There’s much jostling for the limelight as the EU’s new leaders bid to make their presence feltby Manneken Pis / January 27, 2010 / Leave a comment
Though it may seem obvious, the EU is learning that having many leaders is not the same thing as having strong leadership. The Lisbon treaty brought two new players onto the stage: Herman van Rompuy, the Belgian ex-premier appointed president of the council of ministers, which represents the EU member states, and our very own Catherine Ashton, the bloc’s new foreign policy supremo. These two figures were always intended to perform alongside the commission president, José Manuel Barroso. But they were expected to replace—rather than compete with—the top brass of the EU’s six-month rotating presidency, which has now passed to Spain.
Unfortunately the Lisbon treaty is a bit of a mess because, under it, the rotating presidency of the EU is not actually abolished. In policy areas such as environment it continues and gives the relevant minister from the presidency country a starring role chairing ministerial meetings. But its design flaw is that the PM and the foreign minister of the presidency country are left feeling like a spare part. Spain, never the EU’s shrinking violet, is dealing with this by pretending the treaty is not really there. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister, and Miguel Ángel Moratinos, the Spanish foreign minister, have launched the country’s EU presidency no fewer than three times. In this “transitional phase” it has become ever more difficult to answer the EU’s eternal question: who’s in charge?
This was evident in one of the launches, an awkward press conference in Madrid, where Van Rompuy, Zapatero and Barroso performed a bad impression of the “three amigos,” each vying for attention. The media was most interested in the new full-time president, Van Rompuy, who began poorly, reading from a bland prepared script. But he did well when taking questions, outlining how global politics threatened to leave the EU behind unless it embraces economic reform.
Sensing that he needs to establish his profile, Van Rompuy has convened an economic summit of heads of government on 11th February. Back in Brussels at the European parliament, where she faced her second grilling, Ashton avoided gaffes but failed to convince her critics. She seized on the Haiti earthquake to use her new powers to co-ordinate the efforts of three different European commission directorates and officials in the European council. And, in case anyone had failed to notice, Ashton convened a press conference to tell them.
And what of…