Now, if there is one issue that tends to get people motivated, it is EU enlargement. Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn was in London on Friday and, among other things, gave a speech at LSE about his work. Yet his speech, and especially his means of answering questions, were such a disappointment.
Rehn started by giving quite a bland overview of the present challenges of enlargement. He clearly stated his desire that Turkey eventually joins the European Union, but that position is well known. Beyond that, there was nothing whatsoever that could not be found on the European Commission’s website. Further, while his vocabulary is good, Rehn speaks horribly slowly and his attempts at a little humour really fell flat.
Then came the questions… Typically there were some people from Turkish Cyprus, Kosovo, Turkey etc. present in the crowd, and they tried to get Rehn to answer some relatively tricky questions. Lord William Wallace, chairing the session, cunningly asked Rehn how many states in the Balkans would join the EU. But Rehn singularly refused to be drawn on any of these questions… Now, no-one would expect him to say if he wanted Montenegro to separate from Serbia, or state if Kosovo should become independent. But we can surely expect him to give some interesting information, or tell us the opinion polls in the country?
Then on Cyprus, someone asked why he had not forced Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos to cooperate with Turkish Cypriots. Well, the answer is Rehn does not have the power to make them cooperate. But, no, he gave some bland answer.
It strikes me that most of the audience was deeply unimpressed with Rehn. He is clearly intelligent, and is probably a decent person to have as a Commissioner when it comes to tricky internal negotiations. But we need to sell Enlargement to the people of Europe and Rehn is dreadful at doing that.