28th Oct 2016

Eastern states counter EU's secretive nomination process

Eastern Europe is chipping away at the secretive nomination process for new EU posts created under the Lisbon Treaty, with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves formally throwing his name into the ring on Thursday (12 November).

The president, whose name was put forward by Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, joins a select few daring to be named as official candidates, as fears of failure and obligations to current jobs keep the process shrouded in secrecy.

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  • European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek met the President of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves (right) this week (Photo: European Parliament)

Mr Ilves, a centrist Social Democrat and former MEP, says he is interested in both the European Council presidency post and that of the high representative for foreign affairs.

The former position will co-ordinate and 'drive forward' the work of the regular EU leaders' meetings, while the latter will become the EU's top diplomat and also a member of the European Commission – a beefed-up version of the job currently held by Javier Solana.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country holds the EU's six-month rotating presidency, is currently engaged in a sea of bilateral discussions with EU leaders in a frantic bid to find two candidates that all can agree on.

Announcing on Wednesday that leaders will choose the names over a dinner summit in Brussels on 19 November, Mr Reinfeldt said it was understandable that the current incumbents of national political jobs would want to keep their interest for the EU posts unofficial.

He likened an open job application 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."

In a statement released by the office of Mr Ilves on Thursday, the president said: "As far as I am concerned, in the fall of 2006, I was elected president of the republic of Estonia for five years, and I will work to fulfill those duties."

But the statement later says that the election of the two new posts should be "based on the internal coherence of the European Union and the principle of equality," a thinly veiled hint that eastern Europe should get at least one of the positions.

Soviet-style secrecy

Former Lavian president Vaira Vike-Freiberga, also a declared candidate for the European Council presidency job, said on Thursday that the process was being conducted with Soviet-style secrecy and contempt for the public.

The Baltic state's former leader attacked the EU for operating in "darkness and behind closed doors" and said it should "stop working like the former Soviet Union."

Together with Mr Ilves, and former Irish Prime Minister John Bruton, the three form a small pocket of outliers from a larger group of former and current statesmen who wish to keep their names off the official candidates' list.

Current frontrunner for the presidency job, Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy, along with his counterpart in the Netherlands, Peter Balkenende, and ex-UK prime minister Tony Blair have been mentioned as being in the running for the presidency post but have never formally declared an interest.

In a bid to add greater legitimacy to the whole process, Poland recently said that the candidates should hold job interviews in front of the 27 EU leaders.

"The approval procedure should be as transparent and democratic as possible. This will enhance the consensus surrounding those candidates who are eventually chosen," said a position paper put forward by the country.

Central and eastern European member states are also thought to have their eyes on a third post to be created under the Lisbon Treaty – the secretary general of the council – a bureaucratic but powerful post that will co-ordinate the day-to-day activities of member states in Brussels.

"When one thinks about lobbying, obviously if one country can occupy such an important role ... I think it could raise the image of such a country," Edit Rauh, the Hungarian under-secretary of state for social affairs, told EUobserver, referring to the bureaucratic post.

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