EU treaty could unleash hydra-headed leadership

5th November 2009, Comments 0 comments

Fears are growing that the two posts created by the recently signed Lisbon Treaty, designed to streamline the workings of the expanded EU, could instead cause friction with existing roles and between themselves.

Brussels -- With the Lisbon Treaty secured, Europe on Wednesday turned its attention to the two top jobs it introduces, amid concerns that the EU could become a hydra-headed creature rather than a well-oiled machine.

Fears are growing that the two posts, designed to streamline the workings of the expanded EU, could do the exact opposite, causing friction with existing roles and between themselves.

With the ink scarcely dry after the Czech president on Tuesday became the last leader to sign the treaty, France's European Affairs Minister Pierre Lellouche laid out the problem.

"This could become a benediction or something incoherent," which could transform the EU into a hot air factory, he warned.

The main aims of the treaty, which is now fully ratified and should enter into force next month, are to give Europe a more powerful voice on the world stage and to improve its sometimes byzantine decision-making process, in part through the scrapping of some national vetoes.

The new post of president of the European Council -- already dubbed 'EU president' -- is aimed at answering Henry Kissinger's famous question of "who do I call if I want to call Europe.”

However with the chances of former British PM Tony Blair on the wane, the likelihood is that a less high-profile figure will take the top job, perhaps with a higher-profile politician, such as current British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, in the role of foreign policy high representative.

The treaty is vague on the precise roles which these two posts should inhabit.

What is clear is that the foreign policy supremo, a beefed-up version of the job that Javier Solana currently does, will be in charge of a vast diplomatic service of several thousand officials.

The office holder could thus emerge as the new European strongman, especially if someone with the heft of Miliband gets the nod.

The relative power of the two new jobs "is a very delicate question that still needs to be addressed," one European government source said.

Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso, who sees himself as the guardian of European interests, has recently secured a second five-year term and does not intend to forego his role representing the European Union at home and abroad.

On top of that the existing system whereby EU nations take six-month turns at the EU's rotating presidency will continue in a lesser form, organising regular ministerial meetings, though not at foreign minister level.

Spain, Belgium and Hungary are the next presidency countries on the rank, ready to serve their stints after the current Swedish EU presidency ends on December 31.

The three nations have already said that they have no intention of being sidelined and will indeed coordinate their efforts.

Recalling Kissinger's plaintiff question, Lellouche warned that in the new European Union "you could have four" numbers to call; the EU Council president, the rotating presidency, the head of the European Commission and the foreign policy supremo.

And that's before you start considering the often-conflicting interests of the national governments of the 27 EU member states.

The Brussels-based European Policy Centre think-tank warns that the contents of the Lisbon Treaty must be introduced very carefully.

"There is undoubtedly potential for frictions, turf battles and dysfunctional solutions," the think-tank warned recently.

A key decision will be whether the leaders choose and EU president who will stop the traffic when he arrives anywhere, the Blair option, or is more of an administrator and consensus-builder, like Belgian Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy, who is well-versed in dealing with feuding factions at home.

"He must be aware of the limits of his role, and not to try to be a second foreign minister," warned German EU deputy Elmer Brok, a specialist on institutional questions.

That's one reason that the high-octane, ambitious Blair may see the top job go to a representative of a smaller nation.

The Swedish EU presidency is expected to call a special summit next week dedicated to deciding who should fill the two new jobs.

Yacine Le Forestier/AFP/Expatica

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