Applicants sought for new Council president

Bulletin article
01 April 2008

Are you bright, agreeable, and good with languages? Do you have a track record of running an EU country? Are you looking for a new opportunity to work with European and world leaders? Then we, the EU’s heads of state and government, would like to hear from you.

The Lisbon treaty, if ratified, will create challenging new positions at the top of the European Union, including a new president of the European Council. Under the present rotation system, one of us chairs the Council meetings for six months at a time. We have agreed (somewhat reluctantly) to replace rotation with a semi-permanent chair. We expect the new president to end many of the flaws of the current system, which include sessions that drag on intolerably (especially now that there are 27 of us around the table); lack of consistency and follow-up; time wasted on pet projects of the country that happens to hold the presidency; and confusion among our international partners about who is really in charge. We expect you to chair our meetings, organise our agenda, remind us of our political pledges and represent us abroad on issues that we have agreed on.

As the first person to hold this post, you will enjoy enormous scope to shape its future potential. Second-rate candidates need not apply. You should be a formidable communicator, highly capable but not overly assertive. You need to be firm but conciliatory. Modesty would be an asset. Although this position offers prestige and influence, power and perks will be limited. With only a handful of staff and no presidential cavalcade, the job will resemble that of the UN secretary-general rather than that of US president. Beyond your right to assemble us for emergency meetings, your formal powers will be limited. We are counting on your ability to set the agenda and forge consensus through persuasion and quiet charisma.

We are an equal opportunities employer. But we are guessing you are probably male, middle-aged, and from a smallish or medium-sized European country that has been in the EU longer than five years. Whether we will prefer applicants from the centre-right or centre-left may depend on the political persuasion of other top EU appointees, including the Commission president and the revamped High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, another position created by the Lisbon treaty.

We discourage applicants from the largest EU countries since these may be suspected of driving an overly national agenda. Moreover, those of us who come from smaller EU countries fear that the new Council president could strengthen the inter-governmental part of EU policy-making at the expense of the Commission. We would expect applicants from small countries to have integrationist leanings, although fully-fledged federalists will be vetoed by the more eurosceptic among us.

We trust that you can work out which and how many EU countries you have to lobby to obtain the 73.91 per cent of the votes you will need to get the job (the appointment will be made under the fiendishly complicated rules of the Nice treaty, though an easier system will be in place after 2014).

Your contract will have an initial duration of two and half years. You can be dismissed early in case of “serious misconduct”, which may include you getting too ambitious. If you are seen as successful, your appointment can be extended once, to a total of five years. What exactly constitutes successful is not yet fully clear. For example, we have not defined how you will interact with the new High Representative, whose job description overlaps with yours, but who will have much more money and a quasi-diplomatic corps to work with. We reckon that it will be you who meets foreign heads of government at official summits, while the High Representative does the nitty-gritty work with the foreign ministers. Since you will have a greater political stature, you may also be in a better position to narrow disagreements among us on how to deal with Russia, China and other great powers.

Your work agenda will be broader than that of the High Representative. You will be at the forefront of turning our well-meaning but vague pledges on climate change into actionable policy targets. You will have the unenviable task of presiding over the mighty row that usually precedes our deals on the EU budget. Some of us will want you to revive the process of enlargement, although others will be much more sceptical. If you consider you are a suitable candidate, please phone Brussels, Berlin, Paris or other EU capitals, or perhaps visit, in the hope of receiving more clarity on how to apply.

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