Europe, 51, Desperately Seeking Leaders (Energetic, Multilingual, from Small Country Preferred)
BRUSSELS -- On November 3, the Czech Republic's Constitutional Court ruled that the European Union's Lisbon Treaty is compatible with the country's constitution. President Vaclav Klaus signed the document on the same day, the last of the 27 EU leaders to do so. The Treaty is now expected to come into force on December 1, ending eight years of what was euphemistically called "a period of reflection," but which to many in Europe and elsewhere looked a lot more like anguished self-doubt or lethargic navel-gazing.
This means that the European Union is finally able to proceed with its greatest reform effort in a decade, a set of changes in its institutional arrangements that are supposed to make it a more effective actor and better partner on the international stage. Most importantly, the Lisbon Treaty aims to reinforce leadership at the top of the EU by creating a new President of the European Council, and by strengthening the position of the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy. As there is also a new Commission to be filled (the mandate of its predecessor ran out on October 31, together with that of the preceding High Representative, Javier Solana of Spain), the EU top jobs carousel has suddenly spun into overdrive.
European leaders had originally hoped to agree on a new President and a new High Representative at a summit meeting in Brussels last week; the Czech delays scotched that plan. Nonetheless, while the meeting's formal agenda was governed by the upcoming climate change negotiations in Copenhagen, immigration policy, the establishment of a new EU financial watchdog as well as concessions to the Czechs in return for ratifying the Lisbon Treaty, an unofficial parallel summit was busy discussing a single issue: who should fill the new key positions? In fact, the European leaders managed to considerably narrow down the list of candidates for the EU's President by way of elimination. Britain's former premier Tony Blair was swiftly excluded as unpalatable to too many countries (mostly because of his support of the Iraq war, and because Britain is not in the Eurozone). Another key step was taken when the Germans and the French agreed that the new post should be held by a Christian Democrat from a small country -- thereby recognizing that most of Europe is currently governed by center-right coalitions, and excluding another Brit or candidates from their own countries (e.g., the former Foreign Ministers Hubert Védrine or Joschka Fischer). As a result, the unofficial candidate list was ruthlessly downsized to three: Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, and Belgian Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy. Junker is one of the EU's most experienced negotiators, but thought to be too federalist by the British and several other countries. Balkenende fell afoul of many Central and East European countries because of his government's strict views on EU budget discipline; and in the context of a highly secular European culture, others feel alienated by the fact that the Dutch Conservative is very religious. Van Rompuy, finally, is uncontroversial, because he is generally held to be a good administrator with a sense of humor; but he is hardly a charismatic communicator, and he has yet to make clear where he stands on the future of Europe. The selection process for the High Representative, the top foreign policy job at the European Commission, is similar to that for the President in that he (or she) must represent the entire Union and its citizens. The logic of political balance therefore dictates that the "High Rep" will be chosen from the center-left. The names mentioned here are the foreign ministers of Great Britain and Italy, David Miliband and Massimo D'Alema, respectively. The European Parliament has already elected its new President (the Pole Jerzy Buzek), the third player in the EU's new top tier; it is ready to hold hearings on the members of the new Commission -- it has a right of approval for each member, as well as the "High Rep" -- by next week. Selections have been made for 19 posts; the remaining seven are tied up in the negotiations for the top jobs. The Swedish EU Presidency is already preparing to convene an extraordinary meeting of the European Council in mid-December in order to take the legal steps and political decisions required to implement the new Treaty.
They have their work cut out for them. The Lisbon Treaty provides for the creation of a new European External Action Service (EEAS) -- effectively, a diplomatic corps for Europe -- but its legal status, functional scope, and budgetary foundation are all grey areas that must now be addressed urgently. The relationship between the new President of the European Council (elected for 2 ½ years) and the EU member state holding the rotating EU Presidency for six months also needs to be worked out. Spain, Belgium, and Hungary -- the three countries next in line -- have just announced that they don't want to see their roles and functions undermined under the new system. In sum: None of the candidates on offer for the new, improved Europe's top jobs is ideal. The potential for frictions, turf battles, and dysfunctional solutions for the trio at the EU helm is very high. Then again, in 1985 -- at the apex of eurosclerosis -- a certain Jacques Delors, then a little-know former French finance minister, was made president of the Commission under very similar circumstances, and went on to a triumphant 10-year tenure in which he managed to give the European Union a reinvigorated sense of direction and dynamism.
Corinna Hörst is the deputy director of the Brussels office of the German Marshall Fund.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.