I try to see the positives where I can, but I am really struggling this evening. Who actually wanted Barroso, Van Rompuy and Ashton to be running the European Union? It all strikes me as the lowest common denominator of the worst sort. As @kosmopolit pointed out on Twitter, the three of them – together with EP President Buzek – tick all the boxes: north-south, male-female, left right etc. The problem is the boxes they don’t tick! Leadership, inspiration, relevant experience.

If everyone had played things differently we could have had a team that would have ticked all the boxes – including leadership, inspiration, relevant experience… Pascal Lamy as President of the Commission, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga as President of the European Council, and David Miliband as High Representative.

But it was not to be. We have a vacuous lump of lard as Commission President, an unknown Belgian opposed to Turkish membership of the EU as President of the European Council, and Baroness Ashton as High Rep, competent but rather uninspiring.

I am really not impressed.

Photo credits, Creative Commons Licenses: Miliband | Freiberga | Lamy | Barroso | Van Rompuy | Ashton


  1. I disagree! You don’t have to have a grand plan with a definite destination in order to move gradually to a good place. Evolution’s the perfect example! Creationism is actually a bad approach; maybe one of the problems with the EU is that too many people see it as a grand plan rather than an evolving thing. Even God would surely have messed up if he really had done things that way.

    Party candidates selected by votes of MEPs, open manifestos and pitches, a public QMV vote by governments and EP confirmation – all these sound good to me, and I’d have been pleased had we had *any* of them. I’m not necessarily saying there should be direct elections eventually, no. Maybe selection by the EP would be good enough. Maybe open, public selection by member states would be okay if the Commission President were elected or chosen by the EP. Dunno. I do know I want the EU to go in the general direction of more openness and democratic legitimacy. Being genuinely closer to citizens. Had there been more of that in the Constitution/Lisbon then I could have been really enthusiastic about it. I’d also have been impressed by any EU leader who’d said, after the 2005 referendums, that the project was broken and it had to be genuinely back to the drawing board.

    You’ve still not actually answered my question, though, Robert. Do you want this intergovernmentalism in making these appointments, subject to things being “a bit more open”, or do you want something else?

  2. robert

    I agree that the process could have been more open, but what would be the *real* consequence of that? Would the heads of government made their decision in any other way? Wasn’t it always to be expected that the choice would be a compromise based on a number of factors (strong figure who seemingly takes power away from governments vs less strong who doesn’t have the gravitas)?

    You’d need to be more precise in how you want these appointments to be made, beyond talking about small steps. For example, should the roadmap be to firstly to have each candidate make a pitch that is publicly broadcast; next step to involve the EP in confirmation, then eventually to make it a EU wide decision of the people.

    I think a lot of the problems with EU governance is the countries just seem to muddle through instead of making a clear statement of how they plan to achieve things.

  3. I’m not sure why you think I have any misconceptions about what Eurosceptics want, Robert. I know many people want a purely intergovernmental EU, or no EU at all. The fact that they do and I don’t is one of the reasons I’m not comfortable being called a Eurosceptic.

    As for the Queen. I’m now content for us to have a Queen, as is the modern practice elsewhere Europe, for instance in the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and Spain. Let’s not assume the universal European standard is to be a republic.

    The Queen has no real power; to replace her with an ex-politician would serve no real democratic purpose – what would the policies of an elected head of state be? How would we know who to vote for? – but it would involve a loss in that our head of state would then unnecessarily be a political figure rather than an apolitical one. The only importance of the monarch is at times of constitutional crisis involving a real risk to democracy – say, if a tyrannical party got a majority in the Commons and started legislating dictatorially. In those circumstances it might actually be an advantage to have an politically disinterested figure in place to defend constitutional integrity – as King Juan Carlos did in Spain in 1981.

    Anyway, I don’t think it follows at all that if you think the EU should be more democratic, then you have to be republican.

    And hang on a second, Robert – let me turn this back on you. You’re content to criticise Eurosceptics for their intergovernmentalism – fine. But are you actually defending this selection process against critics like me who are coming from a slightly different angle? Or do you actually agree with me, but simply object to hypocrisy?

  4. robert

    @Car Gardner: unfortunately I think you’ll find most eurosceptics don’t share your ideas. Their concept on democracy *is* intergovernmental, possibly with the line taken by the relevent minister or representitive decided by Parliament. They would happily get rid of the EP or reduce it to a purely advisory role. They would probably also insist all laws made at the European level be ratified by member state Parliaments before coming into effect, as well as allowing member states to override any laws they chose.

    In other words, an approach that excludes direct participation of the people and allows countries to ignore their international legal obligations whenever it suited them politically.

    BTW I was thinking – the same eurosceptics say nothing about how the UK head of state is not even appointed by hereditary. Somehow that’s perfectly OK, possibly because they’re ‘British’.

  5. I agree with you, Robert. But you can’t simply assume that anyone who fails to support the EU status quo, or who wants reform, can be labelled a “Eurosceptic” and that they agree with everything every Eurosceptic says.

    I’ve not been generally opposed to the content of the Lisbon Treaty. There are good bits and less good bits, obviously. But had there been a referendum about it in the UK back in 2005, say, I would certainly have voted “Yes”, although the Constitution was a disappointing effort at renewing the EU.

    I believe in reforming the EU, and that means I’m sometimes perceived as a Eurosceptic. And I want reform because I genuinely believe in what EU leaders simply mouth: that Europe should be closer to its citizens. You can’t do that by ignoring, denying and rerunning votes, and by Kremlinology.

    I’m not saying we have to have direct elections for these posts. I accept that giving the EU more democratic legitimacy is a complex thing and will take time. But we now have, with regular Euroelections and the EP, the basis of a more genuinely democratic EU polity, and we should be moving that way, even if in small steps. It’s good for instance that Barroso now answers questions in the EP regularly. A small step, but in the right direction. I’d have liked some small steps taken on these appointments, too – openly declared candidates perhaps would have been a tiny baby start, and Friberga was notable for having declared herself.

  6. robert

    I do wonder about those who go on about the supposed ‘undemocratic’ nature of this, especially eurosceptics. After all, if eurosceptics had their way the EU would be purely intergovernmental like the UN or WTO and all decisions would be made only and directly by the government representitives – exactly as has happened here!

  7. I liked Friberga because she was open about being a candidate – which was more than any of the others were.

    I don’t know what to say about last night’s events, except that it was like waiting for white smoke at the Vatican, but less exciting. If you’re going to have an undemocratic behind-the-scenes stitch-up decided in a secret meeting, without anyone outside knowing who the candidates are or what they stand for; and if you then expect everyone to greet your choices with acclaim – then you might as well just declare yourself infallible and put your red robes on.

  8. We are where we are. We have who we have. Much of the next few years will be taken up with bedding in and establishing the presidency and foreign and diplomatic corps. Rompuy and Ashton have those skills.

    States Rights rule encore but pressures of next 5 years on a global scale will show need for stronger personalities at that level.

    Economic crisis might prove too much at national level. IMF and UN security council will prove flashpoints for Sarkozy and Cameron.

    Opportunity missed but opportunities to come. Nose to the grindstone?

  9. Why would Freiberga be any better than Rumpuy and why would she be any better than Ashton? I agree with you on Lamy and Milliband, but not on her.

  10. Freiberga has experience as a head of state and was highly regarded and respected in that role. She also has fascinating and diverse life experience. She would have the necessary gravitas to make good speeches as Pres of the European Council that the others do not have.

  11. robert

    From BBC News:

    “Belgian PM Herman van Rompuy is named as the new EU president and the UK’s Baroness Ashton becomes foreign policy chief.”

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