January 27, 2008
A new EU Commission takes office on 1 November 2009. The Lisbon Treaty is expected to come into force officially on 1 January 2009 but this date may slip. There is talk of a postponement until 1 November, but this would be of doubtful validity.
This gives rise to an intriguing situation relating to three key appointments: President of the European Council (EC), Foreign Policy Chief (oka ‘High Representative for Union Foreign Affairs and Security Policy’) and President of the Commission. The orientation of the three and their ability to cooperate closely will be critical for the future of the
The EC President will be appointed by the EC, acting by qualified majority, for a term of two and a half years (renewable once) from the entry into force of the new treaty. He/she must not hold national office.
The Foreign Policy Chief (who will also become a Commission Vice-President) will be appointed at the same time, by the EC, acting by qualified majority and with the agreement the Commission President, but his mandate will only be until 31 October. (Presumably Xavier Solana’s mandate will be extended). The definitive appointment will be made at the same time as the other Commissioners are appointed.
The Commission President will be proposed by the EC, after consultation and acting by a qualified majority, taking into account the elections to the European Parliament. He/she has to be appointed by an absolute majority of MEPs. If the proposed president is rejected, the procedure is repeated with a new candidate.
A balance of nationality, geography, size and political affiliation is considered politically desirable, but may not be easy to achieve. Gender balance is also desirable but difficult to achieve. However, the most desirable criterion is ability to carry out the relevant responsibility.
The new treaty requires the EC President to chair the EC meetings and drive forward its work; ensure the preparation and continuity of its work in cooperation with the Commission President and on the basis of the work of the General Affairs Council; endeavour to facilitate cohesion and consensus within the EC; report to Parliament after each of the meetings; and ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy, without prejudice to the powers of the Foreign Policy Chief. The President will need to be willing and able to concentrate on detail in order to build consensus.
The Foreign Policy Chief, according to the new treaty, is required to conduct the Union’s common foreign & security and common security & defence policies; contribute by his proposals to the development of these policies, which he must carry out as mandated by the Council; preside over the Foreign Affairs Council; and ensure the consistency of the Union’s external action. He is to be a Commission Vice-President, responsible for external relations and for coordinating other aspects of the Union’s external action.
The “High Representative” will represent the Union for matters relating to the common foreign & security policy; conduct political dialogue with third parties on the Union’s behalf; and express the Union’s position in international organisations and at international conferences. He is to be assisted by a European External Action Service, which will work in cooperation with Member State diplomatic services and comprise officials from the Council Secretariat, the Commission and secondees from Member State diplomatic services.
Very few names have been mentioned as likely presidents of the European Council. Tony Blair, despite Iraq and the euro, apparently has the backing of Nicolas Sarkozy. Jean-Claude Juncker is well qualified. Guy Verhofstadt and Bertie Ahern have been mentioned, but no-one else.
Until recently, it was assumed that José Manuel Barroso would be re-appointed Commission President, but he now faces a possible challenge from an alliance between the European Parliament Socialists and Liberal Democrats.
The only name frequently mentioned for Foreign Policy Chief, apart from Solana is Carl Bildt, but Michel Barnier’s name has also now come up. But these are early days.
As to balance, the above names break down as follows:
A Blair-Verhofstadt-Bildt troika would achieve all but geographical balance. A Blair-Barroso-Bildt troika would achieve all but precise political balance.Unless Solana continues long term, Blair is currently the only Socialist candidate for any of the three positions.
The Lisbon Treaty will be a giant step forward in developing common external policies and raising the standing of the EU internationally, provided that three highly competent members of the troika are appointed and they work effectively together. In other words, the people chosen are of vital importance.
The selection procedure will be complicated by the EC President probably being appointed ahead of the EP elections in June 2009, but the Commission President has to be approved by Parliament and so indirectly must the Foreign Policy Chief. Parliamentary manoeuvring is inevitable and is likely to involve the appointment of Parliament’s President.
One way of ensuring that the importance of the troika is recognised is to appoint Angela Merkel EC President. (This might suit her in the light of German domestic political trends.) She has the authority and the ability, particularly in her mastery of detail. She would also contribute to the desired gender balance.
You are invited to answer any of the following questions:
- What roles should the troika play?
- What criteria should determine the choice of the three?
- Does one need to come from the new Member States?
- Should the Commission President be a politician or a technocrat?
- Who are the most suitable members of the troika?
It is highly desirable that there be a wide public debate on all these issues, in view of their importance to the Union’s future.