At Large

European Union Wants a President

It's a very big deal, not that anyone knows why the EU might need one.

By 11.13.09

Send to Kindle

The European Union wants to have a president. It doesn't matter that it already has a president of the European Commission. The EU believes it needs a bona fide "president." Toward what end is not clear.

At this moment European power brokers are negotiating among themselves as to what kind of president they want -- an international superstar like Tony Blair or perhaps some supporting actor such as a current or former head of a modest-sized government like Belgium, Luxembourg, or the Netherlands. It doesn't really matter except to the very parochial European politicians responding to the protestations of partisan local press.

They also want a foreign minister, or at least someone who can run EU foreign affairs. What that might be is certainly up for definition as each of the 27 member countries has its own foreign minister and, presumably, its own foreign policy. But then each also has its own head of government or state depending on whether it has a parliamentary or presidential system.

This is all very confusing to the American mind that thinks a president is a president, is a president. Obviously the job of EU president is supposed to bring some order to a bureaucracy at EU headquarters in Brussels that has mutated and proliferated like a bad case of hives. All governments seem to suffer from a form of protozoan self-division and multiplication, so a government of governments obviously could not be expected to be dissimilar. But the EU has exceeded the norm.

To be fair -- and one wants to be fair to our older cousins -- now that Europe has decided to solve all its past tendencies toward self-destruction by unifying itself, perhaps it is only logical that it has created a post to oversee the running of the union of European governments. But of course these players don't want any single individual actually to do that. They also don't want that person to be just a figurehead. They want a real president, they say. They do, but they don't, but they do. Hmmm.

Looking on the bright side one could hope that the new EU president would use his/her powers (whatever they might be) for good: sort of like Superman, Batman, Spiderman and all those other super heroes. To start with the EU president could take firm steps to aid in preventing Iran from producing a nuclear weapon. Oh, sorry, that one is not really what they have in mind.

Perhaps the EU president could act to deter the tendencies of Putin-Medvedev -- or is that Medvedev-Putin -- from expanding Russia's power once again to encompass, or at least exercise control over, the republics of the former Soviet Union. Well, no, that's also not really what is wanted. At least that's what EU diplomatic sources say.

It seems that all parties agree that the EU headquarters in Brussels needs some serious shaking up and shaking out. That's certainly not the sort of job on which superstars like Blair desire to spend their time. Actually even the several small nation candidates would not be happy at having that as their principal role.

The real problem no one wants to talk about is that the "king" making is being skewed by the angelic Angela Merkel, Germany's newly reelected Chancellor and the prototypical German school teacher/hausfrau/pleasant political shark. Without her, and Germany's, approval, the entire European president sweepstakes goes nowhere. By the way, this is true in the choosing of the right candidate and also that individual's eventual success in the job.

Of course, France and little Nicolas Sarkozy would like to be considered of the same weight in the EU president stakes, but it's just not true. Germany is the big dog; France is of more modest size in comparison, though together they can swing crucial decisions of the EU.

Nothing is more striking in the division of American and European perception than the near total lack of interest that exists in the U.S. -- including even the more sophisticated centers of Washington -- over who will be the president of the European Union. While the European media are consumed with every little crumb of information and gossip on this issue, there is virtually no coverage in the American press. And why should it be any different?

The ultimate aim of the EU is to act as a balance and/or an alternative to the economic and political power of the U.S., China, and, increasingly, Russia. Lip service is paid by EU members to peace and prosperity of the various regions of the developing world, but that ultimately is aimed toward the economic benefit of Europe. The 19th century rides again in a different form -- at least that's the unstated European hope -- minus wars, of course!

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.