Does the EU need another president?

November 17, 2009

The fact that European Union leaders have not yet reached a consensus on who should become president of the 27-nation bloc, with time running out before a summit on who should  be given the post, has compounded my belief that they should scrap the idea all together.

During the horse-trading of the past few weeks I have found myself asking the question: why do we need an EU president, particularly since the bloc has at least one, if not two, capable presidents already.

Having covered the EU in some depth for the past six years and travelled with EU delegations to many events, notably with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, I have found the system seems to work well for the most part. 

The post of EU president was created to give Brussels more clout and respect in world affairs. The person was supposed to be instantly recognisable and charismatic to boost dwindling public confidence which hit rock bottom when French and Dutch voters rejected the EU’s draft constitution in 2005.

A ‘No’ vote in Ireland in 2008 on the Lisbon reform treaty that replaced the constitution also damaged the EU’s international standing. 

A U-turn by Irish voters in October showed there is less of a need for a superstar to lead Europe because, as an entity — driven by a strong euro currency — the EU has, I believe, emerged from the economic crisis in good shape from a public relations perspective.
Belgium’s little-known Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy has emerged as the latest frontrunner, or compromise candidate.  A straw poll of 10 people around the EU district in Brussels showed three knew he was Belgium’s leader, two said he was a Belgian politician, and five were
completely unaware of him. 

So, if at least half of this mix of EU officials, lobbyists and lawyers haven’t a clue who he is, what hope is there for the man or woman in Dublin, Warsaw or Prague ?

The previous favourite and long-time front-runner was former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The fact that he is on first-name terms with the world’s leaders and glitterati were his selling points. 

I have seen U.S. President Barack Obama change direction when out strolling during a G8 meeting to speak to his “friend Jose”.  Barroso is on first-name terms with just about all the world’s leaders after five years as Commission president.

If the EU wants a bit of showbiz, while in New York at the U.N. General Assembly, the former Portuguese Prime Minister was invited backstage by singer Bono at a sell-out concert by the Irish rock band U2. 

After the concert, Barroso went to an after-show party with the cream of stage, screen, music and fashion hosted by Rupert Murdoch for charity. He was seen holding the full attention of the Eurosceptical media mogul.

Under the current system, each member state holds the EU presidency for six months in turn. Giving a president a 2-1/2 year role is intended to give unrivalled continuity and make the EU more effective.

After working with more than 10 presidencies, I have found that some countries have strong presidencies and others do not — the problem is more with the country at the helm than with the system. 

The current Swedish presidency has been widely praised as pro-active, efficient, conciliatory, transparent and inclusive of all member states, taking into account all countries’ views and not just those of Paris, Berlin and London.

If Stockholm and Barroso are seen to work smoothly together, do we need to further complicate matters and add yet another European president ?

Photos: Top (clockwise from left): Leading contenders for EU President – Belgian PM Herman Van Rompuy, former British PM Tony Blair, Luxembourg PM Jean Claude Juncker, former Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, former Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Dutch PM Jan Peter Balkenende

Middle: Former British PM Tony Blair in the fast lane

Bottom: U2 singer and leading global aid campaigner Bono with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in Brussels


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Nice one Darren…I really like the pictures as well.. cheers

Posted by Yves Herman | Report as abusive

Darren – I agree fully with your sentiment that having a Euro-pigmy as the President of Europe is not useful – this is simply going to make people on the street feel further removed from Brussels, where someone they don’t know is appointed through a process they don’t understand and don’t feel they can influence.

However, the idea of having a system in place to create greater continuity than the current arrangement makes sense to me. You say it’s not the system that’s the problem, but the countries which hold the Presidency – well, the current system means an inappropriate government can be at the helm at the worst possible time – as happened recently, without mentioning any names!

The question is which type of President is going to have the kind of influence an effective national Presidency, such as that of the Swedes, can exert. I don’t think a glorified pen-pusher is the answer, but it looks like that’s what we’ll get.

Posted by Jan | Report as abusive

[…] to this site not a lot of Belgians know who their Prime Minister […]

Posted by High-placed Belgians in BRUSSELS say: “Rompuy? Who he?” « Tony Blair | Report as abusive

Dear friends i`m must apologise my english just a quick though. There is a very old sentence that says:” the people has the governour they deserve”. So i believe even if you put or change 100 presidents in the EU it wont change a bit the way things are designed to be. This president position is en a short way just a virtual position.

Well no one can deny they have a bunch of papers to sign and a lot o meetings to go, in wich nothing important is practicaly resolved if you noticed.

So and thats where i wanted to go. It would be better to think, is the EU realy working as one big whole united toguether for the well being of people or are everyone thinking in $$$. I keep seeing teenagers younger and younger on drugs, and loosing the values of self love, in sex, violence, and so on. People are steel depresed, and many feel like if they were alone. What about economy, is there any real results???

My friends sorry for my english its not my nature language, We must try by all means posible to stay awaked, and try to live our lives like humans, not like stupid people, without common sence.

Posted by leo | Report as abusive

Is any real change taking place in the EU? The answer is an unequivocal yes, but one must be keen enough to observe. You will be surprised to hear French students calling themselves Europeans these days. Europe is in a state of flux. Europe now has a common currency and a common VISA like the USA.

The Europe that has for years remained obsessed with itself is sending its students to visit countries throughout the world and is welcoming equal number of them from outside creating goodwill ambassadors worldwide. The education system across Europe is being integrated like never before through more and more exchange and multiple degree programs. Are these things significant? To find out the answer you must make real effort to understand Europe. I agree that today most Europeans feel threatened and the world is too keen to write them off. But which country in the world is certain about it’s future success. There have been doomsayers for China and India too. India has successfully survived a population explosion and is still growing rapidly despite Naxalites claiming a significant part of the country, border issues with hostile neighbors, random terrorist attacks and unimaginable infrastructure bottlenecks. China has even more acute problems related to the repression of it’s own citizens. When these countries have managed to find solutions to their problems and have managed to survive, I see no reason why Europe will fail.

People see a young generation becoming more corrupt but they fail to notice students as young as 20 years starting to save money for their pensions. Europeans are well aware that they need to change to survive in a more difficult world dominated by Asian giants and that the days of secure economic prosperity are soon going to end. Young Germans talk about the need to change to revamp their country’s business model, Belgians are saving money for tomorrow, French have realised that a more secure future for Europe is possible only through a United Europe.

This is not a continent ignorant of it’s problems but a place where people are learning to adapt to the new truth. Europeans today confused about their identity and their future but they are trying really hard to find their answers. This is a continent not asleep but a continent just waking up after a long time. Being in EUROPE, I see every possibility for a United States of Europe and a bright future for it. Europe is undergoing drastic changes and these things take time to sink in. The very election of the European President should go down in the books of history as one of the most unique events ever where national heads of 27 countries chose non-violently a Super State President. Those who underestimate the significance of the historic event are a bunch of blind men who take pleasure in being Euro sceptics and doomsayers. Time will prove them to be foolish and ignorant.

Long live Europe!

Posted by asterix117 | Report as abusive

I must admit that this is positive thinking, dear friend even if we do not know each other. Thanks for your interest in my reply, and must admit you are well informed. Now to the point. Yes, the numbers are working, a huge effort is taking place, yes. Yes, there is hope in youth, Yes. And all this very important details you refer are like you say. I must believe myself like you a positive thinking men, but nontheless. There is some things that must not be thrown under the bed, just because we dont know were to put them. Just like this huge problem we are now facing on health. To be honest it`s not a real problem, the real problem must be the economical crisis that the whole world is facing and everyone is trying to cover, perhaps because someone would start a civil war, or worst. So we must avoyd be in conglumerated spaces and so, no need to specify. I do not support meetings pacifist or violent or even actions like getting naked in front of some important building. I believe change must come from whithin (sorry for my english) and this political, world has prove itself to be selfish, unbalanced. For example are you aware that everywhere in Europe and all aroud the world food is thrown away, because of economical interest.
So numbers can fit. Or the fact that measures are taking place to slowdown human brain activity, provoking high levels of body stress and depression. Or the fact that natural resourses are over exploited with perfect conscience “but its better that i get the proffit than a multi bilonaire Japanese, so i would better over exploit it myself”. There are many things that must no be hidden. Not anymore.
But even this information is beyng manipulated to identify the people who ave achieved this procupation, and then counter measures are used in disrupting all this waves of good will to try and change things.

I must agree with you that i myself desire a best place to live, and i`m trying hard to to this in my small world, no details needed. But to be honnest it is not a president that make me feel safer or have more hope. And this is because, this one man even if it represents all citizens, wont be able to change the thougts of multinational barbarian suicides (sorry). And the interests of huge medical labs. It just wont, because money this “magical” thing is in a big river running in direction of the sea of few pockets, we are seeds that survive near this rivers, but they control the amount to be shared and how and when.

So not everything is black, or white. Unfortunently we live in a grey world where most of the things aren`t like we would like, and most of things are way better. Small things to be exact. We must try all toguether to focus on this conscience of one big self all of us, not in the metafisic sense but in a real sense, there is a very famous phrase, “my liberty ends, exactly where your liberty begins”. So it is imperious that we, like our presidents try to pass this network of numbers and burocracys and papers and lies. And start to figure how to be more practical on solving actual problems. In a pacific human way. Like you said its a huge effort a long term project. But the way it´s no based in old capitalism ideas or even democratic, there must be inovation. Based in an old very old thing that makes us humans, humility and inner values. Dear friend again sorry for the mistakes.

I´m not triyng to offend or change any opinion thats only my way to understand things i respect that there must be diferences.


Posted by leo | Report as abusive