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30th Jul 2016

Reinfeldt walks tightrope in EU names circus

  • Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt spoke in the European Parliament on Wednesday (Photo: Magnus Fröderberg/norden.org)

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has a week of tightrope diplomacy ahead of him as he tries to pin down some names for top EU posts without actually revealing to a potentially unforgiving electorate in any of the 27 member states that their top politicians might fancy a job in Brussels.

Having decided that the first ever president of the European Council and foreign minister will be announced after an EU leaders' dinner on 19 November, Mr Reinfeldt now has the delicate task of whittling down the "many names" for the positions.

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"My intention is to put forward one candidate per job," he said, referring to the two political posts as well as the secretary general of the council, a bureaucratic but powerful post which oversees member states' day-to-day activities in Brussels.

Speaking on Wednesday (11 November) ahead of a parliamentary debate on the issue, he said he had just finalised the first round of consultations with his 26 colleagues - itself a two-day task.

The Swedish leader now has to take a series of other considerations into account - such as whether the candidate is from the left or right politically, their nationality and gender, factors that are a part of many EU deals.

A further complicating factor that the Swedish EU presidency has to keep in mind is that the future foreign minister will be part of the European Commission, so has to be accepted by the commission president as well as run the gauntlet of a European Parliament hearing.

When this "balancing act" has been completed, Mr Reinfeldt will work the phones again. Despite the fact that several names have featured in press reports recently, including Belgian Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy for the presidency post and British foreign minister David Miliband to the EU's top diplomat, Mr Reinfeldt said "I haven't asked anyone if they are standing as candidates."

With the president to be drawn from a small pool of current or former EU leaders, this is to stop the domestic embarrassment of a prime minister putting his or her name forward and then not getting the job.

Justifying the secrecy of the process, Mr Reinfeldt noted that candidates do not want to put their names into the public forum until they are certain that they will get the post. He likened it to "sending the signal to the people of your country, I'm on my way to another job. On Monday I'm back again and I didn't get it but I still love you."

"Sorry, anyone who has been in politics ...knows that that's unrealistic," he added.

But he admitted that despite all his hard work in the run up to the summit, it might, as past form has shown, just be decided on the night.

"It could also be that a lengthy discussion at the European Council [summit] delivers someone else."

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