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Posts tagged with: Jose Manuel Barroso

A party invite for José Manuel Barroso

Colourful Wine Glass

Dear José,

I know you are in Berlin today, because I saw you on the livestream of the “New Narrative for Europe” conference earlier. I see you also put out a statement, saying that Europe is a State of Mind. When you say state of mind where I am from this is what we think of.

But anyway, back to the point.

I’m sure you’re busy this evening. You might be flying back to Brussels, or having dinner with Angie if she has time. I’m sure it will be fine because she has just had to suffer with Dave and an elderly woman in London, and you’re charming in comparison. But you are coming to the end of your term in Brussels, and I reckon you ought to let your hair down a bit, and enjoy life a little. And, importantly, you might learn something too.

This evening, at my flat in Kreuzberg*, there will be a housewarming party at my new flat. It will go on until late, so do feel free to pass by after your other commitments. I would be very happy if you could come along.

I am not sure we are really what you would call ‘normal’ Europeans – I, after all, write this blog about the EU. But the people who will be here work in the tech companies you spoke about in reply to the questions earlier, they run startup companies, they work for all kinds of different sorts of organisations. They will come from the UK, Germany, France, Hungary, Romania, Italy, Sweden, Slovenia, Poland and the USA. They will speak all kinds of languages, and they all have their own reasons for feeling European, and for being in Berlin. These are the sorts of people you need for your new narratives for Europe (and I was happy you made it plural sometimes earlier).

So how about it José? We would be very happy to have you along. Bring a bottle – your call which European country it should come from!


P.S. I’ll happily give you a copy of Lakoff’s “Don’t Think of an Elephant” if you come along. I mentioned it to you on Twitter earlier, and I have a few copies here.

* – you have to contact me about the address of course. This invite is strictly non-transferable, even though it is public!

[UPDATE] A tweet from @BarrosoEU, signed /JMB no less, but confirming he will not make it :-(

Screen Shot 2014-03-01 at 19.42.05

Candidates for President of the European Commission – where we stand in January 2014

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 15.00.34Back in the early summer of 2013 I wrote a detailed series of blog posts about the future President of the European Commission. There were posts about EPP, PES and other candidates. Overall those posts have stood up well over the last 6 months. But with the EP elections just over 4 months away, and with the new Commission to be decided shortly after, and with more and more jostling for top positions being covered by the newspapers (see FT earlier in January and FAZ today for example), it’s time to update the state of play.

Party of European Socialists (PES)
For the moment the PES position is clear: Martin Schulz is the top candidate, and if the PES wins the European elections they will seek to nominate him as Commission President. There were quite some problems with the transparency and democratic credentials of the process to select Schulz (as I analysed for Policy Network) but, for the coming months at least, Schulz’s position will not be challenged, formally at least, within the PES. He also was part of the negotiations to form the Große Koalition in Germany, and it seems Merkel can get on with him. Also as Derk Jan Eppink points out, Schulz can be strategic, has an instinct for power, has nothing to lose and only lacks the experience some other candidates bring.

For reasons I do not altogether understand – perhaps because she’s the only social democrat anyone’s heard of who’s not unpalatable? – the name of Helle Thorning-Schmidt keeps on coming back. The UK Labour Party would prefer her, Kinnock’s daughter in law, to Schulz. After all someone who’s been a principle-free, reasonably unsuccessful Prime Minister of Denmark is better than an old fashioned German social democrat, right? I suppose the selfie helped.

Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE)
Here I must admit I was wrong, for I could not previously foresee how the Liberals would possibly want Olli Rehn, the Economic & Monetary Affairs Commissioner, as a Commission President candidate. But it seems he is in pole position to be their leading candidate. This of course could well be because the other candidate is Guy Verhofstadt, and choosing between those is like choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea. Anyway, Euractiv has an update on the state of play, and ALDE will decide which one to go for in a delegate vote from the member parties on 1st February.

As Dario Čepo and I have discussed on Twitter, Rehn could somehow slip between the PES and the EPP in the event of a very closely balanced electoral result. The prospect fills both Dario and I with dread – and we thought Barroso was bad!

The Greens
Maybe because the Greens know they are not actually going to get the Commission President job they have actually designed the best process to select a top candidate. The #GreenPrimary is an online poll, open until 28th January, open to anyone (even non-Greens) to select their two top candidates. There are 4 candidates standing – Rebecca Harms, Ska Keller, Monica Frassoni and José Bové. I have no idea who the favourite is among the four.

European Left
Alexis Tsipras of SYRIZA is the candidate. He’s going to bring some fire to debates in the next few months, but he has even less chance of becoming Commission President than a Green.

European People’s Party
The prominent political force in the EU for at least the last decade, and the party of the current Commission President Barroso, it is nevertheless the EPP’s process to choose a candidate that is leading to the most head-scratching in Brussels at the moment. The party is supposed to choose a candidate with a delegate vosting system at its Dublin Congress 7-8 March. Merkel, apparently with some backing from Van Rompuy, is not too keen on a close connection between the EP election result and the Commission President nomination, fearing it will strengthen the Parliament cause inter-institutional conflicts (see the FT). This would only be a particular problem if the PES won the elections, yet the European Council remains dominated by EPP parties.

The challenge here too seems to be how to find a viable candidate. People like Michel Barnier (currently a Commissioner) and Jean Claude Juncker (former Luxembourg PM) have nothing to lose by putting their names forward. Viviane Reding also wants the job, but I think she’s about the only person who wants her to have it. Prime Ministers from the party such as Donald Tusk and Enda Kenny have distanced themselves from the role, not wanting to kill their national political careers by throwing their hats into the ring, only to then find another party wins the EP elections. Others like Jyrki Katainen and Christine Lagarde should not be fully ruled out either. Thankfully a third term for Barroso now seems totally out of the question though.

As the situation changes I will do my best to blog about it.

[UPDATE 15.1.2014, 1000]
I’ve been asked on Twitter about numerous candidates not mentioned in this blog entry – people like Valdis Dombrovskis, Dalia Grybauskaitė and Anders Fogh Rasmussen. This blog entry in no way excludes those people. If they are not mentioned it means I simply have heard no more about them that makes me change my views on them since the original blog entries on the subject of the EU’s top jobs. I was also asked about why there is no mention of the ECR in this blog entry – it’s because I see the future of the group in Brussels as being under some threat, as explained here.

Why it’s pointless to describe oneself as a pro-European

Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 21.00.36In response to Barroso’s State of the Union address today, leader of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament Guy Verhofstadt resorted to his tired old line. The pro-European forces should unite against Euroscepticism, he said, and this will define 2014 European Parliament election campaign. Verhofstadt has been saying this sort of thing since 2009 at least. It was wrong then, and it’s wrong now.

That is why the blog entry has the title it does – it’s pointless to describe oneself as a pro-European.

For a start how can you be pro a continent? That might be stretching it a bit, as I suppose it is OK to conclude that pro-European actually means pro-EU. But even then what does that actually mean? Am I pro-Westminster? Or pro-Landtag Mecklenburg-Vorpommern?

I use that to explain the problem in framing terms. Verhofstadt is setting out the fundamental dividing line as being about the European Union itself, not what he (or indeed his political opponents) want the European Union to be.

To put it another way, to argue using the pro-European / Eurosceptic frame sets you on a path to arguing about more or less EU, or in or out of the EU. It also leads to a way of explaining the EU that sounds like the EU we have is the only sort of EU we could have, and that to be a pro-European is to hence be a defender of the status quo.

So in a sense I am a pro-European, in that I want the EU to exist. Just as in the same way as I am pro-Westminster and pro-Landtag Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. But I am not going to ever make speeches on that basis, nor am I going to put that at the centre of my beliefs.

I am instead a social democrat, a social liberal, and an environmentalist, and a federalist, and I try to put those principles into practice as far as I can, including at EU level, and I would advocate that people like Verhofstadt try to do the same (if they do indeed have any ideology any more).

To illustrate the point, I have had interesting debates with Declan Ganley on Twitter about tax harmonisation versus tax competition within the European Union. Ganley is a free market liberal, and believes that within the European Union states should be allowed to set their own tax rates, and if this gives a state a tax advantage over another one – on corporation tax for example – so be it. I believe tax competition is a bad thing, and forces a race to the bottom when companies can easily choose their location. For me, as a social democrat, tax harmonisation has to be the solution. This debate between Ganley and I is a matter of ideology, a matter of values, and being pro-European or Eurosceptic has no bearing on it at all. Yet for Verhofstadt people like Ganley and I should be on the same side in the European Parliament elections – that is clearly absurd. The European Parliament elections should be fought exactly on these sorts of issues, giving the European Union concrete meaning but drawing on ideology, rather than slipping into the easy but limited frames politicians have used for decades about the EU.

EPP candidates for Commission President

In a previous post I analysed the likely candidates from the centre left PES for Commission President. Here I examine who the centre right EPP might put forward. It is worth bearing in mind that the nomination process depends on the outcome of the European Parliament elections, according to Article 17.7 TEU: “Taking into account the elections to the European Parliament… the European Council shall propose to the EP a candidate for President of the Commission”.

So who are the likely candidates?

tuskDonald Tusk [Wikipedia]
Current role: Prime Minister of Poland

The normalisation of relations between Poland and the EU institutions in recent years owes a lot to the work of Donald Tusk and his centre-right administration. Angela Merkel is even reported to be favourable to the idea that Tusk could become President of the European Commission. Tusk has been Prime Minister since 2007, so now might be a good time to seek a move to Brussels. The poor quality of his English, and that Poland is not a Eurozone country, might count against him.

redingViviane Reding [Wikipedia]
Current role: Vice President of the European Commission, and Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship
Nationality: Luxembourg

There is nowhere else for Reding to go. Luxembourg is too big for her ego, and she has been a member of the Commission for three terms already. Issues such as mobile phone roaming charges, and efforts to get women on boards of companies in Europe show her political commitment. The question is while she is heavily rumoured in Brussels as a likely candidate, would anyone else actually want her? She is from a core Eurozone country, and knows the Brussels corridors of power well. However she is from a tiny country and has views that are not mainstream for the EPP.

grybauskaiteDalia Grybauskaitė [Wikipedia]
Current role: President of Lithuania

The ‘Iron Lady’ of the politics of the New Member States, Grybauskaitė is a former member of the European Commission (2004-2009) who has since been President of her country. Lithuania will also hold the Presidency of the Council of the EU in the second half of 2013, increasing her profile further. Her nationality (from a non-Eurozone country) could count against her, but she would be a solid, reassuring and reliable candidate, with experience of the highest levels of EU decision making from the Member State and Commission perspectives.

barrosoJosé Manuel Barroso [Wikipedia]
Current role: President of the European Commission
Nationality: Portuguese

What, Barroso, again? EU politics watchers collectively groaned when Barroso refused to rule out a third term as President of the Commission. The Portuguese would be a case of better the devil you know. Always keen to find favour with the large Member States, and himself not strong enough to really challenge them, there would be little enthusiasm for his re-nomination. The ongoing Dalli scandal may eventually put an end to his chances.

reinfeldtFredrik Reinfeldt [Wikipedia]
Current role: Prime Minister of Sweden

Sweden’s two-term Prime Minister has piloted his country through turbulent economic times relatively unscathed, but a 2014 election, and decreasing support for his coalition partners in his government, could mean the end of the road in national politics for him. He would be a good compromise candidate, and he is also one of the few allies of the UK. Sweden not being a member of the Eurozone would count against him.

lagardeChristine Lagarde [Wikipedia]
Current role: Managing Director of the IMF
Nationality: French

A former Finance Minister in France, Lagarde has been at the IMF since 2011. She has considerable international experience, and national political experience, and comes from a core Eurozone country. She would have to end her IMF position after only 3 years to take up the job, but her calm assurance and determined manner might make her a viable candidate.

Jyrki Katainen (Prime Minister of Finland), Enda Kenny (Taoiseach of Ireland), Michel Barnier (European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services), Valdis Dombrovskis (Prime Minister of Latvia).

If I’m missing anyone please do suggest names in the comments. Please note that there will be an additional follow-up post about possible cross party compromise candidates, and a further post about the position of High Rep for EU Foreign Policy.

[UPDATE 11.5.2013, 1430]: Lagarde and Dombrovskis added thanks to suggestions from Twitter.

  Posts about EU top candidates 2014
President of the Commission: EPP, PES, Others | President of the European Council | High Rep for EU Foreign Policy

Image credits – all Creative Commons / Sharealike licensed
Donald Tusk by President of the European Council | Viviane Reding by World Economic ForumDalia Grybauskaitė by Saeima | José Manuel Barroso by World Economic Forum | Fredrik Reinfeldt by SWE EUPress | Christine Lagarde by World Bank Photo Collection

Barroso’s promise of a federal Europe is an insult. The post the College of Europe doesn’t want the Commission to see?

Screen Shot 2013-05-10 at 11.19.30So someone had the temerity to criticise the über-Eurocrat Barroso on the blog of the Eurocrat school! And then the blog post was removed, without explanation, as pointed out by @quarsan on Twitter, and argued on Facebook here.

Anyway, thanks to the joys of Google Cache, here is a PDF of the original blog entry.

Maybe the next blog entry should be one explaining the Streisand Effect to wannabe comms people in the Brussels corridors of power?

[UPDATE: 10.5.13, 17:20 – the blog piece has now been reinstated on the College of Europe blog]

[NOTE: I am an alumnus of the College of Europe. See, we’re not all slaves to the Commission!]

Time, and Scotland and the EU

Screen Shot 2012-12-25 at 18.19.03Oh here we go again. It seems the question of how an independent Scotland could work in the EU will never go away. Rather than focusing on the EU’s Nobel Prize, BBC’s Hard Talk asked Barroso about Scotland and the EU in an interview today and, as before, Barroso reiterated the line that a new state – Scotland – would have to apply to join the EU. Cue unionists jumping up and down with glee (again), and being wrong (again).

The blog entry I wrote about this in March is as true as ever – the process to get Scotland into the EU is going to be a mundane and tedious one. It will be neither as simple as Salmond would like, nor impossible as unionists might argue.

Further, in this context, the question posed to Barroso – if Scotland would have to apply – does not actually matter anyway, because of time.

Look at it this way. Scotland is not going to vote to leave the UK, and then become independent the next day. Disentangling everything from energy networks to transport systems, financing to contributions to the BBC is going to take a long period of time – at least 12 months. It is going to be a matter of enormous policymaking complexity. Now I know everyone in British politics assumes negotiations can conclude instantly* Currently there is no discussion about the time aspect of the referendum, and UK politics tends to underestimate time politics can take (Nick Robinson’s 5 days that changed Britain, about 2010, is testimony to that), but I cannot see how separation of Scotland from the UK could possibly be concluded swiftly.

In comparison to that, Scotland applying to join the EU is actually going to be comparatively easy, and most definitely much easier and faster than any previous enlargement of the EU because Scotland is fully compliant with the acquis communautaire anyway. Hence how Scotland can work within the EU can be negotiated in parallel to negotiations with London to leave the UK.

Now there is the small chance that something could go wrong – some country or other could veto Scotland’s entry. But doing so, for a comparatively rich new country that had been part of the EU anyway, is just going to look like sour grapes and anyway some major EU countries, notably France, will be content to see a weakened London anyway, and hence would be on the side of letting Scotland into the EU. Yes, Scotland might have to commit to join the Euro, but Sweden still has that commitment as well, and is it making it happen?

Also look at the UK-Scotland side – what happens if these negotiations were to fail? That a financial arrangement, or a division of military or natural resources cannot be hammered out? Again, this looks to me much more of a headache than an EU accession.

So, whatever side of the independence argument you are on, the EU question is NOT going to be make or break.

* NOTE: This line has been changed because I was accused on Twitter of “straw man tactics” for having used it. Part of the idea of this blog entry is to try to have a sensible discussion about the Scotland-EU question, and I don’t want people picking holes in individual sentences. The overall issue is too important for that. Hence the change.

Tony Blair isn’t going to get any EU top job. Face it. Move on.

Screen Shot 2012-12-25 at 18.27.12So the old master is back, working his rhetorical magic at a Business for New Europe / Chatham House event in London yesterday. The full text of his speech is here. At one level I welcome Blair’s intervention in the EU ‘debate’ in the UK – he speaks with a determination and passion about European politics, and with a grasp of the realities of the globalised world that no-one else at the high levels of British politics does. I would listen to Blair rather than Ed Miliband talk about the EU any day.

But there is a problem. The moment Blair opens his mouth about the EU so everyone once again speculates about his quest for a return to frontline politics in some sort of EU role. The President of the European Council position (currently held by Herman Van Rompuy) is thought to be more likely to be Blair’s wish, not least because Van Rompuy’s term cannot be extended beyond 2014. President of the European Commission (currently Barroso), or some eventual future merger of both of these jobs, could also theoretically be possible.

Now Blair might indeed want one of these jobs. I don’t know whether he does, but it has never been ruled out by him.

But one thing is very clear to me: there are far too many people in Brussels who absolutely DO NOT want Blair in any of these jobs under any circumstances. There is no way he could ever get any of these positions.

Firstly, Blair divided the EU back in 2003 as a result of the Iraq war. He managed to have Spain and Italy on his side, and France and Germany on the other side. Although the Prime Ministers of those countries have subsequently changed, the memory remains. When it mattered, Blair sided with Bush and the USA. It would be especially unpalatable for a French President to back him as a result of this, particularly one from the left such as Hollande.

Secondly, the party politics do not work in Blair’s favour. The majority of the 27 Member State governments are controlled by the centre right. Now, while many would quibble as to whether Blair is himself anywhere on the left, his party – Labour – nevertheless sits with the centre left (PES and S&D Group) in Brussels. The dominant EPP would go for one of their own for any top position, and I cannot see any miraculous return of the left across the EU in the next 18 months.

Thirdly, Blair is British. OK, he is not so close to the current administration in Westminster, but in the 15 years I have closely been following EU politics I cannot remember a time when attitudes towards the UK were so critical in Brussels. Also don’t discount the problem that the UK is not in the Euro or in Schengen.

So, as I see it, there is absolutely no way Blair is going to get any top EU position. The idea that he could needs to be killed off, and once it is then perhaps he can play a useful role in the UK-EU ‘debate’.

Commissioners on Twitter: how are they doing?

The European Commission, and Commissioners themselves, have progressively taken to Twitter over the past couple of years as a way of communicating with (at?) EU citizens. So how are they doing? This blog entry gives a quick summary. My starting point is that a good Twitter account is an engaging and personal one, where either a person’s views shine through, or a dialogue is established with followers.

First of all, here are the numbers. I include Klout scores here not because I am especially a fan of Klout, but because it gives an alternative take beyond the followers/follower number.

Commissioner Followers Following Klout score Is it them? Likelihood of a reply or RT? (0-10) Political insight? (0-10)
@CHedegaardEU 11448 183 64 Claims to be 1 (only if you’re official) 4
@GOettingerEU 683 39 55 Him and team 5 (replies to ordinary people) 3 (very few tweets so far)
@APiebalgsEU 7159 273 60 Him and team 0 3
@NeelieKroesEU 55174 836 83 Her and team 8 (quantity of tweets, followers prevents more) 7
@VassiliouEU 2712 66 58 Doesn’t say, but feels honest 5 4
@LaszloAndorEU 4747 102 59 Says team, but is sometimes personal 1 (only if you’re official) 7 (sometimes edgy)
@StefanFuleEU 3807 11 57 Him and team 1 (only if you’re official) 3
@JanezPotocnikEU 9667 205 67 Claims to be 6 (replies to ordinary people) 5 (somewhat random)
@MalmstromEU 6945 223 62 Initials tell you if it’s CM or staff 7 (it’s friendly too) 7
@AntonioTajaniEU 3130 195 61 Doesn’t say, but could be him 4 (helps to be Italian) 5
@MarosSefcovic 1985 201 54 Doesn’t say, but could be him 6 (replies to ordinary people) 5
@MBarnierEU 15427 616 80 Him and team (it says) 0 2 (mostly news)
@KGeorgievaEU 7701 481 77 Doesn’t say, but feels honest 3 7 (good content)
@VivianeRedingEU 14983 369 81 Her and team (it says) 0 2 (mostly news)
@MariaDamanakiEU 4855 524 59 Claims to be, feels honest 1 (only if you’re official) 6
@BarrosoEU 18415 1209 72 Team, and /JMB supposed to be him 1 (only if you’re official) 2 (mostly news)
@ASemetaEU 1339 218 53 Doesn’t say, but could be him 1 (only if you’re official) 4 (FTT stuff is OK)
@SiimKallasEU 5036 184 59 Him and team (it says) 1 (RTs if you’re official) 2 (mostly news)

Not on Twitter: Catherine Ashton, Olli Rehn, Joaquín Almunia [UPDATE 15.11.12: he has started on Twitter here – just 18 tweets currently though, so cannot analyse], Karel De Gucht, John Dalli / Tonio Borg, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Johannes Hahn [UPDATE 27.1.13: Hahn has now started officially on Twitter @JHahnEU, 8 tweets at the time of writing], Dacian Cioloş. Numbers correct as of 12th November 2012. Columns 6, 7: my own personal opinions.

We can then group the Commissioners into 4 groups.

1) The Master – Neelie Kroes remains far ahead of the rest on every measure. She commands more than 55k followers, while no other Commissioner is beyond 20k, has developed her own style, and is happy to reply and retweet regularly. She is an example, even beyond Brussels, of how a high level politician should use Twitter. The account is also a fair and accurate reflection of her as a person.

2) The Engagers – Potocnik, Malmström, Andor, Georgieva, Damanaki, Tajani. These Commissioners are using Twitter in ways that somehow make effective use of the medium. Either their shows their personal views on issues, or builds discussion with people in and around Brussels and beyond. However none of these accounts has broken the 10k follower barrier – follow them if you’re reading this, because either you’ll see the personal side of the politician, or gain some political insight.

3) The Learners – Oettinger, Šefčovič, Vassiliou, Semeta. These Commissioners have the potential to join The Engagers, but for the moment their follower numbers are low and they have not fully found a role on Twitter.

4) The Broadcasters – Barroso, Reding, Kallas, Barnier, Füle, Piebalgs, Hedegaard. These Commissioners use Twitter as just another broadcast medium. Do not expect any Retweet or Reply, nor much political insight. If you use Twitter to just follow the news then these accounts might be useful, but engaging they are not.