Top EU jobs: Is there a ‘cordon sanitaire’ against Central Europeans?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Not so long ago, there was a Council President and a Parliament President from Central Europe - both Donald Tusk [L] and Jerzy Buzek [R] are from Civic Platform, the EPP sister party in Poland. [File photo, Council newsroom]

There are speculations that the next European Commission will have three vice-presidents, but none of them is from Central and Eastern Europe, writes Piotr Maciej Kaczyński.

Piotr Maciej Kaczyński, formerly a researcher at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) in Brussels (2007-2012), runs a blog called 2019EUelectionsPoland.com. He contributed this op-ed exclusively to EURACTIV.com. 

Ever since the famous European Council compromise package that did not include any politician from Central and Eastern Europe, there has been a heated debate in half of the continent about whether the deal represents the geographical variety of the European Union, and why not.

The issue of geographical balance has been relevant since 2004, but only since the Lisbon Treaty do we talk of ‘top jobs’. Before, there was the Commission president, the Parliament president and Javier Solana.

Since 2009, there are other top jobs, including a beefed-up High Representative as the vice-president of the European Commission and chair of the Foreign Affairs Council, and a permanent President of the European Council.

In 2009, the Central and Eastern Europeans got a Pole, Jerzy Buzek, to lead the work of the European Parliament for 2.5 years. In 2014, the Central and Eastern Europeans got a Pole, Donald Tusk, to lead the work of the European Council for five years. Halfway through his term, the Warsaw government withdrew its support for him.

Since the Polish government is interested only in blocking people and things (Timmermans, the climate deal) in 2019, and it keeps failing to win support for their candidate, Beata Szydło, as a chairwoman of the EMPL committee in the European Parliament, the entire region suffers from under-representation.

When you think it cannot get any worse, the Brussels debate continues to oversee the troubled Central Europeans. Yes, there is some soul searching about how the Bulgarian prime minister managed to lose two top-jobs over one summit, with two excellent candidates, Georgieva for the European Council and Stanishev for the European Parliament.

Yet life goes on. Instead of thinking how to compensate the top-jobs with second-ranked jobs, the Central and Eastern Europeans already see another signal of Western and Southern domination. There is already talk that the next Commission will have three vice-presidents.

None of them coming from the region: Mr Timmermans and Ms Vestager, candidates of the Social Democrats and Renew Europe. The third, Mr Borrell of Spain, is to be the new High Representative.

I propose to keep Central and Eastern Europeans for the four ‘slots’ that are to be considered in the near future, or – now. Those positions are: fourth vice-president of the Commission, the European Ombudsman, the European Prosecutor and the Secretary-General of the European Commission.

Actually, I believe the best people should get the jobs, yet there are excellent candidates in many parts of the continent. Immediately after the information broke that Mr Selmayr is soon to depart from the position of the Commission Secretary-General, there came a follow-up that his replacement should be French.

Not too long ago there was an excellent Irish lady who did the job splendidly. There is no rule for the Franco-German domination in this area. And there is a list of excellent candidates, such as Piotr Serafin, head of President Tusk’s cabinet.

He has what is needed in the position of the Commission Secretary-General: wits, commitment to detail and widespread respect. He is an EU insider and does not hesitate to take difficult decisions, having the EU’s interest close to his heart.

The natural candidate for the Commission’s fourth vice-president is the current vice-president Maroš Šefčovič.

Then there is the pending candidacy of Laura Codruța Kövesi for the European Public Prosecutor.

And there is the European Ombudsman’s post, for which there are many excellent candidates in the region. For example the phenomenal Ülle Madise, the current Estonian Ombudsman.

In this package, there are also four people, two ladies and two gentlemen. Coming from four different states they won’t represent them, but our Union. They are fully capable of serving at the same level of commitment as their Western and Southern counterparts.

Their arrival would be a breath of fresh air, as they all would be the first in their league: even Mr Šefčovič’s vice-presidency would have a different flavour to earlier vice-presidencies (he was VP in Barroso II and Juncker Commissions).

Ms von der Leyen, if confirmed, is the second German as Commission President. Ms Lagarde is the second French head of the ECB, Mr Michel is the second Belgian as the head of the European Council and Mr Borrell is the second Spanish High Representative.

Don’t forget the Central Europeans. Don’t create the impression that there is a ‘cordon sanitaire’ against them.

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