Asked today (24 July) if he had plans to be the next NATO secretary-general, Commission President José Manuel Barroso declined to comment. The race for the job, which will become available next year, has already started, sources told EURACTIV, with Belgian Defence Minister Pieter De Crem considered the favourite.
Barroso was asked if he were interested in the top job at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, during the presentation of a Commission proposal to boost efficiency in the European defence industry. The December EU summit will discuss European defence policy and the paper is intended to prepare the leaders’ debate.
“This communication has nothing to do with my future. It has to do with the present of the European Commission that has decided to give its contribution to what is an extremely important action at European level. So any kind of linkage between this communication and what I can or not do in the future is simply a speculation,” Barroso said.
The NATO top job will be for grabs after July 2014, when the mandate of current Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister, expires.
Barroso hasn’t announced his plans after the May 2014 European elections, when a new European Parliament will vote for a new Commission president, representing the political force which would win the all-European poll (see background).
The European political families have not yet named their candidates for the European elections. The name of Martin Schulz (S&D, Germany), the current Parliament president, circulates as a probable Socialist contender. There is less certainty on the possible candidate of the current largest political family, the European Peoples’ Party (EPP) to which Barroso belongs.
In theory, Barroso could run for a third term, but EU pundits say this is highly unlikely. According to rumours, the former Portuguese prime minister would seek an international top job, in NATO or the United Nations, its secretary general being expected to come this time from the European continent. But this option appears as a long shot, as UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon is to be replaced only in 2017.
Rasmussen himself is expected to seek an EU top job. According to the Danish daily Politiken both Rasmussen (a liberal) and current Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt (a Socialist) are mentioned as serious candidates to take on the job of either Council President Herman Van Rompuy or EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton.
The selection of the holders of EU and NATO top jobs is obviously part of a political package. It is difficult to imagine that one same political family will get the majority of the positions for grabs: Council president, Commission president, Parliament president, EU foreign affairs chief and NATO secretary-general. It is also highly unlikely that the same country would get two of these high positions.
NATO sources told EURACTIV that the race for the next NATO chief had stared and that the most likely next secretary-general was De Crem. De Crem, a Flemish politician from the conservative CD&V party of Herman Van Rompuy, could secure the widest consensus possible.
Two other strong contenders were already seen as out of the race, EURACTIV was told. One is Franco Frattini, a former Commissioner and foreign minister, formerly from Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, now without party affiliation. Reportedly, the main reason for his fall from grace is the doubt as to the political backing from his capital.
The other strong contender was Rados?aw Sikorski, the current Polish foreign minister, from the centre-right party Civil Platform of Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
Sikorski, a firebrand Atlanticist, enjoyed high support from many NATO countries, but reportedly burned his chances by openly siding with Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate who lost the 2012 US presidential election against Barack Obama.
“Sikorski knows that he doesn’t stand a chance for the NATO job,” a source told EURACTIV, adding that the Polish minister could instead be a candidate to replace Catherine Ashton, who announced that she will step down in November 2014.
As the replacement for Rasmussen is due almost a full year from now, “anything can happen”, diplomats say, not excluding an Atlantic future for Barroso.