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Posted on on November 28th, 2009
by Pincas Jawetz (

The original November 20, 2009 posting:

The European dis-Union did not chose an Obama, but someone whose only managerial success was the creation of a Belgian government after a long time they had none. His departure from the job – will throw perhaps into a relapse his country divided into Flanders and Wallonia. The Foreign Policy at the EU will be headed by someone that comes from foreign trade and has to show for herself only a bilateral trade agreement with South Korea.

The general press we read is no show of enthusiasm for the results produced at last night’s diner, and prefer to call this as a transition phase in European history. Yes, there is unification at the end of the tunnel, but for now there is subservience, and the EU will be led rather by a General Assembly concept where the small States will not allow the result to become a Major State.

The reaction is rather like:

EU leaders have chosen Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy to be the first president of the European Council, while UK trade commissioner Catherine Ashton will become the bloc’s foreign policy chief.

Welcoming the decision on Thursday evening (19 November), Swedish leader Fredrik Reinfeldt said: “What we were seeking were people to create continuity” and “to be the voice and face of Europe throughout the world.”

Mr Van Rompuy, from the centre-right in European politics, is a trained economist and has been running Belgium for less than a year. He writes Haiku verse in Flamish, and is known for his low-key style, which includes a line in self-deprecatory humour and caravan holidays.

He came to prominence after Germany and France a few weeks ago agreed between themselves to promote him. Several diplomats subsequently suggested that his short term in office stood to his advantage as he has had no time to make enemies among other EU leaders – he will not upstage the big leaders and comes from a small country with problems. He also knows Brussels well.

The presidency decision – nominating a person from a small country with no international profile – confirms the speculation of recent weeks that the majority of member states wanted to choose a person whose main role will be that of an internal fixer, rather than someone who can open doors in Washington and Moscow.

Mr Van Rompuy underlined his low-key approach by saying he intended to be “discreet” and that his personal opinions were “subordinate” to the council.

He talked up the importance of member states and their diversity and noted that he would “put forward the positions that the council has approved” at international meetings without stepping on the toes of the European Commission president.

Catherine Ashton, meanwhile, emerged relatively late in the race to be the EU’s top diplomat. Her name appeared after UK foreign secretary David Milliband, the preferred candidate at the beginning, said he was not interested in the job.

With the EU president being a man, from a small country, and from the centre-right, Ms Ashton balances the scales in terms of gender, coming from the left,  and being from a big country.

Ms Ashton, trade commissioner since October last year, has no foreign policy experience and has never held a senior ministerial post.

She said it was a measure of “her slight surprise” that – unlike Mr Van Rompuy – she did not have a prepared speech but pledged to “represent [European] values across the world.”

Ms Ashton, who still has to be approved by the European Parliament, highlighted her skills by pointing to her success in negotiating a free trade agreement with South Korea, the EU’s largest ever bilateral trade deal.


UPDATED November 28, 2009:

It is easy to get exasperated with the EU if you want to see a strong union, but if you are a realist and see what the present 27 look like when they sit together, you might rather think that the choice of Mr. Van Rompuy and Lady Ashton was an inspird one.

The problems facing the EU will not be its position at a table of three but: its inability to set policy goals, poor follow up to what they decide, and poor coordination among the states. So, what is needed is someone who is a unifier to a fractious coalition on the home front – call it marriage councilor at home. The fact that Van Rompuy steps out from the Belgian House that is divided between the Flemish and the Waloons, into the EU House that is splintered even much more, is thus Belgium’s loss and Europe’s gain.

OK, today we know the Barroso choices for the EC Commission and next problem will thus be for Mr. Van Rompuy to find his way in the coexistence package between his position of a Permanent President with a  two and a half year’s permanency, and the half-a-year revolving Presidents of which he will have five starting with Spain on January 1, 2010, while also having to maneuver between his “supremo” foreign policy manager Lady Ashton, the European Parliament, and the European Commissioners, all claiming some sort of rights known only to them. Good Luck EU!

Some say that Van Rompuy has a hidden agenda to build a strong Union – I wonder where they got this – surely not from his statements. If they are right – we will be very happy.

Barroso Commission II

Austria – Johannes Hahn (EPP) – Regional policy

Belgium – Karel De Gucht (ELDR) – Trade

Bulgaria – Rumiana Jeleva (EPP) – International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response

Cyprus – Androulla Vassiliou (ELDR) – Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth

Czech Republic – Stefan Fuele (PES) – Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy

Denmark – Connie Hedegaard (EPP) – Climate Action

Estonia – Siim Kallas (ELDR) – Transport (Vice-President)

Finland – Olli Rehn (ELDR) – Economic and Monetary Affairs

France – Michel Barnier (EPP) – Internal Market and Services

Germany – Günther Oettinger (EPP) – Energy

Greece – Maria Damanaki (PES) – Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

Hungary – László Andor (PES) – Employment, Soclai Affairs and Inclusion

Ireland – Maire Geoghegan Quinn (ELDR) – Research, Innovation and Science

Italy – Antonio Tajani (EPP) – Industry and Entrepreneurship (Vice-President)

Latvia – Andris Piebalgs (EPP) – Development

Lithuania – Algirdas Šemeta (EPP) – Taxation and Customs Union, Audit and Anti-Fraud

Luxembourg – Viviane Reding (EPP) – Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship (Vice-President)

Malta – John Dalli (EPP) – Health and Consumer Policy

The Netherlands – Neelie Kroes (ELDR) – Digital Agenda (Vice-President)

Poland – Janusz Lewandowski (EPP) – Budget

Portugal – Commission President José Manuel Barroso (EPP)

Romania – Dacian Ciolos (EPP) – Agriculture

Slovakia – Maros Sefcovic (PES) – Institutional Affairs and Administration (Vice-President)

Slovenia – Janez Potocnik (ELDR) – Environment

Spain – Joaquín Almunia (PES) – Competition (Vice-President)

Sweden – Cecilia Malmström (ELDR) – Home Affairs

United Kingdom – Catherine Ashton (PES) – EU foreign policy chief (Vice-President)

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One Response to “UPDATED: The EU Chooses not to enter the big league on the side of China and the US: on Foreign Policy it wants rather to see Brussels be led by the European Commission in a way similar to how the US is led by the Senate – and as such also elected a President that will deal mainly with smoothing out the differences between the States without outshining them.”

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