The EU’s Rubik’s cube: who will lead after 2014?
LONGREAD - Next year, EU leaders will decide who will succeed Herman Van Rompuy, José Manuel Barroso and Catherine Ashton as, respectively, the next president of the European Council, president of the European Commission and high representative for foreign affairs. These (no doubt) excruciating deliberations will begin in earnest after the European Parliament (EP) elections in May 2014.
EU watchers remember well the surprise – and for some, disappointment – that greeted the announcement of Van Rompuy and Ashton in late November 2009. Both appointments were judged to indicate a low level of ambition on the part of national governments for the EU leadership posts created by the Lisbon treaty. Likewise, the earlier reappointment of the conservative and careful Barroso for another five years was an homage to the status quo.
What do the choices of 2009 bode for those ahead? Back then, EU governments wished to avoid a trio of hyper-assertive egos at the EU’s helm. But their bigger concern was to match a tiny pool of credible candidates with the expectation that the new appointments would reflect as broad a cross-section of the Union’s membership as possible.
The Lisbon treaty’s requirements made this task even harder: the European Parliament – along with a majority of EU countries – must now approve the president of the Commission and the high representative for foreign policy (who is also a member of the college of European commissioners). Since the Parliament’s own presidency traditionally alternates between its left and right political groupings, the EP’s negotiators insisted that one of the EU’s top three should be a socialist. That opened the way for appointment of Baroness Ashton (from the British Labour Party) as high representative. This choice probably also sets a precedent that at least one of the three positions should be held by a woman.