rompuy

Candidates for President of the European Commission – where we stand in January 2014

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 15.00.34Back in the early summer of 2013 I wrote a detailed series of blog posts about the future President of the European Commission. There were posts about EPP, PES and other candidates. Overall those posts have stood up well over the last 6 months. But with the EP elections just over 4 months away, and with the new Commission to be decided shortly after, and with more and more jostling for top positions being covered by the newspapers (see FT earlier in January and FAZ today for example), it’s time to update the state of play.

Party of European Socialists (PES)
For the moment the PES position is clear: Martin Schulz is the top candidate, and if the PES wins the European elections they will seek to nominate him as Commission President. There were quite some problems with the transparency and democratic credentials of the process to select Schulz (as I analysed for Policy Network) but, for the coming months at least, Schulz’s position will not be challenged, formally at least, within the PES. He also was part of the negotiations to form the Große Koalition in Germany, and it seems Merkel can get on with him. Also as Derk Jan Eppink points out, Schulz can be strategic, has an instinct for power, has nothing to lose and only lacks the experience some other candidates bring.

For reasons I do not altogether understand – perhaps because she’s the only social democrat anyone’s heard of who’s not unpalatable? – the name of Helle Thorning-Schmidt keeps on coming back. The UK Labour Party would prefer her, Kinnock’s daughter in law, to Schulz. After all someone who’s been a principle-free, reasonably unsuccessful Prime Minister of Denmark is better than an old fashioned German social democrat, right? I suppose the selfie helped.

Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE)
Here I must admit I was wrong, for I could not previously foresee how the Liberals would possibly want Olli Rehn, the Economic & Monetary Affairs Commissioner, as a Commission President candidate. But it seems he is in pole position to be their leading candidate. This of course could well be because the other candidate is Guy Verhofstadt, and choosing between those is like choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea. Anyway, Euractiv has an update on the state of play, and ALDE will decide which one to go for in a delegate vote from the member parties on 1st February.

As Dario Čepo and I have discussed on Twitter, Rehn could somehow slip between the PES and the EPP in the event of a very closely balanced electoral result. The prospect fills both Dario and I with dread – and we thought Barroso was bad!

The Greens
Maybe because the Greens know they are not actually going to get the Commission President job they have actually designed the best process to select a top candidate. The #GreenPrimary is an online poll, open until 28th January, open to anyone (even non-Greens) to select their two top candidates. There are 4 candidates standing – Rebecca Harms, Ska Keller, Monica Frassoni and José Bové. I have no idea who the favourite is among the four.

European Left
Alexis Tsipras of SYRIZA is the candidate. He’s going to bring some fire to debates in the next few months, but he has even less chance of becoming Commission President than a Green.

European People’s Party
The prominent political force in the EU for at least the last decade, and the party of the current Commission President Barroso, it is nevertheless the EPP’s process to choose a candidate that is leading to the most head-scratching in Brussels at the moment. The party is supposed to choose a candidate with a delegate vosting system at its Dublin Congress 7-8 March. Merkel, apparently with some backing from Van Rompuy, is not too keen on a close connection between the EP election result and the Commission President nomination, fearing it will strengthen the Parliament cause inter-institutional conflicts (see the FT). This would only be a particular problem if the PES won the elections, yet the European Council remains dominated by EPP parties.

The challenge here too seems to be how to find a viable candidate. People like Michel Barnier (currently a Commissioner) and Jean Claude Juncker (former Luxembourg PM) have nothing to lose by putting their names forward. Viviane Reding also wants the job, but I think she’s about the only person who wants her to have it. Prime Ministers from the party such as Donald Tusk and Enda Kenny have distanced themselves from the role, not wanting to kill their national political careers by throwing their hats into the ring, only to then find another party wins the EP elections. Others like Jyrki Katainen and Christine Lagarde should not be fully ruled out either. Thankfully a third term for Barroso now seems totally out of the question though.

As the situation changes I will do my best to blog about it.

[UPDATE 15.1.2014, 1000]
I’ve been asked on Twitter about numerous candidates not mentioned in this blog entry – people like Valdis Dombrovskis, Dalia Grybauskaitė and Anders Fogh Rasmussen. This blog entry in no way excludes those people. If they are not mentioned it means I simply have heard no more about them that makes me change my views on them since the original blog entries on the subject of the EU’s top jobs. I was also asked about why there is no mention of the ECR in this blog entry – it’s because I see the future of the group in Brussels as being under some threat, as explained here.


Tony Blair isn’t going to get any EU top job. Face it. Move on.

Screen Shot 2012-12-25 at 18.27.12So the old master is back, working his rhetorical magic at a Business for New Europe / Chatham House event in London yesterday. The full text of his speech is here. At one level I welcome Blair’s intervention in the EU ‘debate’ in the UK – he speaks with a determination and passion about European politics, and with a grasp of the realities of the globalised world that no-one else at the high levels of British politics does. I would listen to Blair rather than Ed Miliband talk about the EU any day.

But there is a problem. The moment Blair opens his mouth about the EU so everyone once again speculates about his quest for a return to frontline politics in some sort of EU role. The President of the European Council position (currently held by Herman Van Rompuy) is thought to be more likely to be Blair’s wish, not least because Van Rompuy’s term cannot be extended beyond 2014. President of the European Commission (currently Barroso), or some eventual future merger of both of these jobs, could also theoretically be possible.

Now Blair might indeed want one of these jobs. I don’t know whether he does, but it has never been ruled out by him.

But one thing is very clear to me: there are far too many people in Brussels who absolutely DO NOT want Blair in any of these jobs under any circumstances. There is no way he could ever get any of these positions.

Firstly, Blair divided the EU back in 2003 as a result of the Iraq war. He managed to have Spain and Italy on his side, and France and Germany on the other side. Although the Prime Ministers of those countries have subsequently changed, the memory remains. When it mattered, Blair sided with Bush and the USA. It would be especially unpalatable for a French President to back him as a result of this, particularly one from the left such as Hollande.

Secondly, the party politics do not work in Blair’s favour. The majority of the 27 Member State governments are controlled by the centre right. Now, while many would quibble as to whether Blair is himself anywhere on the left, his party – Labour – nevertheless sits with the centre left (PES and S&D Group) in Brussels. The dominant EPP would go for one of their own for any top position, and I cannot see any miraculous return of the left across the EU in the next 18 months.

Thirdly, Blair is British. OK, he is not so close to the current administration in Westminster, but in the 15 years I have closely been following EU politics I cannot remember a time when attitudes towards the UK were so critical in Brussels. Also don’t discount the problem that the UK is not in the Euro or in Schengen.

So, as I see it, there is absolutely no way Blair is going to get any top EU position. The idea that he could needs to be killed off, and once it is then perhaps he can play a useful role in the UK-EU ‘debate’.


Take, take, take, and a scant grasp of the facts – this week’s UK-EU hulabaloo

Anyone would think – from reading the stories today on The Guardian’s website – that the UK is shaping up for some major fight with the European Union over treaty reform prior to this week’s summit.

There are two problems with this.

First, the agreement might not be for treaty change at all at the summit this week, or at least not treaty change as the first priority. As the leaked Van Rompuy report (FT blog about it here, full document here) details, some of the measures for improved budgetary discipline could be pursued through an amendment of Protocol 12 of the Treaty, and this can be done by a decision of the European Council (after consulting the EP and the ECB), without needing national ratification. For the UK, this would require prior authorisation by an Act of Parliament, rather than ratification afterwards.

The second problem is the wider one, with the framing of this ‘repatriate or not / referendum or not’ debate. Where is any sense of European responsibility in this? If the Eurozone needs urgent changes, who is making the case in the UK that the UK will assist in this hour of need? Imagine Cameron were to succumb to backbench demands for repatriation and/or a referendum, and a referendum in the UK further messes up the Eurozone crisis… The whole debate in the UK is what the UK can take, take, take. How about what it can give too? Of course Labour could play that responsible role, but instead Ed Miliband chooses to poke the Prime Minister about repatriation at PMQs instead.


The complicated balance between listening and leading, and how it applies to politics in Europe

Look across Europe, and think of the calibre of its leaders. Merkel, Sarkozy, Cameron. Zapatero, Berlusconi, Tusk. Reinfeldt, Løkke, Pahor. Brussels with Barroso and Van Rompuy. This is not a quality lineup, not what one would classically call a statesman or stateswoman among the lot of them. Not a Schuman, an Adenauer, even a Delors or Kohl. With the danger of a Greek default drawing ever closer it’s not as if we can do without determined leadership in Europe.

Stepping back for a moment, why are we in this predicament?

It starts, I think, with the nature of representative democracy in the era of the internet (building on the era of 24 hour news), and the way that political parties function internally.

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The need for a credible bargain – what the EU should learn from today’s #EUCO Twitter wall experience


There’s a legendary story for those of us that look at political activity on the web that concerns change.gov, Obama’s platform to allow the public to put forward their political ideas that went live the day after he was inaugurated. Give the people a platform, so the argument went, and excellent ideas for future legislation will emerge.

Not so, or at least not in the way anyone expected. And there are parallels for today’s European Council Twitter experience.

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I’m like a fish out of water at Lift Off Towards Open Government

I applied to attend a large tech and politics conference happening today in Brussels entitled Lift Off Towards Open Government, organised by the Belgian Presidency of the Council with support from the European Commission. I applied to attend as a blogger, somehow my attendance was accepted, and I even got a badge classed as ‘press’. You can follow the event on Twitter at #lo2og

So what do I make of it?

In short, it’s quite horrible.

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Spanish Presidency web failure (and Van Rompuy isn’t much better)

Inspired by this post on the European Citizen blog I decided to take a look at the website of the 2010 Spanish Presidency of the EU. OK, they have put some money into it, but it’s miles behind the website the Swedes produced. Worst of all the section entitled ‘What is going to happen’ is blank, bit of failure.

Beyond that hash tags on Twitter have been increasingly used to debate the politics of various EU Presidencies… and there is not a hash tag for the Spanish Presidency as yet. This is presumably due to their lack of clear plans and probably also due to the lack of a clear web strategy. @linotherhino has proposed #esprez, so maybe if enough of us EU geeks use that tag it will come to be the accepted one? Here’s the Twitter search for #esprez, while the more logical #es2010 is the tag for a social media conference in Miami!

And in the meantime if you reckon all of that’s quite poor then have a look at Van Rompuy’s website – very much the style of 2002!

[UPDATE 3.1.10]
In the meantime they have added some content to the ‘What is going to happen’ section on the live site. Wonder if all the bloggers having a go at them had some impact?

[UPDATE 4.1.10]
Seems it’s all too easy to have a go at the Spanish Presidency website – there have apparently been some security exploits putting an image of Mr Bean in the search results. The budget for the web presence of the Presidency is apparently €12 million(!), and Telefonica is somehow involved. What a waste of time and cash! It would not be hard to cook up a better (and more secure) web presence using Typo3.


Where we could have been this evening – Lamy/Freiberga/Miliband

top-teams

I try to see the positives where I can, but I am really struggling this evening. Who actually wanted Barroso, Van Rompuy and Ashton to be running the European Union? It all strikes me as the lowest common denominator of the worst sort. As @kosmopolit pointed out on Twitter, the three of them – together with EP President Buzek – tick all the boxes: north-south, male-female, left right etc. The problem is the boxes they don’t tick! Leadership, inspiration, relevant experience.

If everyone had played things differently we could have had a team that would have ticked all the boxes – including leadership, inspiration, relevant experience… Pascal Lamy as President of the Commission, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga as President of the European Council, and David Miliband as High Representative.

But it was not to be. We have a vacuous lump of lard as Commission President, an unknown Belgian opposed to Turkish membership of the EU as President of the European Council, and Baroness Ashton as High Rep, competent but rather uninspiring.

I am really not impressed.

Photo credits, Creative Commons Licenses: Miliband | Freiberga | Lamy | Barroso | Van Rompuy | Ashton


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