The Treaty of Lisbon introduces two new European top jobs: a high-profile president to chair EU summit meetings for a two-and-a-half year term and a revamped foreign policy chief. However, selecting the right people to fill these positions proved a politically-sensitive task.

Overview

The EU's new 'Reform Treaty' was agreed upon by EU leaders at a summit in June 2007 and the updated final text was formally approved in October 2008 at an intergovernmental conference (IGC) (EurActiv 19/10/08). The 'Treaty of Lisbon', as it was finally named, was officially signed by EU heads of state and government at a summit in the Portuguese capital on 13 December 2007 (EurActiv 14/12/07). 

The treaty aims to streamline EU decision-making by introducing voting reform in the Council, reducing the size of the European Commission and strengthening the role of national parliaments. It also creates two new posts: 

  • A new, permanent president of the EU Council of Ministers, who will chair EU summits and;
  • High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, a position previously held by Javier Solana, who will also be the EU's external relations commissioner. 

The legal foundation 

The legal basis for the positions of permanent President of the European Council and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is briefly defined by the Lisbon Treaty: 

  • Article 9B: 

5. The European Council shall elect its President, by a qualified majority, for a term of two and a half years, renewable once. In the event of an impediment or serious misconduct, the European Council can end the President's term of office in accordance with the same procedure. 

6. The President of the European Council: 

(a) shall chair it and drive forward its work; 

(b) shall ensure the preparation and continuity of the work of the European Council in cooperation with the President of the Commission, and on the basis of the work of the General Affairs Council; 

(c) shall endeavour to facilitate cohesion and consensus within the European Council, and; 

(d) shall present a report to the European Parliament after each of the meetings of the European Council. 

The President of the European Council shall, at his level and in that capacity, ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy, without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. 

The President of the European Council shall not hold a national office. 

  • Article 9E: 

1. The European Council, acting by a qualified majority, with the agreement of the President of the Commission, shall appoint the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The European Council may end his term of office by the same procedure. 

2. The High Representative shall conduct the Union's common foreign and security policy. He shall contribute by his proposals to the development of that policy, which he shall carry out as mandated by the Council. The same shall apply to the common security and defence policy. 

3. The High Representative shall preside over the Foreign Affairs Council. 

4. The High Representative shall be one of the Vice-Presidents of the Commission. He shall ensure the consistency of the Union's external action. He shall be responsible within the Commission for responsibilities incumbent on it in external relations and for coordinating other aspects of the Union's external action. 

Issues

Discrete, consensual leaders

Eight years of soul-searching and intricate manoeuvres to revamp the EU as a more powerful player in world affairs culminated on 19 November with the appointment of two discrete politicians, who pledged to profess consensus-building and quiet diplomacy. At an extraordinary summit which took place over dinner, EU heads of state and government unanimously backed Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy as the first permanent EU president and current Trade Commissioner Baroness Catherine Ashton as High Representative for Foreign Affairs (EurActiv 20/11/09). 

Rules and timing unclear

The criteria for who to choose for these two new top positions were not written down in the Lisbon Treaty. It was therefore up to Europe's heads of state and government to decide on who they wanted to choose as their new representatives.

Bargaining between the 27 EU countries took into account decisions already taken to reappoint José Manuel Barroso as European Commission president and Jerzy Buzek as president of the European Parliament. It also took into account the distribution of important portfolios in the Commission (see EurActiv LinksDossier on the new European Commission).

The process of nominating commissioners began with the election of José Manuel Barroso as Commission president on 16 September 2009 (EurActiv 16/09/09).

The big question: who to choose?

In the absence of formal criteria, much speculation broke out over who should take up the role of EU president. According to Stanley Crossick, a veteran EU policy analyst and founding chairman of the European Policy Centre (EPC) - a Brussels-based think-tank - the new EU Troika needed to strike a balance between the following criteria (see blog post on Blogactiv for full analysis):

  • Nationality;
  • geography;
  • size of country, and;
  • political affiliation.

However, according to Crossick, the most desirable criterion was the candidate's ability to carry out the relevant responsibilities. In this perspective, Crossick argued that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the only person who has "the authority and ability" to ensure the importance of the troika and would also contribute to another desirable criterion, which is gender balance.

The list below gives an indication of who the candidates were for the post of president of the EU Council of Ministers  before Herman Van Rompuy was chosen on 19 November (EurActiv 20/11/09):

Name Political family  Perceived strong points Perceived handicaps  Coverage by EurActiv 

Tony Blair:

  • Former British Prime Minister (1997-2007)
  • Middle East peace envoy on behalf of UN, EU, US & Russia  
Labour
  • Most charismatic among the candidates
  • Most popular throughout Europe
  • Too close to Washington
  • Supported US-led war in Iraq
  • His country is outside the euro zone and Schengen
  • Dutch, Belgian and Luxembourg governments argue that he does not have a sufficiently pro-European background to represent the EU
  • He is believed to have accepted tens of thousands of pounds from a steel billionaire campaigning for Ukraine to join the EU

EurActiv

(14/01/08)

(07/05/08)

(12/01/09)

(24/08/09)

(15/09/09)

(02/10/09)

(13/10/09)

(28/10/09)

(29/10/09)

(12/11/09)

Jean-Claude Juncker:

  • Prime Minister (since 1995) and Finance Minister (since 1989) of Luxembourg
  • President of the Eurogroup
Christian Democrat 
  • Extremely experienced
  • Knows the EU dossiers better than anyone
  • "would not refuse" to serve as EU president
  • Not very popular outside his small country
  • Too federalist 

EurActiv

(07/04/08)

(07/05/08)

(12/01/09)

(28/10/09)

(30/10/09)

(02/11/09)

(12/11/09)

Bertie Ahern:

  • Former Irish Prime Minister (1997-2008)
Centrist 
  • Experienced
  • Mild-mannered
  • Charismatic 
  • Accused of financial wrongdoing 

EurActiv

(03/04/08) 

Wolfgang Schüssel:

  • Former Austrian Chancellor (2000-2007)
Christian Democrat 
  • Experienced
  • Has the backing of Germany 
  • Not very popular outside Austria
  • Featured in coalition with extreme right Freedom

EurActiv

(24/08/09)

Angela Merkel:

  • Chancellor of Germany (since 2005)
Christian Democrat
  • Extremely popular
  • Considered the most influential leader in Europe
  • Last but not least, a woman 
  • Does not seem to have any intention of stepping down as chancellor

EurActiv

(07/04/08)

Guy Verhofstadt:

  • Former Prime Minister of Belgium (1999-2008)
Centrist
  • Experienced
  • The most visionary of the candidates 
  • Too federalist 

EurActiv

(14/03/05)

(09/07/09)

(28/08/09)

Felipe González:

  • Former Prime Minister of Spain (1982-1996)
Socialist
  • Seen as the symbol of Spain's successful EU accession in 1986
  • Already obtained EU leaders confidence when appointed chairman of the Reflection Group on the Future of Europe
  • Risk of 'Iberian overload' with José Manuel Barroso,a Portuguese, re-elected as Commission president for the next five years
  • González's role in Spain's counter-terrorism actions against ETA in the 1980s 

EurActiv

(14/01/08)

(23/06/09)

(24/08/09)

(16/09/09)

Paavo Lipponen:

  • Former Finnish Prime Minister (1995-2003)
Social Democrat
  • Fits both 'geographical' and 'political affiliation' criteria to counter Barroso 
  • Has been working since August 2008 as a consultant for Gazprom on Nord Stream project; Poland has already objected to his potential candidacy

EurActiv

(09/09/09)

Carl Bildt:

  • Swedish Foreign Minister (since 2006)
  • Former Prime Minister of Sweden (1991-1994)
Centre-right
  • Experienced
  • Extraordinary record in crisis management
  • Seen by France as favourable towards Turkey's EU accession
  • Also seen as possible High Representative for Foreign Affairs, a less senior post

EurActiv

(23/06/09)

Poul Nyrup Rasmussen:

  • President of the Party of European Socialists
  • Former Danish Prime Minister (1993-2001)
Social Democrat
  • Seen as a champion of full employment during the last European election campaign 
  • Lost national elections to another Rasmussen, Anders Fogh, who has since become NATO secretary-general
  • Actively campaigned against Barroso, with whom he would need to work in tandem if elected

EurActiv

(30/04/09)

(09/09/09)

Herman van Rompuy:

  • Prime Minister of Belgium (since 2008)
Christian Democrat
  • His Belgian experience shows he is a good troubleshooter
  • Not a very good communicator
  • Little international prominence

EurActiv

(01/06/09)

(27/07/09)

(30/10/09)

(02/11/09)

(09/11/09)

(12/11/09)

(17/11/09)

Jan Peter Balkenende:

  • Prime Minister of the Netherlands (since 2002)
Christian Democrat
  • Long-serving prime minister
  • His party CDA is still popular after many years in power 
  • Very close to German Chancellor Angela Merkel
  • could be an alternative to Tony Blair
  • EPP affiliation is not suitable as a counterbalance to Barroso
  • Balkenende is seen as being from the pro-Iraq war camp 
  • The Netherlands is isolated on issues like unblocking Serbia's EU association agreement, just one example of its 'tough' line on EU policies
  • not a good communicator

EurActiv

(16/02/09)

(29/09/09)

(30/10/09)

(02/11/09)

(12/11/09)

Mary Robinson:

  • Former President of Ireland (1990-1997)
  • Former UN Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002)
Independent
  • As a woman with remarkable international experience, she is seen as a strong candidate for the top EU job 
  • Ireland is responsible for significantly delaying the Lisbon Treaty's entry into force, so an Irish EU president may not be considered a wise choice

EurActiv

(15/07/09)

(14/10/09)

(22/10/09)

Tarja Halonen:

  • President of Finland (since 2000)
Social Democrat
  • As a woman from a northern country and from the centre-left, she is seen as a good counterbalance to Barroso
  • She is seen as a pacifist and openly opposes NATO, while most EU countries are NATO members

 

Margot Wallström:

  • Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for institutional relations and communication policy
  • Former Swedish Minister for Culture, Social Affairs and Youth 
Social Democrat
  • A woman from a northern country and from the centre-left, she is seen as a good counterbalance to Barroso 
  • Has already served under Barroso and did not give the impression of working well in tandem with him

EurActiv

(07/03/08)

Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga:

  • Former President of Latvia (1999-2007)
  • official candidate for UN Secretary General in 2006 
Non affiliated
  • A polyglot with a cosmopolitan CV (she's fluent in Latvian, English, French, Spanish and German)
  • 48th most powerfull woman in the World according to the magazine Forbes in 2005
  • Too pro-American seen from the perspective of Paris and Berlin

EurActiv

(12/11/09)

(17/11/09)

Toomas Hendrik Ilves:

  • President of Estonia since 2006
  • Former journalist, Minister for Foreign Affaires (96-98 and 99-02) and MEP (04-06)
Centrist Social Democrat
  • Could benefit the support of his native Sweden
  • Former journalist in Germany for Radio Free Europe
  • Lacks support in his own Socialist group

EurActiv

(05/04/07)

(04/04/07)

Languages also a criterion

English, seen as ‘lingua franca’ throughout the EU, was spoken by all candidates, although of those listed, Felipe González, who speaks some English and good French, prefers to express himself in public in his native Spanish.

Although it has never been an official requirement, fluency in French is seen as a must for securing Paris's blessing for international top jobs. Tony Blair and Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga speak French, but those with a handicap in this respect were Bertie Ahern, Wolfgang Schüssel, Paavo Lipponen, Carl Bildt, Tarja Halonen and Mary Robinson. 

What do the citizens think?

According to a poll by Harris Interactive published in early April, most European citizens considered German Chancellor Angela Merkel to be the most influential leader in Europe, while Tony Blair was the preferred candidate for the job of EU president.

But Blair's chances appeared to be slim due to the opposition of countries like Belgium. As for Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, considered an ideal candidate by several heavyweight politicians, he was not a recognisable figure to many Europeans. As a possible EU president, he was credited with only 1% support in France, 2% in Germany, 1% in Italy and less than 1% in Spain and the UK.

Strong or 'docile' president?

EU leaders did not elect a strong leader by choosing Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy (EurActiv 20/11/09). Instead, they elected a figure who would not overshadow the leaders of big EU countries or recently re-elected European Commission President José Manuel Barroso.

Barroso previously signalled his concern that his role would be diminished by sharing international representation with the new Council president.

"The European Commission will not accept the idea that the president of European Council is the president of Europe," Barroso told MEPs on 7 October.

Some member states, such as France, indicated they wanted to create a major player with the presidential job by appointing someone who can give the EU a stronger voice on the world stage.

But Barroso said that the president of the European Council should rather be "someone who will fight to reach agreement in the European Council," a profile closer to his own.

Visible or 'discreet' High Representative?

There were also indications that competition in international representation could arise from the creation of the new post of High representative for foreign affairs and security policy.

The centre-left group in the European Parliament claimed that it should have a saying or even nominate the High representative (see EurActiv 10/09/09).

This was largely seen as a way to politcally counterbalance the re-election of Barrosos, a former centre-right prime minister, and the push would be even greater if EU leaders decided on a Council president from the ranks of the centre-right.

Heads of state preferred a discrete person in the position of high representative, opting for Trade Commissioner Baroness Catherine Ashton as a guarantee that she would not overshadow the Council president in the eyes of Europeans and the world (EurActiv 20/11/09).

The list below gives an indication of who the potential candidates were for the post of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy before Ashton was chosen on 19 November 2009 (EurActiv 20/11/09):

Name Political family  Perceived strong points Perceived handicaps 

Coverage

by EurActiv 

Olli Rehn:

  • Current EU enlargement commissioner
  • Finnish
ALDE
  • Excellent record as commissioner
  • Good team player with Barroso
  • Finland is not a member of NATO

EurActiv

(22/10/09)

David Miliband:

  • Current UK Foreign Secretary
Labour
  • Seens as a politician with a bright future in the Labour party

 

  • Pro-Turkish EU membership 
  • A degree more anti-Russian than the average
  • The UK is not a member of the euro zone

EurActiv

(27/10/09)

(09/11/09)

(12/11/09)

Carl Bildt:

  • Current Swedish Foreign Minister (since 2006)
  • Former Prime Minister of Sweden (1991-1994) 
Centre-right
  • Excellent record as long-serving top diplomat and international troubleshooter
  • Also seen as possible Council president
  • Pro-Turkish EU membership 
  • A degree more anti-Russian than the average
  • Sweden is not a member of the euro zone

EurActiv

(10/09/09)

Bernard Kouchner:

  • Current French Foreign Minister (since 2007)
Socialist, 'embedded' in a centre-right government 
  • Seen as a promoter of international humanitarian causes (he is co-founder of Médecins Sans Frontières)
  • His record as foreign minister has not been extraordinary
  • Seen as an 'NGO-type' and a 'loose cannon'

EurActiv

(27/05/08)

(16/07/08

Hubert Védrine:

  • Former French Foreign Minister (1997-2002) 
Socialist 
  • Strongly opposed neo-conservative US policies and the war in Iraq
  • Well regarded by French President Nicolas Sarkozy
  • Has not been in government since 2002

EurActiv

(19/10/09)

Anna Diamantopoulou:

  • Greek Education Minister (since Oct. 2009)
  • Former EU Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs (1999-2004)
EPP 
  • A woman in a top job would be seen as a step towards a better gender balance at the highest EU level
  • She would not be seen as a 'heavyweight', as she lacks experience in foreign affairs and crisis management

EurActiv

(14/10/09)

Ursula Plassnik:

  • Former Austrian Foreign Minister (2004-2008)
EPP
  • A woman in a top job would be seen as a step towards a better gender balance at the highest EU level
  • She is also seen as a possible Austrian commissioner
  • Austria is not a NATO member

EurActiv

(14/10/09

Benita Ferrero-Waldner:

  • Current Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy (2004-2009)
  • Former Austrian Foreign Minister (2000-2004)
EPP 
  • A woman in a top job would be seen as a step towards a better gender balance at the highest EU level
  • She has a good record as commissioner
  • Austria is not a NATO member
  • She had the intention of leaving EU affairs, but was defeated trying to obtain the UNESCO top job

EurActiv

(23/09/09

Massimo D'Alema:

  • Former Italian Prime Minister (1998-2000)
  • Former Foreign Minister (2006-2008)
S&D 
  • Had a good record in Middle East conflict management 
  • A former communist, he is seen even today as too leftist 

EurActiv

(19/02/08)

(09/11/09

Adrian Severin:

  • Romanian MEP since 2007
  • Former Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign affairs minister (1996-1997)
Centre left
  • An European Parliament heavyweight (foreign policy vice-chair for the S&D
  • Could become extremely value to Barroso during the two-and-a-half years that the European Parliament will be led by a Socialist

EurActiv

(29/10/09)

(09/11/09

(10/11/09

Timeline

  • 2 Oct. 2009: Second referendum in Ireland on Lisbon Treaty.
  • 29-30 Oct. 2009: EU summit to discuss top jobs.
  • 19 Nov. 2009: Extraordinary summit appoints Herman Van Rompuy as EU Council president and Baroness Catherine Ashton as High Representative for Foreign Affairs.
  • 1 Dec. 2009: Entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty; President of the European Council and High Representative take up roles.
  • Second half of January 2010: European Commission takes office; High Representative takes up second part of role: that of Vice-President of the European Commission.