Michel Barnier, French Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, suggested in a speech given on “Europe Day” (9 May of course..) that the offices of President of the European Council and President of the European Commission should be merged. He says this person should ultimately be elected.
This means the jobs currently held by José Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy would be done by one person. I wholeheartedly approve the idea as HVR doesn’t appear to do much, clutters the G20 summits with another European, and it would give the EU a genuine “Mr Europe”. Then Dr. Kissinger might know who to call..
This is the first time such a senior EU official – as opposed to some MEP or think tank – has suggested such a move. Interestingly, for the same person to occupy the two offices would require no treaty change, which means the chances of it happening are more than zero. Similarly, there is no legal obstacle to Center-Right and Socialists having actual Commission President candidates who campaign and win or lose based on the elections to the European Parliament.
EurActiv France and Germany both covered it and I wrote the English version for EurActiv.com. It gives a nice overview of the background and context, if I do say so myself. If you know any Balkan languages, you can also go crazy with the Bulgarian and Romanian translations.
While much of the European media have ignored the announcement, the New York Times got in early on the story, earlier in fact than EurActiv.com and the other specialized EU media! It summarizes well the broader content of the speech. EUobserver emphasized its more alarmist side. England Expects, unsurprisingly, was upset by it.
Barnier is one of the big French names of international politics, the others being Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Pascal Lamy and Jean-Claude Trichet (all perfect capitalists, incidentally..). As such his speech was rather better covered by the French press.
Les Échos sees a “small European revolution” in this as Barnier is openly aiming for what he calls a “Federation of Nation-States” (a neat way of squaring the national primacy vs. federalism circle). Laurent Marchand of Ouest-France waxes lyrical about the speech’s refreshing candor and personal tone (rare for the Commission), as well as the content: pro-democratization and frankly federalist.
Marchand also points out that Barnier even mentions a tax on financial transactions and limitations on bonuses for corporate leaders. The latter is, incidentally, an important issue in French politics at the moment. Here’s to hoping some personalized and democratic politics can makes it way into the Commission..