Tag Archives: President

Intuitu Personæ: Who Should Lead the ECB?

There’s quite a lot of talk recently about who should replace Jean-Claude Trichet as president of the European Central Bank. Sylvester Eijffinger and Edin Mujagic from Tilburg University say that a firm ECB president, unwilling to yield to political pressure, is needed. Jean Quatremer provides, as usual, a very detailed picture of the behind-the-curtain negotiations surrounding the nomination of the future president of the ECB.

Two things are important here. First, we should avoid at all cost a North-South polarization surrounding this issue. True, the ECB president is elected by qualified majority, but any trust in the eurozone that is still available will be lost if Member States start fighting over this post. Second, whoever is elected should be able to guarantee strong leadership. We certainly do not need an ECB president that divides instead of unifying the eurozone.

At a time of great peril there’s no room for experimenting. I do hope that all Member States, and France and Germany in particular, will not try to over-politicize this nomination. Otherwise consequences may become overwhelming, and history will apportion blame accordingly.

 

 

Belarus: the White Elephant in the Room

Brussels, we’ve got a white elephant in the room. It’s Belarus, of course. The place where they beat up presidential candidates (watch the video of the beating of presidential candidate Neklyaev). The place where one man is clinging to power for 16 long years.

There were presidential elections yesterday in Belarus. They ended in protest and police violence, just as you might expect from a country which is at the bottom of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2010. All the mise en scène was there – flags, songs, and police beating up and arresting protestors. This is a place where they kill journalists, after all.

I witnessed both the protest and ensuing police violence in Minsk, the capital of Belarus and the reaction of relevant EU officials yesterday. Three politicians spoke out in this order: Carl Bildt, Wilfred Martens and Jerzy Buzek (Mr. Buzek’s statement specifically called on Lukashenko to stop the violence). Not a single word was heard from the High Representative Catherine Ashton or any representative of the Commission.

Now there is a slight annoyance. It turns out that Belarus lies on the EU doorstep. Technically speaking, EU is committed to the values of democracy and rule of law. Democracy and rule of law are obviously not abundant in Belarus. So what do we do about it?

Well, not much, to be honest. There is something called high-level EU–Belarus political dialogue. There is some action by OSCE observers who say that probably the election process got somewhat better in the 2010 elections. Sort of.

This is worrying. Belarus is a European country and a potential EU Member State (no matter how far-fetched that sounds). The European Union has already experienced relative loss of leadership on the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The case of Belarus is disturbing and quite obviously Lukashenko has no intention to lose grip on power. All geopolitical considerations notwithstanding, EU can only profit from a free and democratic Belarus, and vice versa. That is why the EU must really step up its pressure on the political regime, or at least condemn it properly.

UPDATE: There’s a statement now by the spokesperson of the High Representative Catherine Ashton.

Juncker Remains Head of the Eurogroup

Jean-Claude Juncker has been re-appointed for a new mandate of two-and-a-half years as president of the eurozone finance ministers, the Eurogroup.

The Eurogroup is now much more important, since the Treaty of Lisbon bars non-eurozone Member States from voting on certain issues in the Ecofin format (ministers of finance). Mr. Juncker says he will aim at better coordination of macroeconomic policies of eurozone members.

Lifting the Veil of Nomination Secrecy

Jean Quatremer has done the unthinkable – he has lifted the sacred veil of secret deliberations for the nomination of the first President of the European Council.

If his information is credible, then it appears that the President of France, Nicholas Sarkozy, has unilaterally opposed the candidacy of the prime minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker. All the other 26 Member States supported Mr. Juncker’s bid, but Mr. Sarkozy reportedly “vetoed” without stating any reasons.

Mr. Quatremer says that the Swedish Prime Minister then proposed Herman van Rompuy, not wanting to propose a formal vote. This was done although the Treaty of Lisbon requires a qualified majority, rather than anonymity, to appoint the President of the European Council.

 

Van Rompuy is the First President of the European Council

Herman van Rompuy has been appointed as the first President of the European Council – a new post created with the Treaty of Lisbon. In his first public appearance, he has outlined some of his priorities on the post:

  • Continuity, especially for multiannual dossiers such as the financial perspectives and the Lisbon Strategy;
  • Economic and social agenda;
  • Environmental and energy challenges;
  • Greater security and justice for the European citizens.

Interestingly, Mr. van Rompuy believes that “every country should emerge victorious from negotiations”. He also thinks that institutional debate in the EU “is closed for a long period”.

The post of High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy goes to Catherine Ashton. Her appointment will have to be approved by the European Parliament. Pierre de Boissieu will be the Secretary-General of the Council.

The reactions to these appointments are diverse. One thing is clear – both Mr. van Rompuy and Mrs. Ashton do not have substantial foreign policy experience.

Quentin Peel says that the choice shows what a powerful role the European parliament has come to play in EU politics. He also says that the immediate reaction in Washington was one of shock and disappointment. This somewhat contradicts the news that the US welcomes EU appointments. Andreas Ross says this is an example of old-school EU compromise. Christopher Bickerton says in an interview to the LA Times that “the whole thing has descended into farce…it’s made the European Union seem more of a joke than a reality.”

Tories Threaten on Blair

The foreign affair spokesman of the British Conservative party has warned European ambassadors privately that backing Tony Blair as President of the European Council would be a “mistake” that would set back relations if the party came to government.

This is odd and unusual, to say the least. It also gives me an explanation for the fact that that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had expressed concern last week during her visit to Europe over David Cameron’s increasingly combative stance toward the EU (check Gulf Stream Blues for the whole story).

Silent winner – the other candidates. FP has a list, but there are inaccuracies, as Kospmopolito has pointed out. One candidate is missing – Mary Robinson; though this name will give some Americans the creeps.

European Parliament Approves Barroso

The European Parliament has approved the candidacy of Jose Manuel Barroso for President of the European Commission. 382 MEPs voted for, 219 against, and 117 sustained. There were minor technical difficulties with the voting equipment before the vote.

The debate on 15 September revealed strong divisions among MEPs about the Barroso candidature (you can see the video here). Mr. Barroso answered critics by saying:

“If you want a strong Commission, that has the rights and initiative to defend the European interest, at least give me the benefit of the doubt.”

The leader of the Socialist and Democrats group, Martin Schulz, responded that:

“He[Mr. Barroso] is an excellent advocate for the interests of the Council.”

The main argument, it appears, remains the independence of the Commission itself. Now Mr. Barroso has a new mandate to disprove such allegations.