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Before continuing with this blog-post I would like to clarify one thing, once and for all.
I will not be announcing my candidacy for the new role of EU President.
Some of you may be surprised that I was in the running at all. In fact, I never formally announced my candidacy, but one night in Stoumelings I understand that my name was banded around (did you now? – ed) – perhaps half in irony, who knows? – but nonetheless, Brussels is a small place and such talk can spread like wildfire. Sooner or later my name could have been mentioned in the company of Tony Blair, Herman Van Rompuy, and Jan Peter Balkenende.
I cannot deny that I considered it for a fleeting moment, but in the end I have taken the decision that if the Swedish Presidency were to come to me and say that there had been consensus on my appointment in the Council I would have turned it down. Why?
Because – and let’s be honest here – I cannot, in the words of UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, “stop the traffic in Beijing,” even if I wanted to. Furthermore, if the job is merely that of a glorified Chairman (as now seems to be its destiny), intent on finding muddy compromises between the EU-27, I don’t feel that this is the role I want the President of Europe to have. I would be going against my own principles.
The President of the EU! Population 500 million. The largest trading bloc in the world. Yet the economic giant will remain a political pygmy if its President is reduced to the role of a non-descript fonctionnaire.
Many Europeans cannot name a single MEP, let alone the President of the Commission, but it would be nice if they knew who the President of the EU was. After all, he or she will de-facto be representing their interests in the halls of the White House and on the roundabouts (so it would appear) of Beijing.
So unless the new President’s role is wide-ranging, attention-grabbing, and media-attracting, I hereby rule myself out of the running.
It’s quiet. Too quiet. There are fewer buses. There are no queues at the sandwich joints on the Rue du Luxembourg. Tumbleweed can be seen blowing through the buildings of the European Parliament and the Berlaymont. You can walk over Rue Belliard against the red man because there is no traffic. The Indian takeaway across the road has gone on holiday – for six weeks!
If only everywhere was like this. When The Lobby goes to London this evening it will be met with the well-known hustle and bustle of a city that doesn’t so much sleep as one that never goes on holiday. In London August will be indistinguishable from September, which in turn will be the same as November, March, and June – and always has been and always will be.
Brussels, however, is different. It is as if the whole city has breathed its last and keeled over. The shops are still here. Some of the bars are still open. But the atmosphere, the hubbub, has left the building. Out of offices now spam my inbox. People are “not contactable”, have “no access to emails”, and ask you “in urgent matters” to contact their secretary (do secretaries never go on holiday?)
This year though the silence is masking what is still to come. Autumn will see the probable ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, set to fundamentally change how EU policy is agreed, and ushering in a new EU President and High Representative for Foreign Affairs. In the institutions, a new Commission will take to the boards on 1 November, and a new Parliament will get down to business and fight its corner in relation to its two rivals.
As if that wasn’t enough, December sees a historic climate change summit take place in Copenhagen which will – and must – decide on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, whilst at the same time the EU economy continues to flounder, particularly in the east. Meanwhile, a new global order flexes its muscles as the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) begin to bang on the door of western hegemony.
Hard though it is to believe for those of us left in Brussels during these summer months, the EU finds itself on a precipice entirely of its own making. To jump? Or to retrace our steps? The next few months will dictate how the EU will look like in ten, twenty, nay fifty years time.
Meanwhile the sun is shining, the policy paper trail has momentarily subsided – so let’s step outside and enjoy it while it lasts.