The Future of Europe – But First: Personnel Issues
Updated: Jan 9, 2021
It’s the most Brussels of parlour games: The Top Job Speculation Game. A kind of ‘Who’s Who?’ of European politics, or a ‘Who’s That?’ for anyone beyond the inner beltway.
There’s the cyclical guesswork every five years over who gets to bag the big jobs in each new incoming EU administration. It’s pretty frenetic and all-encompassing for several weeks, as eurovillage barchat (RIP) barters authoritatively the rumour that the former Lithuanian finmin is to get forestry and cutlery, against the surefire bet that France wants Council and has secured a deal with Germany to swap out the SecGen in exchange for DG Trade, who’ll get the DG job in a newly-created super-directorate for Vegetable and Mineral Affairs etc etc ad inevitable erratum.
It is also the most Brussels of parlour games for the decision makers themselves to spend ages bickering over which once-mid-level European politician to park in a thankless position with few powers and a likely inconsequential eventual outcome.
And so it is with the hunt for the loftily titled President of the Conference on the Future of Europe – a kind of hand-wringing talking shop aimed at giving a semblance of democratic legitimacy to a semblance of democratic reform.
Governments and MEPs are at loggerheads, and speculation is rife and uninteresting.
It’s almost as if it mattered.
First out the gates was perennial bridesmaid Guy Verhofstadt, a man whose name has been in every hat for every top EU job in more than a decade. I think they now make the EU sorting hats with his name already stitched onto the inside.
It ensures he’ll always be in the running, but will never get picked out.
He – or his European Parliament advocates – should have known better: Anyone tipped early on as a candidate is doomed to fall by the wayside.
Now we are led to believe that previous top-job also-rans Thorning-Schmidt, Grybauskaite and Stubb are possibles, as well as Enrico Letta or Michel Barnier, and for a true retro feel, Emma Bonino and Joschka Fischer.
The last time Joschka Fischer was A Thing in The World, Crazy Frog was in the charts, and Saddam Hussein was still alive. Probably listening to Crazy Frog. Because we all were in 2005. We didn’t have much choice in the matter.
Bonino’s EU credentials, meanwhile, date back to YMCA’s first chart success, and John Wayne’s final days. Though it’s less clear he’d have been listening to it at the time, ubiquitous as it was.
It’s possible with a bit of squinting to see the case for arguing the toss over who gets the European Commission or Council President job. They’re positions of some influence, and having Your Guy (sorry, Verhofstadt) or Gal in the chair may be of some importance – much as they’re supposed to abandon their national allegiances at the doorway.
But why the disagreements and delays over this chairperson role?
What differing outcome would a Stubb presidency have over a Bonino one, given they’d be marshalling a list of pretty much pre-ordained lower-common-denominator reform options after two years of chats with unrepresentative representatives of The Citizen and the usual parade of lobbyists?
May as well list ‘enhanced cooperation’ and some de minimis tweaks to own resources on a piece of paper, stick a ribbon on it, and call it job done for this stage – a stage which, we should recall, is the first, consultative recommendation stage.
You’d then need to go through the whole EU sausage making process in order to get anything out the other end, which if history is anything to go by, is likely to be not a sausage.
The last twenty years have seen a Convention on the Future of Europe (not to be confused with a Conference on the Future of Europe), three Intergovernmental Conferences on the Future of Europe (also not to be confused with the Conference on the Future of Europe), two rounds of Citizens’ Dialogues (not to be confused with the “Citizens’ ‘Agoras'” foreseen under the Conference on the Future of Europe… whatever they are…), and a Future of Europe Consultation, not to be confused with any of the above.
All of these were intended to be steps towards EU reform of some kind, with grand aims of becoming more streamlined, more fit for the modern world, more lah-di-dah and whoop-di-dooh, more whizzbang and relevant, more hip to the kidz, you get me? etc.
And in all that time, the only reform of any note was the Lisbon Treaty, almost a decade in the making, accounting for mishaps and setbacks, and representing the maximum the EU could get away with in terms of eroding governments’ powers (which is what much of it boils down to).
So assuming this talking-shop ‘conference’ leads to some largely uncontroversial soft recommendations which get mauled throughout the process between those who want MOAR EUROPE and those who like winning national elections, assuming that then results in some pre-legislative discussions on some draft ideas which then get another mauling, followed by legislative proposals – mauled again – and we emerge years later with the aforementioned further enhanced cooperation and a tweak to how the EU is funded.
Assuming all that – which is hardly a stretch – why the 10 months of to-and-fro over who gets to run the village-hall debates? Why not just go with tradition and jettison all the higher-profile names and settle on a relatively unknown least-worst compromise candidate who’ll muddle through under arm’s-length direction from the member states for a cushy eurocrat salary and a no-less lucrative consultancy afterlife.
I remain available.