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Just another day at the Lobby – and, it would seem, another EU Summit, at least according to Herman Van Rompuy.
Some people claim to be suffering from Summit fatigue, particularly ever since De Heer Van Rompuy decided to host a Summit every few weeks, or so it seems.
But not The Lobby. We don’t just like EU Summits, we adore them – we are the Summit equivalents of trainspotters, except we only wear anoraks when it’s really bad weather…
We at Lobby towers love Summits so much we have taken the immense trouble of publishing a snapshot of what was discussed, who said what, how it was reported. You can thank us later, but first, of course, you have to read it, and to do so all you need to do is click here.
There you are. We’ve done all your work for you.
If you can’t be bothered to click the link (yes, this link) you are very lazy, but because like any good publishing house, we know our readers, please see below a (very) brief summary:
- A lot happening on energy;
- France and Germany trying to get the rest of the Eurozone to agree to some kind of fiscal union – the other members aren’t so keen – it’ll be finalised at March’s Summit (The Lobby says: hmm, not so sure about that one)
- Member States can’t agree on Egypt – obviously they all want democracy, that’s the easy bit. But should Mubarak be involved? If so how? And where does this leave the EU’s foreign policy?
- And innovation – researchers, SMEs, a golden future awaits you!
That’s that. But of course, it would be better if you read our update. Which you can access here.
Still not clicked it? OK one last time – here!
It’s the end of July, which means it’s nearly August, which means it’s time for the holidays!
And boy, does Brussels go on holiday! One minute you’re standing on Place Luxembourg marveling at the sheer weight of people apparently desperate to get into Ralph’s or Pullman, and then, in a puff of smoke, they disappear. All gone, except for some bemused tourists who wander around aimlessly and stare at the bus timetables (perhaps they can’t wait to get out of there), some hardcore summer workers regretting the fact they took their main holidays in May, and the occasional beggar trying his luck.
Last year I recall complaining how, although the popular view is that “everyone” is on holiday, they actually aren’t.
True, the EU institutions pretty much grind to a halt during August, but industry, by and large, keeps going. Consultants like to think of August as being a quiet month, but in truth it rarely is. Once you’ve covered for your colleagues out of the office, prepared for the dreaded rentrée, and began working on all those projects which tend to get earmarked for the quieter times, your day is pretty much full
So industry doesn’t stop during August, but then nor does the rest of the world.
September will see Herman Van Rompuy present his task force’s report on economic governance which looks set to alter the way the Eurozone governs itself forever more. No small matter. Meanwhile, just as everyone is packing their suitcases, the ICJ goes and announces that Kosovo was not breaking international law by declaring its independence from Serbia. How will Lady Ashton manage this delicate conundrum? And what are the repercussions for regions around the world demanding greater sovereignty?
Finally, in case you’d forgotten, we are still in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Second World War. They may be kings of the sporting world at the moment, but will Spain go the way of Greece? How does the EU prepare for this new and much-vaunted era of financial “austerity?”
So plenty to ponder as EU decision-makers head for the beach. Happy holidays to all our readers!
Which will it be?
At the beginning of this month the Belgian State Secretary for European Affairs Olivier Chastel is known to have stated that Belgium will mark a “rupture”, or a break, from current practice following the changes introduced by the Lisbon Treaty that, to an extent, give the EU Presidency a backseat role to President Van Rompuy and Baroness Catherine Ashton.
One does wonder however whether the Belgians are not taking this backseat role too literally.
With the full programme and website for the Presidency only having been unveiled today, less than a week before the Presidency is due to begin, it is perhaps not surprising that a certain anxiety has been felt in the air.
While these delays could be explained in light of Belgium’s recent political troubles, and Belgian leaders have tried to reassure everyone that these will not affect the Presidency, the lack of ambition with which certain key political figures reassure still gives ground for concern.
Talking to Mr Barroso this week, for example, Bart De Wever, the Flemish nationalist who claimed victory in the recent election, said he aims “to have a government in place before October, when the really important work of the Presidency will begin”.
It may well be that the groundbreaking work will occur in the autumn months, and having a government in place is not as crucial for ensuring the smooth running of a Presidency.
However, in just six months it is clear that the Presidency has to deliver at a time when fears of a double-dip recession are in the air, and any lack of ambition for the first three of these months could prove fateful.
We might be faced with this situation sooner than we think: on Thursday Belgian Prime Minister Leterme handed in his resignation to the Belgian King due to his five-party coalition government being about to collapse with the Flemish Liberals and Democrats pulling out over the “BHV” affair with less than three months left before Belgium takes over the reigns of the EU Presidency on the 1st July.
Moral-political question: should they be allowed to run the EU Presidency? I have heard all three answers in the last 24 hours:
- Yes, of course, because with the new institutionalised troika system, Belgium will be supported by Spain and Hungary and/or in any case the country holding the Presidency is simply following the Union’s priorities so their input is minimal. Also, Belgium is known to work particularly well when there is no government in place and, hence, they will probably even do a better job with a “Caretaker government”!
- No, because how can Belgium lead from the front, find compromise solutions, broker deals and demonstrate leadership – fair point!
- Don’t know: is the majority view because most citizens are clueless about what the EU Presidency is, let alone what it is supposed to do – a sad state of affairs.
Then I heard someone comment on the radio – no fear Herman Van Rompuy – a Belgian – will come to the rescue as the President of the European Union!
The reality is that Belgium will most probably muddle through with the support of the Spanish and the Hungarians and with a structure and system which seems to just keep rolling, despite institutional upheavals such as the “NON” to the EU Constitution or the Irish No to the Lisbon Treaty.
But do we simply want to push through and hope that the institutional snowball takes us forward? Clearly not and, hence, this latest possible scenario demonstrates that Europe still has a long way to go and needs to mature…
Blaming it on the Belgians though would be unfair as other Member States like the Czech Republic have been in the hot seat without a Government.
– Russell Patten
Or at least this is what I expected. Imagine my surprise however when none other than European Commission President José Manuel Barroso came out on top by a country mile. He managed to rack up a stunning 62% of the vote, leaving everybody’s favourite “damp rag”, Council President Herman Van Rompuy, trailing in second place with a meagre 10%.
Parliament President Jerzy Buzek picked up a paltry 2%, whilst the EU’s new foreign policy supremo Baroness Catherine Ashton and arch-eurosceptic MEP Nigel Farage both trailed with a disappointing 0% – the latter therefore proving to be an even damper rag than the current Council President!
15% of you opted for the mysterious “other” category, which we can now reveal included such venerable statesmen and women as Angela Merkel (4 votes), Goldman Sachs (they might rule Wall Street, but clearly not Brussels), Mickey Mouse, and Sarkel (we see what you’ve done there, well done…).
So what has this told us? Well, first and foremost, that Barroso is the king in his own backyard. Having been around in Brussels, and specifically the EU scene, for years longer than either Van Rompuy and Ashton, he has consolidated his power base and now looks set to dominate Brussels for the years to come. At least this is the perception, but, as a wise-man once said (and still says), perception is reality…
All of which leaves President Van Rompuy and particularly Baroness Ashton with much work to do to stamp their mark on the Brussels political scene. Will a poll twelve months from now give us the same result? Mr Barroso may be hoping so.
You only need one word to get a Eurosceptic going: Strasbourg. After that you will have an extra 5 minutes of conversation time and a good lecture on a basic business concept: cost-cutting.
Every month the European Parliament travels from Brussels to Strasbourg for their plenary session (twice in September). Each parade costs around €4 million.
But this circus display may soon come to a halt. In email discussions uncovered this week by The Lobby, it was revealed that many MEPs have written to Messrs Van Rompuy and Sarkozy, arguing to keep Brussels as the sole permanent seat for the Parliament to save tax-payers’ money during these times of financial crisis.
But apparently to some there are more important things than taxpayers’ money. On the opposing side, other MEPs claim that Strasbourg represents the birthplace of today’s European Union, is a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation, and a city that lies at the cross-roads of Europe.
For them, Strasbourg should actually be the seat of the Parliament as it increases the separation of the EU’s executive, judicial and legislative powers, would be cheaper than Brussels, and it is in France, a country that apparently “promotes the progress of Europe”.
Those are all romantic arguments, but the political reality is that the Parliament will continue to make those monthly trips to Strasbourg for the simple reason that it is not up to MEPs to decide where they meet, nor even Mr Van Rompuy, but the Council. Step forward France, a country that is about as unlikely to cede the Strasbourg seat as the UK will give up Gibraltar.
So MEPs can moan, complain, and argue, but ultimately only one man can put a stop to this farce, and he is ensconsed in the Elysée Palace. Good luck with that one.
As newly appointed Council President Herman van Rompuy settles into his new job, government officials and hundreds of journalists will be left in the dark tomorrow as there will be no place for them at the fancy venue of the informal Council meeting.
Asked to wait until the meeting is over, they are being referred to the Council’s Justus Lipsius building at Schuman whilst the Heads of State will be meeting over lunch in the charming Bibliothèque Solvay, located in the Léopold park right next to the European Parliament.
In organising his first Summit in this way, Mr van Rompuy may be stepping on some toes, and The Lobby is curious to see the various reactions. This more intimate “Summit diplomacy” to which only the Heads of State are invited without their advisors, may well be much more effective for the decision-making process.
Nonetheless, is Mr van Rompuy skating on slippery ice by all too quickly breaking with the old traditions and non-written rules? Fair is fair, we might have expected the haiku writer to come up with something as controversial as this.
One obvious question which remains though is why this honour went to the Bibliothèque Solvay? Are the leaders expected to take inspiration on economic growth and innovation from the assembled bookshelves? What about the Concert Noble? Or the Atomium? Autoworld? Tour & Taxis? Here at Grayling we also have a beautiful meeting room available!
The growing buzz around the possible nomination of Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy as future President of the European Council has revived old community ghosts and fears of another long political deadlock for Belgium.
A majority of Belgian people (even among the Francophones) are flattered and honoured that a Belgian politician may eventually become the first permanent President of the European Council, but at the same time, everybody is wondering what will happen to Belgium.
In TV reports, you can hear people saying “For once we had stability, but now he’s going to leave” and asking “who will replace him?”
For Flemish politicians, the answer is simple and obvious. Yves Leterme. Indeed, the current Belgian Foreign Minister and Prime Minister twice in the past seems to be the front runner to replace Mr Rompuy.
But for the Francophones, this is not good news. According to a recent poll, 61% of them think that the return of Mr Leterme will threaten the future of Belgium. Other Francophone politicians are calling for another General Election or even trying to bumble Mr Van Rompuy’s candidacy by stating he is not suited for the post as his political party refuses to ratify the convention of the Council of Europe on the protection of minorities… Francophone paranoia? Belgian Thriller ? Who knows ?
Van Rompuy knows that if he takes up the post of EU Council President this will mean another crisis. The debate is therefore much less about the next EU President and much more about the next Belgian Prime Minister. Van Rompuy? Leterme? Verhofstadt? Dehaene? Keyser Söze ? The usual suspects! As you can see there are nearly as many candidates for this position as for the EU job!
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?