Former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, who was chosen to chair the group at the 14 December 2007 EU summit, wisely eliminated British obstructions regarding the scope of the group's mandate by proposing that Richard Lambert, the director general of the Confederation of British Industry and former editor of the Financial Times be a member of the group.
"He has nicely chosen to put a Brit on the list," a UK diplomat said.
But Gonzalez had surprised the presidency by proposing a list of nine people, on which himself and his two deputies, namely former President of Latvia Vaira Viėe-Freiberga and former Nokia CEO Jorma Ollila, did not appear.
Diplomatic sources later explained that this did not mean that Gonzalez and his deputies were phasing out, but that the group would instead consist of twelve 'wise men' instead of nine.
Among the other members, the most well-known names are those of historic leader of the Polish anti-communist movement 'Solidarność' and former Polish President Lech Wałęsa and former Italian Competition Commissioner Mario Monti. The remaining figures are Lykke Friis of the University of Copenhagen, Nicolas Notat, the French former leader of the CFDT trade union, Wolfgang Schuster, a German conservative and mayor of Stuttgart, Rainer Muenz, an Austrian economist, Rem Koolhas, a Dutch architect, and Kalypso Nicolaidis, a Greek professor.
According to Polish radio, Gonzalez was not pleased with the candidacy of Lech Wałęsa, mainly because he cannot speak any foreign languages, but was forced to accept it after the Polish government did not make another offer.
Choosing nine names among 27 member countries was not an easy task, a diplomat said.
In a recent interview to EurActiv Poland, Lech Wałęsa said Europe needed "more solidarity" (EurActiv 10/10/08).