After weeks of wrangling, the European Union has appointed Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy as its first permanent President of the European Council, and a former British junior Minister, Baroness Ashton, as its first High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Both are little known outside their countries and the run-up to their appointments was nothing if not ill-tempered. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy backed Mr. Van Rompuy above Tony Blair, Polish Prime Minster Donald Tusk accused them of doing a deal over the heads of other EU members. Other disagreements were equally unedifying. Eastern European states were against Western European ones, smaller states against bigger ones, and nationalists against EU federalists. Somehow, a decision was finally reached at a dinner the holder of the current rotating EU presidency, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, hosted in Brussels on November 19.
Both the process and the outcome reveal unaddressed internal EU problems. The secrecy, as one British newspaper notes, makes the Vatican look transparent. Secondly, the only elected EU body, the European Parliament, has been excluded. Thirdly, few member countries want heavyweights for the EU’s non-rotating presidency and the foreign affairs job. The whole episode suggests that on major issues the member states still see the Union in intergovernmental and not supranational terms. The EU’s undoubted weight in trade and economic matters cannot compensate for its lack of a single and clear voice in the world’s main international spaces.