EU Top Jobs summit ended with no agreement: welcome to Europe’s quicksand!

Jean-Claude Juncker, President-elect of the EC, met with Helle Thorning Schmidt, Danish Prime Minister. (EC Audiovisual Services, 16/07/2014)

Jean-Claude Juncker, President-elect of the EC, met with Helle Thorning Schmidt, Danish Prime Minister. (EC Audiovisual Services, 16/07/2014)

If finding the right balance in things is some kind of art, we should say that finding the right balance in the right time is for sure the key to success. And something rare for real. The European Union can be for sure a good case study of how difficult it is to reach a good balance when many different voices are speaking. And many interests are pushing. One crunchy area of analysis may be the EU Top Jobs filling contest, especially this time, after the 2014 European Elections, when a critical point has already been reached in the history of the EU.

Last week, right after the EU Parliament elected Jean-Claude Juncker to head of the European Commission, the 28 EU leaders gathered in Brussels on Wednesday evening to discuss some of the most important and hottest positions in the EU firmament. It was the 16th of July, and many European leaders were sure the election of some of the most important figures in the future EU was just behind the corner.

The most prominent position is the President of the European Council, who represents the Member States’ leaders in Brussels and internationally and acts as a consensus builder and mediator of the most important EU issues. The job, which was created only five years ago, is currently held by Herman Van Rompuy.

A second top job up for grabs is a much debated one: the EU’s Foreign Policy Chief, who will replace Britain’s Catherine Ashton, whose term ends in October. The High Representative, as it is formally known, leads the EU’s new foreign office, the European external action service; it has gradually gained a prominent profile on the international stage during the Iranian nuclear talks phase and crises in the Balkans.

The EU’s 28 heads of state and government failed to reach a package deal on both figures. They just agreed to meet again on 30 August. And if you are asking yourself “Why?” or want to know where this lack of balance lies, you should start taking notes: gender balance, party affiliation, left/right weight, sharing between small and big countries, north and south, east and west, new entries and old-time members of the Union and so on.

The nomination of a new High Representative brought all of these elements to the light, as we anticipated. Italy’s Federica Mogherini is a front-runner for this position, not only because she is young (she is 41) and strongly supported by the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. In addition to her political skills, Mogherini is a woman. Gender balance is a key point in the Top Jobs filling phase, and just let me give you an example here; it was Juncker himself to be clear about this topic. He wants at least as many women Commissioners as the nine appointed by Jose Manuel Barroso in 2009.On top of that, Mogherini appears perfect for the role – despite some alleged lack of experience – because she comes from the centre-left bloc. That would balance out the European Commission President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker, a center-right male.

It sounds like Mogherini is the ideal candidate, right? Wrong. Eastern European countries, especially those in the Baltics, aren’t happy with Mrs Mogherini. Their representatives raise objection saying that she has been too soft on Moscow during the Ukrainian crisis and also many say that the ex-Communist states are asking for more consistency inside the Union, claiming for some key-positions.

If you need more material to get into the “Top Jobs quicksand” another key role for which many interests entwined last week is the President of the European Council. This figure chairs and sets the agenda for EU summits and exercises political control over the currency and general aspects of the EU’s Monetary Union. This position rose to fame during the economic crises, when the Stability and Growth Pact became more famous than the Bible. Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt is in pole position. She is a Socialist, well-known politician, with very good ties to Britain’s David Cameron. That would be good, you may think: a woman, a Socialist also able to be a good spokesperson with the UK. Right? Wrong. Actually the French aren’t so keen because Denmark is not in the Eurozone, and so Thorning-Schmidt would be a bad sign especially in a moment of high euroskepticism in France.

But insiders say Paris could be much more positive about this nomination in case French former Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici would be appointed as the EU’s economics commissioner. Another complex variable in the Top Jobs scheme.

To be completely honest, I think that such a chess-game does little to help filling the gap between the EU and its citizens. Again it seems like we are in front of an organization where decisions are taken in a remote palace, behind closed doors.

“I want to work for a union that delivers”, Juncker pledged ahead of his confirmation vote last Tuesday.
For sure that would be the most important message to send to the world. “This Europe delivers” and it is doing it through its leaders. Yes, that would be exactly what we need in a moment in which Europe needs a credible position on the Ukraine/Russia question and the bloodbath at the other side of the Mediterranean.
I’m sure this would be another interesting case study, but this time for the not-soon-to-be-elected High Representative.

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Comments

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