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Solana Backs Felipe Gonzalez For EU President Job

EurActiv (Link) (June 23, 2009)

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana yesterday (22 June) endorsed former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez as first permanent president of the European Council, should the Lisbon Treaty enter into force.

Speaking at a public event organised by the Belgian section of the Association of European Journalists in Brussels, Solana was positive about the possible nomination of Gonzalez for the job.

Answering a question, he said: "[Felipe Gonzalez] is a good friend, we have worked together for 15 years, and I know he has the energy and the capacity for the job."

Should the Lisbon Treaty enter into force by the end of 2009, the EU s first permanent president will be introduced under the Spanish EU Presidency in the first half of 2010.

"A relationship between two Spaniards - and I know them well - will be very positive, very constructive, and would bring added value," Solana said, referring to Jos Luis Rodr guez Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister, alongside Gonzalez.

Solana said the future EU president's chances of shaping the new institution depended on general political will on the one hand, and the personality and determination of the job holder on the other.

The Lisbon Treaty says little about the division of responsibility between the country holding the rotating EU presidency and the permanent EU president, and many believe the first six months will set an important precedent for the future.

Zapatero and Gonzalez - like Solana - are from the Spanish Socialist Worker's Party (PSOE), a relationship which should enable good cooperation and ensure a smooth start for the new job.

Gonzalez is currently chairing the EU 'reflection group' put in place last year with the aim of anticipating long-term challenges facing the Union (EurActiv 14/10/09).

Iberian overload?

But while personalities such as Gonzalez and Zapatero prove the high quality of Spanish statesmen, the audience pressed Solana to comment on the risk of an "Iberian overload" should a Spaniard take the job of EU Council president and Jos Manuel Barroso, a Portuguese, be re-confirmed as Commission head for the next five years.

"It's a question for others to respond to," said Solana, amid laughter from the audience.

Solana was also positive about introducing the position of an "energy tsar" to co-ordinate Europe's dealings with Russia, although the job is not foreseen by the Lisbon Treaty. But he warned that EU countries had varying degrees of dependency on Russian gas, and coordination would not be "a simple thing".

Referring to the future EU external action service foreseen under the Lisbon Treaty, Solana said it would bring together diplomats who already work in the Commission and the Council, and those who come from member states. It is difficult to say what its exact size will be, and hard to predict the date by which it will be fully in place, Solana explained, adding that there would be no "big bang" as the service would be constituted gradually.

Solana cited Addis Ababa as an example, saying the capital of Ethiopia and the African Union had a European ambassador who represents the Commission, the Council and EU member states at the same time. He suggested that this could be a model for building similar representations elsewhere in the world, like Afghanistan and the Middle East, for example. He also called for work on the EU's new external service to begin as soon as possible.

"Better tomorrow than never," he said. †

The following is from Constance Cumbey's blog where I learned of this story:

According to a very new story from EurActiv, Javier Solana and French Prime Minister Sarkozy have teamed up to support the former Socialist Prime Minister of Spain, Felipe Gonzalez. Felipe Gonzalez and Javier Solana had a mutually supportive relationship since at least 1977 -- probably even earlier. Nicolas Sarkozy has withdrawn his support for Tony Blair. There is concern that this would overload the EU administration with Spaniards. My guess is that Solana might just get his way. It will be a huge slap in the face to Tony Blair and the Britons. I wonder what Herb Peters would say about this one? I think I know!

According to the background information supplied at the EurActiv account

"The Treaty of Lisbon, expected to enter into force in 2010, introduces two new European top jobs: a high-profile president who will chair EU summit meetings for a two-and-a-half year term and a revamped foreign policy chief (see EurActive Links Dossier on 'Choosing Mr. Europe').

"In a widely-noted interview with Spanish daily El Pa s, Jean-Marie Colombani, former editor of Le Monde, maintains that Sarkozy is pushing for former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez to become the first EU president once the Lisbon Treaty is ratified.

"According to Colombani, Sarkozy has dropped his support for former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, among other reasons for "not having done anything" in his current capacity as special representative of the Middle East Quartet. Colombani claimed that Sarkozy "does not care" that Gonzalez is a socialist, as he sees him first as a "man of ideas about Europe".

In December 2007, Felipe Gonzalez was picked to chair a group of "12 Wise Men" to "rethink Europe." EURACTIV background on that story gives this detail:

The European Council of 14 December 2007 decided to establish a "reflection group" of no more than nine people, selected from across the Union on the basis of merit, to identify the key issues and developments which the Union is likely to face in future and to analyse how these might be addressed.

Former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez was named chair of the group, while Vaira Viėe-Freiberga, a former president of Latvia, and Jorma Ollila, former CEO of Nokia, were named vice-chairs.

It was agreed that the chairman and vice-chairs should submit a list of names to be considered during the French EU Presidency.

I will be frequently updating and adding to this story, so refresh your browser frequently. The entire scenario smells very Solana-esque to yours truly!