20th Jan 2020


This WEEK in the European Union

The secretive decision-making process to decide the future top jobs in the EU is to reach a climax - but perhaps not a conclusion - at a special European summit on Thursday (19 November).

Over a working dinner, EU premiers and presidents hope to reach agreement on the appointment of two new top EU posts created by the treaty: the first full-time president of the European Council and EU foreign minister.

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  • Tony Blair: still a contender for the presidency job? (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

The posts, which aim at giving the bloc more authority and muscle in world affairs, have caused no end of squabbles between EU member states. Some prefer a figurehead as president to a statesman who can "stop traffic."

Meanwhile, the foreign policy job, officially titled high representative for common foreign and security policy of the European Union - a post some suggest will ultimately be the more powerful of the two positions - has been no less controversial.

European media have been agog with speculation and diplomatic gossip as to who will fill the vacancies in the last few weeks, all with very little result. Former UK premier Tony Blair was for a long time the lead contender for the presidential role, then it was all but certain that Belgian PM Herman van Rompuy would get the job. Meanwhile, Luxembourgish leader Jean-Claude Juncker is still being mentioned as a contender in some circles.

The long-time favourite for the high representative post, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, has insisted that he is not interested in the post, while his fellows in the Labour Party beg him to stay to lead the struggling party should Prime Minister Gordon Brown stumble.

Mr Miliband's apparent departure from the race has thrust into prominence the candidature of one-time Italian Communist and former prime minister Massimo D'Alema, which has nonetheless predictably caused ructions amongst the former Soviet Bloc nations. An Austrian potential candidate, ex-chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, could also be ruled out for coming from a neutral country, a worry for the 20 out of 27 member states that are also members of Nato.

And yet Mr Miliband will not be attending the council of foreign ministers on Monday and Tuesday, suggesting that he may not want to be confronted with a pre-summit grilling. This has revived speculation that the son of Marxist political theorist Ralph Miliband and brother of UK climate and energy secretary Ed Miliband may still be in the running after all.

Thrown into the mix is the job of secretary general of the council, a less-mentioned but powerful civil servant post. Although it is a bureaucratic post, it is set to be part of the other negotiations.

All that is certain ahead of the summit is that nothing is certain, which could lead to the decision being taken on a qualified majority basis rather than by consensus.

Beyond the immediate squabble over the major appointments, EU leaders are scheduled to also squeeze into their dinner meeting conclusions on the Stockholm Programme (a new programme for the area of justice and home affairs), discuss the EU's objectives for the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December, and consider a common focus for financial re-regulation.

Jumbo Gaerc

Kicking off the week, Brussels will be host to a "jumbo" session of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, in which foreign, defence, development and Europe ministers will all meet.

Apart from preparing the ground for the EU summit later in the week, the gaggle of ministers are to mull over what to do with the EU's Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs - widely considered to have fallen far short of its ambitions. Relations with Russia, Ukraine, Bosnia, the Middle East, and the EU's Althea and Atalanta military operations will also be considered, as well as the worsening situation in Afghanistan.

Foreign ministers will not however be in attendance at the EU summit later in the week.

In the middle of the chock-a-block week, an EU-Russia summit is to take place in Stockholm, where Swedish Prime Minister Frederic Reinfeldt, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, foreign policy chief Javier Solana will meet with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.

The east-west dialogue will focus on climate change, energy, the global economy and a follow-up to the G20 summit. The parties will also bring up Russian energy supplies to the EU and mechanisms to ensure gas delivery to the bloc via Ukraine.

On the same day, EU finance and economy ministers will head to the European capital to consider the EU's annual budget for 2010.

Ringtone fraud crack-down

Rounding out the week, agriculture and fisheries ministers will meet on Friday, with the farming talks to focus on a simplification of the Common Agricultural Policy, while the fishing chiefs will consider how to tackle the matter of the estimated 200,000 birds that are inadvertently killed by fishing boats every year.

Meanwhile, the commission will report on the results of its crackdown on websites that sell mobile ringtones that take advantage of children and teenagers, tricking them into signing up to contracts or spending more than they should.

EU reforms to feature at 'jumbo' ministers meeting

Almost one hundred EU ministers will gather in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday for a 'jumbo-council' on foreign affairs, defence and development, where corridor discussions are likely to focus on the EU's top jobs and the institutional changes brought about by the Lisbon Treaty.

Davos and Libya in focus This WEEK

The all-powerful will meet in Davos after Berlin tries to resolve the Libyan conflict over the weekend, while MEPs will set the stage for final ratification of the Brexit deal.

Green money and Iran tensions in focus This WEEK

The EU Commission will unveil the financial backbone for its Green Deal, and also debate a possible minimum wage with MEPs. Lawmakers will also hear from the Jordanian king and the EU's foreign affairs chief.

Iran, Brexit test 'geopolitical' commission This WEEK

The EU foreign affairs chief attempts to salvage whatever is left of the Iran nuclear deal by inviting the Iranian foreign minister to Brussels - while the EU commission president heads to London for Brexit talks.

EU values under scrutiny This WEEK

Rule of law, environmental protection, and minority rights will feature high on the agenda in Brussels and Strasbourg as 2019 comes to a close.

UK election plus EU summit in focus This WEEK

EU leaders will try to agree on the 2050 emission-free target - but they will deeply disagree on EU spending over the next seven years. Meanwhile the UK will elect its new political leadership.

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