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EU’s top jobs – what went wrong?!

Happy Times (not for EU citizens)

Over the last several weeks the EU has been continuously bashed in the international scene. The fruitless visit to the US was complemented by a spectacular failure and apparent misunderstandings during the EU-Russia summit. This was not enough, but EU flopped dramatically by failing to agree on a joint financing and negotiation strategy for the Copenhagen Climate Council (see separate article here). Most recently the EU elected agreed upon a President and a Foreign Minister. This was the crown jewel of all European malfunctions – a pitiful process with lamentable results.

The two new top jobs are supposed to enhance EU’s international presence, beefed up by the newborn European Foreign Service. Instead, I am afraid the EU doomed itself to ‘internal fixing’ and 4 years of ‘low-key diplomacy’. Van Rompuy (the new EU President) and Baroness Ashton (the Foreign Minister) certainly have high credentials. Yet when presenting the profile of the current Belgian Prime Minster, international media point out only how diplomatic and conciliatory Mr. Rompuy is and how unexpectedly he found himself behind the wheel of the disintegrating country. The President of the EU is a powerful agenda-setting figure but I did not have high hopes for the position as the more important choice was that of the Foreign Minister. Now Ms Ashton will be the external face of the EU combining the Commissioner for External Relations and the Higher Representative. She will be the one to lay the foundations of the EU External Service and take the Security and Defense ambitions of the Union further ahead. However, the baroness, who has never been elected to public office, has no foreign policy experience whatsoever. Any references to her recent deal for a  free-trade agreement with South Korea fuel strong doubts whether she was the best political figure for this extremely responsible position.

Let’s see what the reasons behind her choice were. It is largely stated that it was the ‘balance’ in the EU. Since van Rompuy is a man from small country and center-right party, the other job should be given to a woman from the left and from one of the big four. Such a rational is at least deplorable if not humiliating for all European citizens. The balance-theorists never mentioned the one between new and old member states. Moreover, this logic goes directly against the claim that the EU is more than the sum of its parts. This week the EU has proven once more to be the sum of what is agreed in secrecy.

One of the few positive things that emerged from the process of the two regrettable appointments is the Polish proposal

The EU leaders are not elected, nor scrutinized

for open job talks and discussion of policy agendas. This was refuted by the ‘aristocrats’ with monsieur Sarkozy in their avant garde. I doubt Baroness Ashton would go through open public scrutiny even in the EP, let alone the media and the independent foreign policy think tanks (to my regret, here I cannot include the ISS in Paris). It was more than bad internal PR to remain so awkwardly persistent in such systems of secrecy, provided it is a cornerstone moment for EU’s foreign policy. Not only that, but the Security and Defense Policy will also be in her portfolio. The specifics of this very sensitive and expensive European undertaking go far beyond trade negotiations. This makes me think rather pessimistically about the political will to guide ahead the EU headline goals and Crisis Management.

Right now EU’s foreign policy is non-existent. The Security and Defnece policy is lagging behind each of the more ambitions member states and is yet to materialize in capabilities and far-reaching solutions to long-standing crises. How will that happen with an ‘internal fixer’ for a President and a Baroness at the place of Solana I do not know. I feel however that the whole thing was a very bad PR- both internal and external. Except that we appointed Foreign Minister and a President, not a PR consultant. Unfortunately, the EU leaders preferred to keep the control of a weak EU, instead of taking a resolute step to beef up its political role and strengthening its new institutions. In short – that’s a shame!

The big winner of this all is Barroso. He got an experienced diplomat to broker deals in the Council and a weak Foreign Minister, through whom he can exert influence in the Foreign Policy and council actions. Great ! Didn’t someone propose Barroso to take all three positions at a time ! Simply because he is the perfect compromise ?

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