Danish Prime minister Helle Thorning Schmidt leaving in the early hours on 17 July, 2014, after the failure of the summit. A possible chief of EU’s diplomacy and "a weapon of mass seduction”?
AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS
A summit delayed: EU’s total cacophony
17.07.2014 - 12:27
The expectations had been lowered from the start and it was agreed that the 28 leaders will decide only on the nomination of a High Representative. They hadn’t managed to agree on this on 26 June, but on Wednesday, 16 July, they came again for nothing all the way to Brussels.
Until the early hours of morning, they tried to conciliate Left and Right, North and South, East and West, but also the equation women - men, without forgetting other details, such as whether a country belongs or not to the Eurozone.
In the end, it was an utter failure. They tried to put on a brave face, with Herman Van Rompuy, the Council president, declaring, at a press conference in the early hours of morning, “It is not dramatic at all”.
They announced another special meeting, on 30 August, dedicated to finding the right persons for occupying the two main jobs: President of the Council and High Representative (the chief of the EU’s diplomacy).
In tense negotiations, Eastern European leaders managed to block Italy's proposal of the current foreign minister Federica Mogherini for the last job. The only tacit agreement was that the function should go to the Socialist group, which still leaves a chance to Italy, who fought hard for the prestigious position.
This time, the failure can at least partly be attributed to Van Rompuy, and it dents his reputation of skilled negotiator. He had, obviously, ill judged the oppositions to his carefully prepared package, which includes, for the first time, a permanent presidency of the Eurogroup. It is tacitly accepted that it should go to the Conservative Spaniard Luis de Guindos.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Socialist leaders led by François Hollande and Matteo Renzi, had decided that the job of High Representative should go to the Italian Mogherini. A woman and a Socialist, she would have perfectly filled the role. It was without counting with the ambitions of the Baltic countries, who insisted that Mogherini (and Italy as such) seemed to be too soft on Russia.
Poland, who had dreamed of obtaining exactly the same job for its own foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski was only too happy to let the Baltics lead the offensive. Another candidate was Bulgaria’s present Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, who had earlier received, for the first time, the explicit backing of her prime minister Plamen Oresharski.
Given the opposition of the Baltics, which infuriated Iralian prime minister Renzi, various sorts of compensation were proposed, like giving the presidency of the Council to Valdis Dombrovskis… but Spain blocked him immediately: Dombrovskis spoke recently in favour of Catalonia’s independence.
The Polish prime minister Donald Tusk would have been suitable for the job, but he let it be known too many times that he is reticent to leave national politics.
As for the Estonian Andrus Ansip, the mention of his name didn’t enchant Angela Merkel, who said in substance that "size matters”: having as president of the Commission Jean-Claude Juncker from tiny Luxembourg doesn’t go down well with having as president of the Council someone from another tiny country.
"Italian Renzi had already been furious earlier in the day”, says a diplomat who accompanied one of the national delegations. “Upon landing in Brussels, he was told that Van Rompuy was frantically consulting the leaders already there, especially those from the EPP, in order to push for [the former Italian prime minister Enrico] Letta for the Council [presidency].” Renzi has made a personal issue out of this: Letta is the very man that he has toppled, and it is out of the question to accept him in such a position of power. Plus, there would have been serious opposition for Italy holding both the Council presidency and keeping Mario Draghi at the head of the European Central Bank.
As for the opposition to having young (Mogherini) leading the EU’s diplomacy, Renzi said in essence that “Ashton wasn’t experienced either”. Mogherini was ostensibly sent for the whole week to a long state visit to Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan and Egypt, although Tony Blair, the envoy of the Quartet (UN, USA, EU, Russia) is doing basically the same thing these days.
After Wednesday's failure, and given that the High Representative is also vice-president of the Commission, and the second most powerful figure after the President himself, Juncker cannot in theory start the attribution of the other 26 portfolios. Member countries propose their Commissioner, but they have to do it in concentration with Juncker, who decides on the attribution of the portfolios.
But the Commission should be ready before the end of August, so that the Parliament can start auditioning the Commissioners, first individually, then by voting on the entire Commission.
"The situation is unprecedented, and this gives de facto a free hand to Juncker”, says a Commission official.
It is basically agreed that the High Representative shall be a Socialist nonetheless, and, why not? a woman. This seems to open the way to the only other candidate besides the Italian Mogherini: the charming Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt. She is not perceived as “Socialist enough” even by some in her own camp, but she has the experience that Mogherini is lacking and besides, smiles a diplomat, remembering the episode of Thorning-Schmidt’s selfie with Obama, "as chief of EU’s diplomacy, we would have in her a weapon of mass seduction”.
A summit delayed: EU’s total cacophony
17.07.2014 - 12:27