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A camel for EU president?

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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.

Germans vote for change; will they get it?

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angieGermans have voted for change. A centre-right government with a clear parliamentary majority will replace the ungainly grand coalition of conservatives and Social Democrats that ran Europe’s biggest economy for the last four years.

This should mean an end to ”steady as she goes” lowest common denominator policies, and at least some reform of the country’s tax and welfare system. The liberal Free Democrats, who recorded their best ever result with around 14.7 percent, will try to pull the new government towards tax cuts, health care reform, a reduction in welfare spending and a loosening of job protection in small business.

Steinmeier’s recipe deceptively seductive

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merkel-steinmeierIt was about as scintillating as a discussion among accountants, but Social Democratic challenger Frank-Walter Steinmeier outshone conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany’s only general election television debate.

True, Steinmeier failed to land the knockout punch he needed to overcome a 12-point deficit in opinion polls two weeks before the Sept. 27 vote. But he did score a points win that makes Merkel’s preferred option of a centre-right pact with the pro-business Free Democrats slightly less likely, and another glacial Grand Coalition of the two major parties more likely.  And that is concerning.

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