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When races for top jobs are on, a complicated combination of criteria come into the picture. In EU politics, this matter is even more complex since a balance has to be found between big and small EU countries, north and south, men and women and left and right.

This is reflected in the current race for the new top jobs of President of the Council and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Indeed, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has admitted that it will be difficult to fill all the criteria.

The UK is putting a major hurdle in the way called Tony Blair. UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown still backs Mr Blair for being the first President of the EU, despite his unpopularity in several countries over his support for the war in Iraq. In addition, pro-Europeans do not see a politician from the UK as an ideal candidate for this post since the UK is neither in the eurozone nor the Schengen area. Mr Brown said that Mr Blair is the only UK candidate for these EU jobs, supposedly ruling out the possibility of UK Foreign Minister David Miliband becoming the foreign policy chief.

The EPP and the PSE will play a key role in the determination of the top. Indeed, they agreed that the President post will go to the EPP and that the foreign policy position will be a socialist. This deal should exclude Mr Blair’s candidacy as President of the Council.

Mr Brown wants a high profile EU President that can give a ‘face’ to Europe in the world. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders prefer a facilitator and consensus builder rather than a big name that could put them in the shadow. Ideal candidates for them are Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy, the Dutch Prime Minsiter Jan Peter Balkenende, and Luxembourgian Jean-Claude Juncker. All of them are from the EPP.

Such a scenario could lead the way for a more forceful foreign policy chief from a big country, and a socialist. Massimo D’Alema, former Italian Foreign Minister who is supported by the socicalists is seen as the frontrunner if Mr Miliband confirms his unavailability. Mr D’Alema’s candidacy also has the support of the centre-right Italian Government, but his past as an affiliate of the Italian Communist Party could be a major obstacle for receiving support from the Eastern European countries.

Mr D’Alema is considered more pro-European and left-wing than Mr Miliband. Therefore, Mr Balkenende could be favoured for the post of President, since he is considered less federalist and more right-wing than Mr Van Rompuy.

A special summit to choose the top jobs will be held on 19 November, but leaders still have a long way to go. However, The Lobby feels that early candidates are going to be ditched along the way, as usually happens in negotiations for EU posts.

And where are the female candidates?

– Ilja

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Yesterday’s opinion piece by Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and Finance Minister Anders Borg in the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, citing the Lisbon Strategy as a failure, lent an unexpected favour to the long running plan of economic reforms aiming to make the EU “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world”. In the hustle and bustle of the lead-up to the European elections, the incoming Presidency points to the lackadaisical performance on the part of Member States in meeting the goals set back in March 2000. Reinfeldt and Borg call for sustainable public finances and the Lisbon Strategy to be restarted.

In these hard times of economic meltdown, calls to re-focus and re-boost the Lisbon Strategy go down well. However, this time around, the commitment lies not on the part of the European Commission, but on the leadership in the Council. Is this a subtle indication that it is time to re-balance environmental priorities with economic ones? There is room for interpretation…

– Agnieszka

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