The Great Debate UK
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.
The European Union has been at the forefront in pressing for binding, internationally monitored reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and funding from industrialised countries to help developing nations switch to clean energy.
Who will be the first president of the European Council of EU leaders? Anyone but Tony Blair. That is the only clear message to emerge from a European Union summit, where the appointments of the EU's two new senior office-holders is not on the agenda but is on everyone's mind.
The appointment process is typical of the surreal way in which the 27-nation bloc does business. The job is poorly defined in the Lisbon treaty reforming the EU's institutions, which is expected to come into force in the next few weeks. But it is clear that most leaders are looking for a consensus-building summit chairman rather than a high-profile president of Europe.
The EU show is back on the road. Sixteen months after Irish voters brought the European Union's tortured process of institutional reform to a juddering halt by voting "No" to the Lisbon treaty, the same electorate has turned out in larger numbers to say "Yes" by a two-thirds majority.
This is an immense relief for the EU's leadership. After three lost referendums in France, the Netherlands and Ireland, and a record low turnout in this year's European Parliament elections, the democratic legitimacy of the European integration process was increasingly open to question. The Irish vote will not completely silence those doubts. Opponents are already accusing the EU of have bullied the Irish into voting again on the same text, and of blackmailing them with economic disaster if they did not vote the right way this time.
Germans 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.
Jose Manuel Barroso promised the European Parliament that as re-elected president of the European Commission he will have more authority to fight for Europe and defend its single market against economic nationalism.
But after five years of toadying to the big member states, he will need to show more spine to enforce state aid and competition rules on Germany, Britain and France in the teeth of strong national financial or commercial interests.
An intriguing story in Le Monde reports that French Prime Minister Francois Fillon (pictured left with Barroso and President Nicolas Sarkozy) is considering offering his services as head of the European Union executive if Barroso fails to win majority support from the European Parliament this month. Le Monde quotes an unidentified French minister and an anonymous senior diplomat, with a comment from Fillon's office declining to speculate on a Barroso failure and saying that of course, the prime minister is interested in Europe but he hasn't put himself forward as a candidate.
Could the European Union be among the big losers of the global financial crisis?
Despite signs that recession in Europe may be bottoming out, the 27-nation bloc risks emerging from the turmoil with its economic growth potential stunted, its public finances shackled by mountains of debt, and its international influence weakened.
That is the backdrop to Jose Manuel Barroso's campaign for a second term as president of the executive European Commission. In a manifesto sent to EU lawmakers last week, he warns that unless Europeans shape up to the challenge together, "Europe will become irrelevant".
- Danny Sriskandarajah is Director of the Royal Commonwealth Society. The opinions expressed are his own -
In recent years the Commonwealth has become an easily derided organisation. From its inception as a clever way of easing de-colonisation to the heady 1970s and 1980s when the association showed a radical dynamism on issues like Apartheid, the international association has shown itself to be unique and useful.