Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Bit Of Rompuy Pumpy

We now know who the EU's first president is going to be. It's Belgium's Prime Minister, Herman Van Rompuy. There's also going to be a new EU foreign policy chief, in the form of Britain's Cathy Ashton. Better-known candidates for the top job, such as Tony Blair, faded out of contention as the EU's 27 leaders got together to decide who should get the positions.

These jobs have been created as part of the Lisbon Treaty, which has now been ratified by all 27 member countries. The idea of them is to help the EU interact in a more effective way with the rest of the world. In future, instead of a mishmash of different signals from the various national leaders, we should all get a clearer idea of what the EU's view on a particular topic is, whether that's trade or a humanitarian intervention. Or at least that's how it's supposed to work.

But you'll notice that neither Mr Van Rompuy or Baroness Ashton are household names. Mr Van Rompuy wasn't even elected Belgian Prime Minister, he was appointed by the king to try to solve a constitutional crisis. For her part, Baroness Ashton has never been elected to anything, and until today was not even the most famous person in her family (her husband is the YouGov pollster Peter Kellner).

On the face of it, it does appear strange that the EU should select such little-known political figures to be its leaders. It's hardly going to impress the Americans, the Chinese or anyone else. But the main reason is simple, the leaders of the different countries don't want to give up any of their power if they can avoid it. A high-profile figure such as Mr Blair would have quickly dominated the EU's international activities, using his contacts in foreign capitals to take control of the union's external policy. Mr Van Rompuy and Baroness Ashton are much more likely to do what they're told, particularly by the leaders of France and Germany, who blocked Mr Blair's candidacy. Expect EU foreign policy to be set primarily in Paris and Berlin, rather than Brussels.

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