Gearing Up for Post-Lisbon Brussels In The Running To Be Europe's Next Top Politician

Now recalcitrant nations are finally signing the Lisbon Treaty, the EU may get a phone number. And there are several candidates waiting to pick up the phone. But will it be the president or the foreign minister who does so? And will wrangling over new positions of power cause more confusion than clarity?

In Britain, media are suggesting that former Prime Minister Tony Blair could make current German Chancellor Angela Merkel's dream of a united European Union come true.
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In Britain, media are suggesting that former Prime Minister Tony Blair could make current German Chancellor Angela Merkel's dream of a united European Union come true.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel has a dream -- and former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger features in it. She mentioned it once in a speech. Back in the 1970s, Kissinger reportedly quipped: "When I want to call Europe, I cannot find a phone number." He was poking fun at the European community and its vain attempts to be recognized as a world power. Merkel's dream is to give Kissinger more than just a phone number. She actually wants there to be someone there who can pick up his call.

For the past two weeks, Merkel has probably felt like she is a step closer to achieving her goal. The person who picks up the phone is to be called the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. That's what stands in the Lisbon Treaty, which was approved by the Irish on Oct. 2 and ratified by the Poles just a few days later. If the Czechs now signas well, the European Union will finally be able to operate according to those new rules.

Hopes For European Integration Hit Snags

But Merkel's hopes that the treaty will promote European integration may be dashed a second time. The first obstacle came up in June of this year, when the German Constitutional Court passed a ruling on the legality of the Lisbon Treaty. The court stated that the German parliament, the Bundestag, must have more of a say in European policy. The Chancellery was not amused.

Now the joint foreign policy structures of the EU could be in for a setback as well. The Lisbon Treaty, which is actually designed to increase Brussels' role in foreign policy matters, may have just the opposite effect. The confusion over who is responsible for what, which Kissinger mocked decades ago, could worsen.

In Merkel's dream, the high representative puts a face to EU foreign policy. He has his own diplomatic corps with hundreds of staff members. Indeed, you could simply call him the EU foreign minister. But in today's European reality it is not that straight forward. Euphemisms are required.

But Who Is Captain And Who Is First Mate?

When it comes a collective EU foreign policy, the British and French have very different ideas from the Germans. Going against the wishes of the German government, they pushed through a second new post in the Lisbon Treaty: a full-time President of the European Council, the body that represents member nations. Among other things, this president's duties would include coordination of foreign and defense policy for 27 different countries.

The success of the Lisbon Treaty depends very much on who is appointed to these roles. And the relationship between the foreign minister and the Council president is not prescribed by the treaty. Who is the captain and who is the first mate? This will become clear when the men who appointed to these posts have developed their roles, having fought for power and influence. Presently there are no serious female candidates.

Leading politicians in Berlin are worried that instead of producing a common foreign policy, these new positions will only lead to a power struggle. "It would not be good if we have a constellation similar to that existing with the Chancellery and the German foreign office," says Ruprecht Polenz, chairman of the foreign relations committee in the German parliament. Then, according to Polenz, the same problems would develop as those seen during Germany's grand coalition government (which was just voted out of office) -- only with 27 parties instead of just two, he says.

A President Who Takes The Back Seat

Polenz would prefer to see a president who "takes more of a backseat role" -- a kind of managing director, if you like. He says that the prime minister of a small EU country would fit the bill, for example, Luxembourg's Jean-Claude Juncker. The Germans could also conceive of someone like Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt taking the job. However, as a liberal, Verhofstadt doesn't stand a chance. By contrast, Dutch Prime Minister Peter Balkenende could be another hopeful for the position.

British newspapers have tipped former Prime Minister Tony Blair as a favorite. But, despite support from French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Blair really only has a slim chance. Blair would steal the show from the foreign minister and marginalize the heads of government of Europe's smaller nations. The distribution of power within the EU could shift fundamentally. And nobody really wants that.

President Will Most Likely Be Social Democrat

The EU rules of proportionality also work against Blair getting the job. Since Commission President José Manuel Barroso is a conservative, one of the two new jobs must go to a social democrat. However, right across Europe, social democrats agree that they don't want to be represented by a "Bush-ist and an Iraq warmonger," as German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has reportedly described Blair.

Key social democrats such as the chairman of the socialist faction in the European Parliament like Germany's Martin Schulz, would much rather fill the post themselves. A favorite candidate for the position is British Foreign Minister David Miliband. Then the Council president would have to come from a small country -- which would suit the Germans just fine.

One German who has also been mentioned as a candidate for the job actually has virtually no chance: Germany's outgoing foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Since the high representative also acts as the vice president of the Commission, this would mean that the position of German commissioner-to-the-EU would already be gone. And Merkel would rather see this go to an important economic portfolio. Her nostalgia for the grand coalition, as it comes to a close, is not so great that she would renounce this position in favor of a social democrat.

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