Quiet struggle for succession as Solana to step down

Monsters & Critics (Link) - Dieter Ebeling (July 6, 2009)

A struggle for succession is now officially under way after Spain's Javier Solana Madariaga, the European Union's foreign policy chief for the past 10 years, announced in an interview published Sunday that 'I don't want to continue.'

The EU's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, as Solana is formally known, said he would not seek another term in office when the current one expires in October. He turns 67 later this month.

Solana's would-be successors, said to be plentiful as well as eminent, have probably been jockeying for position behind the scenes for some time already. However, deciding the face of the EU's external policy for the next five years will likely take a while. As with much in the European Union at the moment, filling the post depends on whether the Lisbon Treaty - which would reform the EU and give its institutions more power - can go into effect by year's end.

For that to happen, Irish voters have to approve the treaty in a second referendum following their rejection a year ago. Germany, in an expedited procedure during the current legislative period, must change a domestic law to strengthen the role of the country's legislative bodies in implementing EU laws. And the euro-skeptic presidents of Poland and the Czech Republic must put their signatures on the legislation.

The treaty under which the union operates in future will determine how much power Solana's successor holds. The Lisbon Treaty calls for the creation of an EU diplomatic service headed by the 'High Representative.' The new man - so far no women are seen as potential candidates - would also become the permanent chairman of the EU Council of Foreign Ministers as well as vice president of the European Commission, the EU's executive body.

This plentitude of power's sole blemish is that Solana's successor will not be able to call himself 'EU foreign minister,' due to reservations by Britain.

Whether the Lisbon Treaty goes into effect or not is extremely important for another reason. It would also create the post of permanent president of the European Council to chair all EU summits for two and a half years and serve as a kind of top political representative of the union. This means that the holder of the post must not upset the balance between the EU's political left and right.

Should Portugal's Jose Manuel Barroso, of the centre-right Social Democratic Party, gain a second term as European Commission president in September, conservatives would hold a key post. And if Luxembourg's prime minister, Jean-Claude Juncker of the conservative Christian Social Party, becomes European Council president, then Solana's successor would definitely have to come from the left.

The calculus would be different, however, should the Council presidency go to the left. Former British prime minister Tony Blair, of the centre-left Labour Party, is said to be eyeing that post.

In view of all the imponderables, none of the politicians thought to be interested in succeeding Solana have openly expressed any interest. Questioned by journalists, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said curtly, 'I've already got enough to do.'

Among the most promising of the potential candidates is Finland's Olli Rehn, the European Commissioner for Enlargement and, like Bildt, a man of the political centre. Rehn has displayed diplomatic skill in the most difficult circumstances.

Outgoing NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is also said to be hoping for the appointment. The Dutchman would be the second ex-NATO secretary general after Solana to serve as the EU's top diplomat.

Also seen as a possible candidate is Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. However, his international accomplishments have thus far been overshadowed by his country's go-getting prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

'The main thing is to select a 100-per-cent professional who can handle a very large administrative apparatus,' an EU diplomat remarked. And that person's most important task will be to prevail over attempts by the governments of EU member states to continue deciding all foreign policy issues themselves, the diplomat said, adding, 'It's no job for weak nerves.'