A camel for EU president?

By Paul Taylor
November 12, 2009

camelsA camel, says an old Middle East joke, is a horse designed by a committee.

The European Union is in danger of getting camels for its two new leadership positions — president of the European Council and foreign policy High Representative — because of the dysfunctional appointment process created by the Lisbon Treaty.

The secretive horse (or camel)-trading by which EU governments choose the 27-nation bloc’s top office-holders seems designed to deter strong candidates and produce lowest-common-denominator outcomes. Some of the most able potential contenders would rather stay at home than take the key jobs to Brussels.

The treaty does not provide for a democratic election because the EU is not a state, and national governments don’t want a European president with his own legitimacy. However, the rules also seem to set aside the basic principles and procedures that any private sector company or public authority would use to select the best CEO or manager.

In a normal selection process, the jobs would go to the best qualified candidates with a clear vision, relevant experience and a track record of achievement, normally after a series of rigorous interviews. But the treaty suggests that the need to share the spoils among large and small states, and countries from the north, south, east and west of Europe is more important than criteria such as ability, charisma or experience.

 

In choosing the persons called upon to hold the offices of President of the European Council, President of the Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, due account is to be taken of the need to respect the geographical and demographic diversity of the Union and its Member States.

Add to this the need to divvy up the top jobs among Europe’s main political families (conservatives, socialists and liberals), and a growing demand for gender balance, and you have a selection process in which identifying the strongest talent is not necessarily the top priority.

Aggravating the problem is the increasingly clear message that politicians in the EU’s biggest member states regard holding national office as far more attractive and important that serving the European Union. Both former German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and current British Foreign Secretary David Miliband have signalled they wish to stay in national politics, even if that means a long spell in opposition, rather than take the EU foreign policy job.  All three major European powers have nominated second-ranking politicians for the European Commission.

Furthermore, many national leaders do not want a strong personality in the EU presidency who might overshadow them, and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso is said to be not keen to have a political star as foreign policy chief (and vice-president of the Commission) for similar reasons.

After Tony Blair’s high-profile bid fell flat due to criticism of his Iraq war record and of his failure to bring Britain into the euro single currency and the Schengen zone of passport-free travel, the front-runner for European Council president is now Belgian Prime Minister Herman von Rompuy. A genial centre-right Christian Democrat with a knack for finding compromises in his linguistically divided home country and a self-deprecating sense of humour, he is little known outside Belgium and has attended only two European summits. 

Due to the imperative of political balance, Van Rompuy can only get the job if a socialist is appointed foreign policy chief. There is a dearth of socialist candidates from countries that fit the geographical matrix. Former Italian Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema is one possibility, but he is a former communist, which could raise hackles among the EU’s 10 new central and east European member states, and supporters of Israel regard him as too pro-Palestinian. There are even whispers of giving the job to Britain’s EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton — not because she knows much about foreign policy or has run a foreign ministry, but because she is socialist, female, already in Brussels and available.

France has three potential socialist contenders — current Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, former Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine and former European Affairs Minister Elisabeth Guigou. But President Nicolas Sarkozy has already said publicly his nominee for the European Commission is conservative former foreign minister Michel Barnier, and he has enough trouble with digruntlement in his centre-right UMP party without giving another plum job to a socialist.

For all these reasons, the outcome when EU leaders meet to make the choice on November 19 is still wide open. But there is a growing risk that Europe will be led by camels rather than thoroughbred race-horses. Was this really what the authors of the Lisbon treaty intended?

 

 

 

 

10 comments

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If and when an EU President is picked we can be sure of one thing, his coming was foretold in the books of Daniel 2,and 7 and Revelation 13. This leader of the European Union has a bible name “the Beast” or the “antichrist”
The stage is now being set for a European leader, we’re not sure who he is but we know that he will be a master deceiver. Sounds a bit like Tony Blair don’t you think?

Posted by james | Report as abusive

After looking closly at the principle of an unelected President, and then at the candidates, I believe that a camel would be the best option.

Posted by John Ball | Report as abusive

Could we have a dromedary please, to counter-balance Barroso’s immense self-importance?

Posted by Matthew | Report as abusive

The reason why the British people did not get a vote on the Lisbon treaty is that Tony Blair wanted the top job and knew he didn’t have a chance if Britain voted no. It will be only fair play if someone else is nominated. If the had put Blair in, it would have been a slap in the face for the British people and would have alienated us even further from the EU ( as distinct to Europe).

Posted by p savage | Report as abusive

Thankyou for your comment James. I prefer using my crystal ball when predicting the future.

The fact that you call him “leader of the European Union” shows your complete lack of understanding of what the role means.

“The president is not granted any formal power, but he would “chair and drive forward the work of the European Council” and take part in the representation of the common foreign policy of the EU on the world stage.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/President_o f_the_european_council

Posted by Zaheer | Report as abusive

[...] A camel, says an old Middle East joke, is a horse designed by a committee. The EuropeanUnion is in danger of getting camels for its two new leadership positions — president of the European Council and foreign policy High Representative — because of …Read Original Story: A camel for EU president? – Reuters Blogs (blog) [...]

A camel would be far preferable to that war-criminal B’liar!

Posted by William Fletcher | Report as abusive

I’ve come to the conclusion that all future progress by the human race will forever be held back by the limited mentalities of politicians. They have awarded themselves tremendous power over all aspects of life down to the micro-level and yet are defined by shallow and rank amateur thinking and an almost total lack of understanding in almost all areas ( science, technology and innovation as example). How can a society run by such people hope to move significantly forward? It’s not possible as it’s equivalent to taking someone off the streets with no expertise to run a large and complex company (with the exception that the state is even larger and more complex).

Posted by Derek Emery | Report as abusive

Good on you James. The bible is somewhat a step ahead of crystal balls. History moves on towards its climax.

Posted by Michael Storey | Report as abusive

This is great news for us bedouins, we will be able to invade Europe by our camels… but the problem is that our camels are moody and sometimes they are anti-zionists…. would our camels be accepted to serve the EU though they are most likely to abruptly be anti-zionists ?

Perfect! More sinecures for second-rate politicians who will no doubt influence little the institutionalized waste and back-door corruption that lives like a cancer in Brussels.

Of course, this is just a small, incremental step to unifying Europe as a peaceful zone. One is too tired to think about conflict after perusing the library of trade, zone, tariff, standards and other restrictions currently in use in the EU.

The EU is itself a dromedary.

Posted by Robert Pratt | Report as abusive