Stanley's blog

The 2009 EU Troika

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:

Nationality Geography Size Political affiliation
Ahern Irish North Small UEN
Barnier French South Large EPP
Barroso Portuguese South Small EPP
Bildt Swedish North Small EPP
Blair British North Large Socialist
Juncker Luxemburg North Small EPP
Solana Spain South Large Socialist
Verhofstadt Belgium North Small ALDE

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.

Author :


  1. As accustomed, Brussels Guru Stanley is starting, what can be a decisive debate for EU’s future.

    According to today’s Independent: “Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, is pressing hard for Mr Blair to become a heavyweight president of Europe. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, may come under domestic pressure to back a rival candidate but is thought likely to rally behind M. Sarkozy. Mr Blair enjoys strong support at the European Commission in Brussels.”

    You couldn’t find anyone suitable from the “new” Member States?

  2. Not many people will be happy to have this debate opened so early. As Harold Wilson once said ‘a week is a long time in politics’. EU priorities are to secure ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and to protect the Union from the looming US recession.

    Inevitably there will be horse trading about these positions and much will depend on who is available at the time. Of course it would be good to have a balance but this is rarely the determining factor. One would hope that competence would be the principal criteria but one cannot be too hopeful (remember Santer).

    Of the candidates listed Belgium would almost certainly veto Blair as the Brits have twice vetoed Belgian candidates for Commission President. Merkel would be excellent but she is almost irreplaceable for the CDU in Germany.

    At present I would put my money on Barroso, Juncker and Solana. This would be a solid team who should be able to work well together.

  3. What a load of nonsense! The key issue for me is whether the social democrats will put up a rival candidate to Barroso in next year’s European elections. The Liberals, Greens and the Left will almost certainly do so, and perhaps even the UEN. Schultz is trying to do a deal with Poettering (no doubt stitched up in Berlin), to keep Barroso in return for Schultz becoming EP President. But, if the pressure grows on the PES, the socialist leaders may be forced to put a name forward (e.g. Felipe Gonzalez?!). And if they do, we really would have something we could call “Euro-democracy” for the first time. The other posts you mention are largely irrelevant in comparison to the “big one” of the Commission President.

  4. Comme toujours, l’analyse de Stanley Crossick est très fine, nourrie d’une immense expérience de la vie communautaire et inspirée par le plus authentique esprit européen.

    Il est clair que, lorsqu’on crée une nouvelle fonction, le premier titulaire lui donne à la fois sa dimension et son style. Les Etats-Unis ont eu la chance historique et le talent de trouver des personnalités de très grande envergure pour exercer les premiers postes de Président (George Washington) au Président de la Cour Suprême (le grand juge Marshall) en passant par les secrétaires d’Etat et au Trésor (Jefferson et Hamilton). De même, en France, le général de Gaulle a marqué la fonction présidentielle de manière indélébile.

    Dans le cas qui nous occupe, le triumvirat très original mis en place par le traité de Lisbonne exige que le choix des trois premiers titulaires se fasse de manière concomitante. Certes, la qualité des personnes doit être le premier critère, mais cela ne peut être le seul : d’une part, le traité ne prévoyant pas de hiérarchie entre eux, et les champs de compétence étant amenés à se recouper fréquemment, la réussite dépendra aussi de la bonne entente entre les trois personnes ; d’autre part, si l’on veut que les gouvernements et les peuples reconnaissent sans réserve la légitimité des nouveaux dirigeants européens – désormais distincts des dirigeants nationaux -, il faut qu’ils se reconnaissent tous en eux : un certain équilibre politique – au moins entre droite et gauche -, géographique (nord et sud), démographique (grands et petits pays), et historique (anciens et nouveaux membres) devra être recherché.

    La sagesse conseille d’attendre les élections européennes pour lancer le processus : c’est le parti menant la coalition victorieuse – en pratique le PPE ou le PSE – qui pourra faire prévaloir son candidat à la présidence de la Commission.

    Pour ce qui concerne le Président du Conseil, plutôt que de lancer des noms, le plus utile aujourd’hui me paraît être de proposer une procédure. Une fonction aussi éminente ne peut pas être laissée aux tractations secrètes entre chefs de gouvernement. Les candidats devraient être invités à se déclarer publiquement avant une certaine date. Le Conseil européen devrait procéder à une audition publique de chaque candidat, en donnant à chacun le même temps de parole, avec retransmission télévisée. Pour le choix du premier titulaire, cette procédure serait particulièrement opportune : chaque candidat serait ainsi amené à préciser publiquement comment il conçoit cette fonction nouvelle, ses relations avec les autres institutions européennes, etc. Il serait ainsi beaucoup plus difficile aux chefs de gouvernement de se mettre d’accord sur le nom de la personnalité qui les gênerait le moins – ce qui, au contraire, serait inévitable en cas de procédure secrète.

    C’est à la lumière de cette analyse que je réagis à la mise en avant du nom d’Angela Merkel. Elle a évidemment toutes les qualités pour ce poste. Encore cela suppose-t-il que le Président de la Commission ne soit pas un PPE, et qu’elle soit intéressée dès maintenant par la fonction. Or, elle n’est qu’au début de sa fonction de chancelière d’Allemagne. Si elle y réussit, elle préfèrera évidemment continuer à Berlin débarrassée de son encombrant allié du SPD, et si elle échoue, il n’est pas de l’intérêt de l’Union de faire apparaître les grandes fonctions européennes comme un lot de consolation des échecs nationaux. Faisons un appel à candidatures, arrêtons les manœuvres de couloir, organisons une compétition publique et loyale et que le meilleur (la meilleure) gagne !

  5. Je trouve interessant que Alain Lamassoure ne soutienne pas ouvertement Tony Blair. Ce dernier a fait son plaidoyer devant les cadres de l’UMP, parti de Alain Lamassoure, et a recu la benediction de Nicolas Sarkozy. Mr Lamassoure reste-t-il a convaincre de la position de la France qui soutient officiellement la candidature de Tony Blair au futur poste de Président du Conseil européen?

  6. Sorry Simon that you think it’s a lot of nonsense. Under the new treaty the other two posts will be very important if strong candidates are chosen. To become Commission president,the candidate will need an absolute majority in the 2009-14 European Parliament. It’s hard to imagine that this will be achievable without agreement between the PPE and the Socialists. The result of the parliamentary elections must be taken into account. What does this mean? The most obvious explanation is that the candidate must belong to the party which receives the largest number of seats.

  7. Je me rallie à l’idée d’Alain Lamassoure de ne pas laisser le procédure aux tractations secrètes entre chefs de gouvernement. Sa proposition d’intoduire une vrai procédure publique devrait garantir l’émergence d’un bon président, et au même temps, introduire un fort élément d’une democracie européenne, comme mentionnée par Simon Hix.

  8. Interesting names and comments. What about Rasmussen (the current Danish PM)? If he continues to reconcile his country to the EU and vice versa, while managing a high-tax and welfare economy successfully, supping with the populist devil but keeping him/her at bay outside government, doesn’t he deserve a shout?

  9. Well, interesting and useful to think about all this now. True that the first job holders will define their own positions and work out the procedures and habits for working together. But I’d rather not address the whole issue in terms of names: we’ll almost inevitably end up with a line-up we cannot think of now. Who would have put any money on Barroso in 2004? Merkel certainly has many qualities for the job, but just how likely is she to leave Berlin for Brussels? These are mere speculations at the moment.

    I therefore strongly agree both with Alain Lamassoure and Simon Hix (though not on the nonsense bit 😉 It is crucial to establish procedures that deliver as much accountability as possible. This is true for all top jobs – and we could include the EP Presidency: “technical agreements” between PES and EPP should be over now.

    Full-blown electoral competition for the Presidency of the Commission + some sort of public beauty contest for the Presidency of the Council would make for a good start. The two other top jobs should allow to fine-tune the political and geographical balance.

    So the PES needs a strong candidate against Barroso – this is why I would in any case add the other Rasmussen (Poul Nyrup) to the picture. Signals from the PES so far are rather mixed. If they believe they cannot get more votes than the EPP, which might well be the case, they could be tempted by yet another power-sharing arrangement with the EPP. This would be a missed opportunity.

  10. All interesting comments to nourish the corridor debates, but other key issues are just as important – will their staffs play their roles t lower levels? Or will the national backwoodsmen hold out for maintenance of the old system at lower levels – i.e. will the foreign minister’s staff chair all cfsp working groups? Will they have someone in the Commission seat opposite them (given the Relex Commissioner will be chairing, will there be another Commissioner in the opposite seat?)and what of the legal rivalries and turf battles we have seen for the last ten years? Over or reinvigorated? Your guess may be as good as mine, but these are thecrucial issues in the effort to make the new system work better than its hidebound predecessor.

  11. I just want to remind you that 2009 is a general election year in Germany. I cannot imagine Mrs Merkel leaving her present job as party leader during this period. After all, she is a successful leader of her party which is currently clearly ahead in national polls. As a further remark, I think the European Council President cannot come from a country that is not part of the Eurozone, Schengen area or not even the Charter which is important also for the external relations of the EU. How could such a president credibly present these policies? To start with, I could imagine Solana II/Barroso II and one newcomer, maybe Juncker; maybe as a surprise move Zapatero if he loses the elections. Solana would then have to leave

  12. Stanley’s ideas about the prospective EU Troika are, as ever, provocative and on the mark. He rightly says that there should be a geographical/political balance between the posts on offer, but appears to have overlooked the question of the European Parliament Presidency, which should also be included in the ‘package’ – especially since, post Lisbon, the EP’s powers will widen so considerably. Given the fact that Liberals and Democrats wield more power than ever before at European Level, they should be included somewhere in this quartet of posts. Guy Verhofstadt or Anders Fogh Rasmussen would both make excellent Council Presidents, for example.

  13. I would agree with Stanley’s general optimism regarding the potential of the Treaty of Lisbon to lead to common external policies and to enhance the standing of the EU internationally. I would, however, like to mirror David Spence’s concern since the attractiveness of the top posts to the names mentioned will also depend upon developments at lower levels. This applies particularly to the High Representative’s (HR)position and to the creation of a European External Action Service that is genuinely able to assist, not hinder, the HR. Progress on the latter has been slow and interinstitutional friction, to which Spence refers, may yet ensure less streamlining and encourage more turf consciousness.

    Such a scenario could place the HR in an even more difficult position between the institutions as well as the Member States (on the latter point, the two declarations attached to the Lisbon Treaty on CFSP give cause for concern). It may also have knock-on effects for the other members of the troika and would certainly complicate their roles.

    Hopefully, I shall be proven wrong but, if not, it is doubtful that candidates of the calibre mentioned will be attracted to the HR position. Nor will the troika achieve the potential to which Stanley refers. So, let’s continue the discussion but keep an eye on what’s going on at lower levels.

  14. Sonwat: I did say,”Parliamentary manoeuvring is inevitable and is likely to involve the appointment of Parliament’s President” but dis not include this Presidency in the trio package. It will inevitably come up in the negotiations for the appointment of the Commission President and ‘parmanent’ appointment of the Foreign Policy Chief

  15. No I don’t like your Merkel for President idea – she is needed in Berlin and there is no obvious candidate to replace her there.

  16. I welcome Stanley Crossick’s blog on the 2009 EU Troika which is quite pertinent .
    As a convinced European , it will be critical that during the French Presidency the Member States show (finally) their determination to appoint a well balanced but especially competent EU troika which will also be teamwork oriented . Lets avoid some of the bad compromises & appointments from the past which have unnecessarily weakened the EU as a global political & trade force .
    I agree with Stanley that Angela Merkel would be a good candidate as EC President .

  17. I would like to add that many Brits would be as opposed to Blair as council president as, say, the Belgians. He was kicked out because of the Iraq war….if he now comes back in any controllatory role, well, that’s not part of the deal.
    Second. He sold us Brits on the Lisbon treaty being minimalist, with no strong EU president. But latterly it’s said he will only consider the job if the president is given extensive powers. So, if he does come back into a powerful job, the Lisbon treaty already having been ratified, it represents the worst kind of bait and switch.
    Blair – no way.

  18. As for Bildt, isn’t the first of his problems his association with the neocons’ Committee for the Liberation of Iraq?

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