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22nd Jul 2019

Decision time looms for EU top jobs

  • Brussels journalists following the summit may be in for a long night on Thursday (Photo: EUobserver)

After weeks of speculation and recriminations over a lack of transparency, EU leaders will meet in Brussels on Thursday evening (19 November) to decide who will take up the new posts created under the Lisbon Treaty.

A new permanent president of the European Council and a beefed-up high representative for foreign affairs are designed to increase the EU's visibility on the world stage and help co-ordinate its work back home.

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But after the jubilation that greeted the Irish Yes result in a second referendum and Czech President Vaclav Klaus' eventual signing of the treaty, the recent backroom dealing has both been very difficult and left the EU open to criticism about the lack of democracy in its decision-making process.

The successful compromise candidates looks set to win out as a result of their inoffensive positions, political family, and geographic origins, rather than as a direct result of their merits.

Accusations of a Franco-German stitch-up, gender imbalance, and concerns about one candidate's support for the Iraq war have all surfaced during the past weeks, sending the Swedish EU presidency into overdrive as it scrambles to find consensus personalities.

The country's prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, admits his two rounds of telephone discussions with EU leaders have not produced clear names ahead of Thursday's meeting, leaving open the possibility of a drawn out summit or an eventual vote by qualified majority.

"I need, of course, the collaboration of my colleagues to try to get this through ... It might take a few hours. It might take all night," said Mr Reinfeldt on Wednesday.

The Swedes have reportedly taken the precaution of ordering Friday morning breakfast in the council for the EU leaders.

Transparency

Despite an eastern European push for greater transparency, including Polish calls for candidate presentations, few former or current EU leaders have been willing to formally declare their candidacies for the post of council president.

While former UK prime minister Tony Blair was one of the first names to circulate in the pages of the European press, current Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy has emerged as the frontrunner.

Fresh news broke on Thursday that confirmed the existence of a Franco-German alliance behind Mr Van Rompuy, with German ambassador to Belgium, Reinhard Bettzuege, admitting to the De Morgen daily newspaper that Chancellor Angela Merkel was backing the Belgian leader.

Other names frequently mentioned include Luxembourg leader Jean-Claude Juncker and his Dutch counterpart Jan-Peter Balkenende while many of Europe's women would like to see a woman take the post.

In a show of protest against the over-representation of men in senior EU posts, 20 MEPs dressed in suits and ties protested in front of the EU legislature on Wednesday.

The floor also remains largely open for the potentially more powerful position of high representative for foreign affairs, with EU pundits increasingly wondering how the future holder will manage the busy schedule of the multi-faceted job.

UK foreign minister David Miliband has apparently ruled himself out for the job that is expected to go to a centre-left candidate, with Italy's Massimo D'Alema another contender.

But the lack of consensus over either of the posts means a dark horse may yet steal the show.

"Amongst the disagreement, I'm hoping my name may yet emerge as a compromise," official candidate for the president job, and former EU ambassador to the US, John Bruton told EUobserver on Wednesday.

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