Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Only nine days to go

In nine days’ time the European Commission will cease to exist. The new Commission will be chosen by the new President in consultation with member states, in time for them all to stand before the European Parliament to be approved of in September.

There is one problem, however: with nine days to go, there seems to be no agreement as to who the next President of the Commission is to be. France and Germany want Guy Verhofstadt of Belgium, mainly because that would annoy Britain and many of the new members, who are not behaving with due decorum and, of course, will cause a major headache in the United States.

Not that the Americans are likely to recognize the name, but they will recall that the Prime Minister of Belgium announced very soon after the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon that the war against terror had nothing to do with America’s allies. They and their NATO allies will also recall that Verhofstadt has been vociferous in his calls for an autonomous euro-army, outside NATO control. Presumably, Belgium proposes to play a significant part in that army.

The rest of us can simply remember that Verhofstadt’s main political aim, on his own account, was to destroy the main opposition party in the Flemish part of the country, the Vlaams Blok, which has been going from strength to strength in the voters’ estimation.

Britain rather half-heartedly proposed Chris Patten, who was rejected because his French is not up to the required standard and because he is British. That has become quite clear with Chancellor Schröder’s spokesman expressing the view that “non-core” countries should not have a say in who becomes President of the Commission.

One assumes that “non-core” means not being part of the eurozone – there are now thirteen countries in that category – and not being part of Schengen – which is a moveable feast, with countries opting in and out of parts of it. As it happens, this is against the EU rules, as they stand. It also annoys a number of smaller countries, who are growing more and more irate with the high-handed attitude of the Franco-German axis.

There are one or two other contenders, most of whom seem to be Portuguese, which is, presumably, a coincidence. Then there is Bertie Ahern. EU leaders are so grateful for his incredible efforts that produced the agreement last week in Brussels that he seems to command more support than anyone else. There is just one problem: mindful, perhaps, of the way Presidents of the Commission have been chewed up and spat out by the politics of the Union, Mr Ahern insists that he wants none of that “grinning honour”, as Falstaff put it.

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