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Europe's New Chairman and Envoy

The New York Times writes about the two new (or upgraded) posts that were filled in for the European Union yesterday:
Leaders of the 27 countries of the European Union on Thursday night chose Herman Van Rompuy, the Belgian prime minister, as the European Union’s first president, and Catherine Ashton of Britain, currently the bloc’s trade commissioner, as its high representative for foreign policy. The vote was unanimous.

Both officials are highly respected but little known outside their own countries. After the European Union’s eight-year battle to rewrite its internal rules and to pass the Lisbon Treaty that created these two new jobs, the selection of such low-profile figures seemed to highlight Europe’s problems instead of its readiness to take a more united and forceful place in world affairs.
The eurosceptic British newspaper The Telegraph noted the following press reactions:
Spain's El Pais said the EU will be "led by two dull and low-profile figures."

Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau claimed the 27-nation bloc will be represented by "leaders with no sparkle, without a vision and even without experience in the required fields".

France's Liberation newspaper noted that EU leaders had rejected candidates from the bloc's newest members in eastern Europe but had at least chosen a woman to fill one of the posts.
Neither the American nor the British press have much grasp of what these posts entail or how the EU works in general. To be fair, it can be complicated. But the British media have vastly exaggerated the importance of the President of the European Council, and to a lesser extent, also of the High Representative. The way these posts are written down in the Treaties mean they are little more than a chairman and a souped-up envoy for the Member States. So what we have is European Union in choosing competent, low-key people for senior posts shocker.

Obviously, this means that Europe is doomed.

(hat-tip to Joerg for forwarding these articles)

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Pamela on :

Well, I think the 'low profile' attribute would have been part of their appeal for the roles and understandably so. High-powered personalities would elevate those positions beyond their intended reach. Altho, Ashton does confuse me a bit - correct me if I'm wrong, but what exactly are her accomplishments?

Nanne Zwagerman on :

From what I'm picking up it seems that Ashton performed to satisfaction in her role as Trade Commissioner, and before, as the leader of the House of Lords of the UK. She's not familiar with foreign policy. Now, I thought that Javier Solana would do great things as High Representative, and he hasn't. Hasn't screwed up either, but he's '[url=http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/11/world/europe/11iht-solana.2457097.html]disappeared[/url]' a lot. Ashton is a black box. I don't expect her to be brilliant. Part of the job is building up a diplomatic service and getting it to run smoothly, and she should be able to work well there. How she performs otherwise will largely depend upon the leaders of the big Member States.

Zyme on :

She accomplished to maneuver the Lisbon Treaty through the Upper House in Britain I read - which is quite honorable given the huge resistance among the population. "How she performs otherwise will largely depend upon the leaders of the big Member States." That is both their key qualification. Puppets of the leading nations, that is what they sought. We will see if that assessment was correct.

Pat Patterson on :

And there were no messy hearings or public debate. Good signs that nothing has changed except the size of the offices.

Zyme on :

Poland actually proposed an open debate with every candidate telling his visions and then having an election by the members of the European Council. That was quickly off the table because, as the Swedish leader said, nobody is going to run openly for a European job. This he said is due to the fact that when they lose to someone else, "how are they going to explain it to their people? Will they say 'Ok I lost in Europe, but I still love all of you here' ?!" :D

Pat Patterson on :

Zyme-Is this based on nationalism or the perceived lack of power in these two particular posts? Or an outgrowth of the parliamentary system where leadership has less to do with charisma and much more to do with having the political ability to rise in a closed system?

Zyme on :

A mixture of the latter two assumptions. These people have struggled for decades to gain a significant post in politics. They sure want to enjoy the international spotlight on leading European posts, but that does not outweigh the danger of becoming a laughing stock at home when losing against competition. So they only agree when they do not have to run officially for the post. Also they may know that the leaders of the big countries will keep them on a short leash. Thus Europe is often seen as a good opportunity for disposing old politicians when they become obstacles for their party on the national level. As there is no real electorate on the European level, they don't hurt anyone there. In Germany there is a rhyme "Hast du einen Opa, schick ihn nach Europa!" (Should you have a grandpa, send him to EuropA). I guess that says it all. How is it in the US? Do state leaders refrain from running for federal posts for similar reasons?

Pat Patterson on :

Well, there are only two national posts that have open elections, the presidency and the vice-presidency the rest are at the sole discretion of the president with the concurrence of the Congress The VP is supposed to deliver his states delegates and not be caught with his pants down. These guys have enormous egos, I'm sure not that much different than in Germany, but they have had to run for several offices as that is the road to power and appointment to party posts, also by vote, has nothing to do with the government in power. Many states have term limits so there is often a movement of people from one past to another at the state level. In California the current AG is a former governor who is running to be governor again. He ran for the presidency once and was trounced so badly in the primary that most of us thought that was it. Richard Nixon lost a presidential bid in 1960, ran for governor of California in 1964, lost, and then ran for the presidency agai and won in 1968.

John in Michigan, US on :

"Do state leaders refrain from running for federal posts for similar reasons?" Those reasons are: 1) "the danger of becoming a laughing stock at home when losing against competition" In the US, most state politicians don't have that fear. You would have to go back to the 19th century to find a time when people felt more loyalty to their state identity (Michigander, in my case) than to their national identity). Losing a federal election while putting on a good show often increases a state politician's reputation. The only fear our politician have, that is a little bit similar to what you write about, is that some state laws require them to resign from their state position before running for any other office. If you lose the federal election, you can't get your old position back. But even that fear doesn't prevent them from trying it. About half the states have this requirement, and even then if you are clever with your timing you can circumvent this requirement. Also, I think it is easier in the US system to leave politics, work in the private sector, and then return to politics? 2) "leaders of the big countries will keep them on a short leash." Again, not a fear for our politicians. Even our most powerful state, California, has less influence at the federal level as compared to France or Germany's influence at the EU level. Particularly in the past 2-5 years, when all our states, particularly California, have spend all their money and depend on repeated federal bailouts.

Zyme on :

"In the US, most state politicians don't have that fear. You would have to go back to the 19th century to find a time when people felt more loyalty to their state identity" This brings me to a point: Maybe this current fear of European politicians is not forever and vanishes once running for European positions becomes accepted among European peoples. Although this is not going to be sped up by having most of these posts decided on in the back room of politics. So the only way I can see is that one day European leaders will agree to create a powerful leadership post, not only a decorative one. A post with enough attraction for the leaders of the big nations so that they long for it. Like the post of Emperor in the early medieval German empire. But even back then the tendency was often there to elect leaders perceived to be weak so that the electors would be able to increase or keep their strong power.

John in Michigan, US on :

re fear of European politicians This reminds me of the conversation we had about the emergence of a European [i]demos[/i]. No, not [url=http://atlanticreview.org/archives/1094-Euroblog-Coverage-The-Irish-No.html#c14526]the plural of the short word for demonstration[/url], I mean the Greek word! But maybe you were joking? Here is my vision for the emergence of a European demos: now that the Euro-skeptics have lost the war, they should organize and take over the European Parliament and become the official, loyal opposition. If I were a Eurocrat, I would do everything in my power to prevent the emergence of a European [i]demos[/i] and preserve the general fear of European politicians. Meaningful, European-wide elections would be messy and unpredictable, and would interfere with the smooth roll-out of the model state as envisioned by the new Philosopher Kings.

Pamela on :

There was a quip in today's Financial Times by Gideon Rachman: If Von Rompuy and Ashton are the answer, what the hell was the question? heh The FT is in mourning, which is usually a good sign.

Pamela on :

Ok, Zyme, pay attention. The new EU president hopes Copenhagen will further global gov't (at about the 2 min point in the video) http://video.aol.co.uk/video-detail/new-eu-president-confirms-new-world-order-desire-19nov09/17989978

Zyme on :

Well he is either good at feigning, or I do hope he will really be a puppet only :)

John in Michigan, US on :

I like it when the world government people are honest about their goals. All too rare. Have you read about [url=http://www.google.com/search?q=climategate]ClimateGate[/url]?

Pamela on :

Oh yes. It's about all I've read for the last 48 hrs. Sometimes life is good. ;)

Pat Patterson on :

BTW, Ashtons's claims to competency seem to reside on the fact that she has never run for office, headed up the CND in the late 70's and early 80's, got credit for serving as the whip to get the Lisbon Treaty through a practically all Tony Blair House of Lords and has a large Dalek in her house. And added to Climategate there is now a distinct possibility that Louisiana can finally get rid of the Landrieu family for good.

Marie Claude on :

EU representation ---> big Opera-Bouffe ! how can these idiots hope that any EU populations will care ... may-be some states politicians, like in Germany, France, UK... had some interests that nuthin changed, so that their little arrangements with the EU rules could be pursued. may be I'll polemic about this treachery, when I'll get back home

Zyme on :

I had pretty much the same feelings when I heard the news. But at a second glance, we can rest assured that there can be only one reason why these amateurs have gotten those posts: The interests of our nations (meaning Fr Ger and Br) have been furthered. Or would you know of a different possible reason for their appointment? None would come to my mind.

Marie Claude on :

sure, that will please those little states that weren't for the Lisboa treaty Now, how can we still vote for anything anymore there !

Zyme on :

They got theirs - no president from one of the big countries. All wishes served ;)

Marie Claude on :

if you can read french, there there's a good blog about the different opera acts http://bruxelles.blogs.liberation.fr/coulisses/ PS) does anyone know what Don is doing ? it's quite a while we don't see him on board

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