EU Chooses No-Names for Top Positions

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Last month, when the opinion world was rife with talk of a resurgent Europe, The Washington Post's Anne Applebaum made a prediction: If the European Union chose a boring leader, it would mean it was still thinking as a multilateral institution, with no support for a "common European policy" that might change the international landscape.

Well, the results are in, and this leader is boring--or so it seems. Herman Van Rompuy, the Belgian Prime Minister, will be the first President of Europe under the new Lisbon Treaty, and British baroness Cathy Ashton will be his foreign minister. Neither of these are household names. So is this the end of the common European policy dream? Maybe not. A handful of analysts are touting the new arrivals, and even argue that a weakened EU could paradoxically attract new members. But observers are still scratching their heads at pick:

  • EU Commission Is Power-Hungry  The National Review's Andrew Stuttaford neatly summarizes the conventional wisdom: "Neither the Belgian nor the baroness will represent too much of a challenge to the egos of the EU states' various prime ministers and nor, more critically, will they have the personalities or ability to challenge the ever-growing power of the unaccountable bureaucrats entrenched in the EU's commission--who have, of course, a leadership, and ever-more ambitious agenda, of their own."
  • A Weak Europe That Britain Should 'Commit To'  The Guardian's Martin Kettle essentially agrees, but puts a new spin on the matter. Those who hate the EU will be quick to seize the opportunity to criticize, he says, while EU lovers will also worry about the weakness of the choice. Yet the former group, "cannot be allowed to have it both ways," he says. "The EU's more hostile critics ... cannot complain ... [of] a ... European superstate so threatening that it must be resisted in the last ditch and then, with their next breath, denounce the EU for its pusillanimity in appointing relative lightweights to its top jobs." In fact, Kettle says, Britain should look at this development and notice that "this kind of Europe," a weak and "imperfect Europe ... suits us rather well ." In short, the vocal British opponents to the European plan should reconsider their position, and "invest" in the success of this weaker model.
  • This No-Name Might Have Some Talent  Blogger Dave Brockington wonders if President Obama had to look the new officials up on Wikipedia before making a statement. Nevertheless, as an intellectual exercise, he points out some of the possible advantages of the appointments:
Van Rompuy has held a country together that by all accounts should not be a country, and nearly ceased being a country in 2007-08, a crisis that I exploited for its humor value early and often in class. By all accounts, his success in holding Belgium together was more than mere competence; he was able to rebuild a modicum of trust between Flanders and Wallonia. These skills should serve him well in trying to keep the 27 member states of the European Union on the same page. Of course, there is fear that Belgium has lost its healer and will once again descend into chaos.
  • Van Rompuy Is a Tolkien Villain  Paul Belien is a Belgian, and he's not buying the "healer" argument. In fact, in one of the more unexpected contributions to the EU presidency debate, Belien chronicles what he sees as Van Rompuy's numerous Machiavellian moves as a Belgian politician. "Herman is like Saruman," he says, "the wise wizard in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, who went over to the other side. He used to care about the things we cared about. But no longer. He has built himself a high tower from where he rules over all of us." Blogger Richard at EU Referendum translates this bizarre analogy: "Worry. The forces of darkness are on the march."
  • Lady Ashton Is 'Brave' The Guardian's John Palmer rebukes those patronizing the new European political pair. Lady Ashton, he says, is "very brave" to "[take] a post that will be crucial in deciding whether the European Union can rise to the challenge of developing a foreign and security policy" for this new era. Furthermore, this is a change: Lady Ashton, he writes, "will have the power to propose foreign policy initiatives to the Council of Ministers, as well as be given a mandate by them to pursue in international negotiations." Also, Ashton will be overseeing the new "embryo EU diplomatic service" created under the Lisbon Treaty. "This will for the first time provide the EU high representative with a flow of information and advice from experts on the ground and make her less dependent than her predecessors on advice from national governments, who are notoriously ready to cloak purely national interest issues under a spurious European wrapping."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.