A bad night for the EU

Friday, 20. November 2009     3 comment(s)

Der Spiegel’s English edition does not pull any punches in declaring that “Europe chooses nobodies”. This was in response to the news that the heads of state of the European Union’s 27 member states have appointed Belgium’s Herman Van Rompuy as EU president (a somewhat puffed-up title for a job that is to chair the Council of Ministers) and the UK’s Baroness Catherine Ashton to be High Representative for Foreign Policy. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, perhaps unwittingly, damned them with faint praise when congratulating them saying they will both “grow” into their roles. Van Rompuy and Ashton may well be competent leaders and decent people but they will never escape the image of being ‘the least bad options’.

These positions were always going to be appointments made intergovernmentally – cooked up behind closed doors by the leaders of the EU member states. So it might sound churlish to point out that Baroness Ashton it seems has never even stood for, let alone won, elected office. Indeed the irony of the Socialist group in the European Parliament backing an un-elected life-peer (to the extent that they were willing to link her appointment to Commission President Jose Manuel Barosso’s mandate) seems to have passed them by. For democratic legitimacy Ashton and Van Rompuy can only rely on the fact that they were appointed by the democratically elected leaders of the EU’s member states. Is the argument that those who represent us as Europeans were selected by those who represent us as Finns, Brits, Greeks, Germans, Poles etc. enough to give them legitimacy? I fear it is not. Carsten Volkery concludes the Der Spiegel article by convincingly arguing that:

“One can defend that approach by arguing that that’s just the way things are in Brussels. But anyone who makes that argument should not be surprised if there is little enthusiasm for the European project among the continent's population.”

Leigh Phillips, a reporter for the EU Observer, summed up this sad situation succinctly on Twitter this morning:

“[The] whole process was intransparent, undemocratic and we ended up with a pair of numpties with bad hair. [There is a] need to transcend Eurosceptic/Europhile dichotomy and articulate an analysis that takes on the EU’s post-political anti-democratic form of statecraft while recognising a need for an EU.”

Europe has to do better than this. It is hard to think that it can not.

Texts reflect the opinions of the individual authors

Discussion (3 comments)

22.11.2009, Ivan Kalburov

'Bad' is a little exaggerated I would say, since any outcome of this process would qualify this way due to the secret procedures. I agree that the way things were decided is a humiliation for European citizens and new member states. This becomes obvious first at the background of Poland's proposal for open interviews. Second, the EU bla-bla about the gender, party and country balance somehow misses the equilibrium old/new member states. It is the wrong logic anyway, but if one has to defend his agenda at Bilderberg's meetings befor the EU Parliament and the media... this makes things not good indeed. Other than that I think Rompuy is a good choice for the job. As for the baroness, I have strong doubts about competence in the field of Security and Defense. Perhaps the whole CFSP will turn into trade negotiations now. And how will the new foreign service be set up I am really curious to see.

23.11.2009, Julien Frisch

It was a bad night indeed, and I am quite curious how the two will manage their own jobs. They deserve some credit, but they'll be heavily criticised - especially by us in the euroblogosphere - for their work if they don't manage to show some quality...

2.12.2009, Federico Guerrieri

As you can read in my article (follow the URL) "Baroness Ashton will betray Victor Hugo's dream" I also believe that the new EU appointments have been a bad choice for the future of Europe.
The future of Europe is at risk. Just a few people want a strong Europe. This is sad

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