Does the EU need another president?
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.
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