Monday, June 28, 2004

This is the new EU Chief:


Ok you guys. Time for an EU update. Before I start with the latest developments, a tiny bit of EU Leadership 101. Until now we were stuck with this dual leadership formula that is incomprehensible to all earthlings except the EU apparatchiks themselves and, ahem, your servant.

1° The EU Presidency, being performed by the so-called European Council, i.e. the organ personified by all government leaders of the member states. Until now there was a rotating Presidency of the respective member states with six-month long terms and Chairman being the PM or Head of State of the country in question. For the past six months this has been the Irish PM, Bertie Ahern, whose main tasks were making sure the enlargement with 10 new member states went according to plan, as well as getting this famous EU Constitution on the wheels.

2° The EU Commission, consisting of 25 Commissioners and responsible for the daily decisions. President or Chairman or whatever you want to call it was Romano Prodi, a former socialist Italian PM.

These two institutions make up the EU’s “governing body”, that’s what I meant by dual leadership formula. Some of you may remember that I once likened it to a situation whereby the Chairman of the European Council (Ahern) was responsible for the big picture (planning a new kitchen) and the Chairman of the EU Commission, Prodi, for preparing the daily dish. Another valid comparison is with a President/PM tandem, e.g. Chirac/Sarkozy.

Sheesh, I hope it’s a bit clear. I always wonder how you Americans with your super-simple 2-party system and a single Prez instead of a Head of State and a PM, look upon the European situation, especially during this spring when both Prodi and Ahern paraded the news rather prominently.

Now, this rotating six-month Presidency has become totally obsolete, as it left little time to every EU “president” to work himself in and deliver something resembling a good job towards the end. Also, since there are now 25 member states and more to join in the coming decade (Bulgaria, Turkey, Norway?), it would last too long for everyone to have their turn. So now it has been agreed that every EU “President” will be selected by the European Council members (remember, all PM/Head of States) for a period of 2,5 years, with re-election for one second term possible if he behaves. Thus the Irish Taoiseach (Irish for PM) Ahern will have been the last EU “President” as defined by the old system.

As for the European Commission, until 2014 all member states will delegate a commissioner, as was the case till now, so until that date the daily EU government will consist of 25 ministers. AFTER THAT DATE the number of ministers will be reduced to 18. The reason is simple. The European Commission’s “ministers” are each responsible for their own turf, be it Agriculture, Science, Education, Health Care etc… The EU Commission resembles MOST what you would call a government – forget for awhile about the European Council mentioned above. Well, since the EU is growing bigger, they can hardly keep creating new ministries just to give every incoming minister a fancy job, can they? I mean, such a practice was common for decades in the respective member states, but somehow the gentlemen have realized that it just wouldn’t make sense to create, say, a Ministry for Scandinavian Cruises by the time Norway would join the EU. So in short, by 2014 there will be, basta, only 18 ministers.

Now, that part of the EU’s governing body that gets most of the spotlights is unquestionably the European Commission, and it’s its Chairman who is regarded as EU Chief. The past few weeks have seen bitter EU infighting as to whom would be successor to Prodi. In case you weren’t drunk or completely bored you may have noticed I shed some light on the candidacy of our own Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt(back in 2002 at the EU Nice, France Summit dubbed “Nice Guy”, haha, do you get it?).

At some point he seemed a likely candidate since he had firm backing from both Chirac and Schroeder. Now Verhofstadt has always been a true European federalist, i.e. he really wants the EU to evolve to a Superstate and make the national states subordinate to a European Federal Authority. In that respect I could follow him, were it not that I fear that with him the EU would rather follow a collision course with the USA. Note also that he was strongly against the war and that it was him who organized, right after the successful conclusion of OIF, a European subtop on Defense with Germany, France and Luxembourg (at the time mockingly called by German media “Pralinentop”!). The aim was a NATO-independent European Defense organization. The idea was quickly killed since PM Blair at a very early stage understood the implications for NATO.

To cut a long story short, while Verhofstadt was the ideal candidate for Mssrs. Chirac and Schroeder, it was Blair (together with Berlusconi) who did his undoing. Not only because Blair could not forgive Verhofstadt his heavy anti-war stance (neither can I), but also and maybe more importantly because Blair does not want to go as far as our PM with a federal Europe – as you may know, it’s already hard to get the British to accept the EU as some kind of NAFTA vehicle. A 100% federalist like Verhofstadt, promising even more EU regulation emitting from Brussels would be more than a tough sell for the Brits. Thus, exit Verhofstadt, although Blairs candidate, Chris Patten, EU Commissioner and former Hong Kong governor, also had to quit to make defeat for the Germans and French bearable.

Well, today Tuesday will finally see the appointment of the new EU Commission Chairman in the person of Jose Manuel Durao BARROSO, Portuguese Prime Minister. You will be pleased to note he
is a staunch supporter of the US, calibre Aznar. To be precise, Portugal’s contribution to the Iraqi endeavour is largely symbolic – 120 policemen. (still way better than Belgium’s, which sent a dog with a hat on). Be that as it may, when a poll said 74% of Portugues wanted the immediate withdrawal of the officers, Barroso vowed thay would stay “because in need you have to stand by your friends”. He is 48, married and father of three kids. Politically he’s a centre-right Social Democrat. In 1990, as Interior Minister, he brokered the Angola Peace Accord, ending the 15-year Civil War there. In 1992, at age 36, he became FM. Basically he’s the ideal compromise candidate for EU Chief.


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