Speculation arose about a month ago on the possibility of Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming the next permanent chairman of the European Union, the so-called president of the E.U. Now, a likely rival has been found in former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. What else has happened in the EU in the past week? There was considerable success in accession talks with Croatia, which can become a member as early as the middle of 2013. But first things first…
Conjecture about the former California governor, body-builder and actor (perhaps not “former,” since there are rumors of his preparing for a new film) as E.U. head appeared thanks to his advisors, who are said to be urging him to return to Europe and run for the Union post.
"In the next few years, the EU will be looking for a much more high-profile president, somebody who can unify Europe," Schwarzenegger's chief of staff, Terry Tamminen, said recently. "The French won't want a German, and the Germans won't want an Italian. How about a European-born person who went off to America and could return to be the Washington or Jefferson of a new, unified Europe?" he added, all but nominating his boss for the job.
But now another presidential wannabe has come on the scene: former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. There was even talk of his running back in 2009 when people first started considering candidates.
Only Angela Merkel, who didn’t care for his involvement in the Iraq War, supposedly wanted to nip his candidacy in the bud, and she also was rumored to fear that a Union president in the form of Blair could overshadow other European politicians (it would almost certainly bother French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who like to be seen).
So the unknown and relatively invisible Belgian Herman Van Rompuy became the E.U. head. That could quickly change, however, as Van Rompuy’s term will expire in less than a year, on 31 May 2012. Tony Blair indicated in an interview with the British paper The Times that Europe needs a president directly elected by voters in all member countries.
As the tabloid the Daily Mail remarked, “So is this your job application Tony?” According to Blair, Europe lacks a strong leader who will help the continent become competitive with the world’s rapidly developing economies.
If voters (of which there are 386 million in the EU) have the opportunity to elect the president themselves, it could consolidate the relationship between them and Brussels, which is quite aloof, in Blair’s opinion.
But as he himself admits, the time is not yet ripe for such a major change in the current 27, and everything will have to undergo a lengthy, complicated ratification process in the member countries. So maybe one more term for Van Rompuy (he can be relied upon not to bother or overshadow anyone), and then a change sometime at the end of 2014? And while we’re on the subject of this year, it now seems certain that there will be 28 countries. Croatia should, according to all indications, become an EU member in July 2013. Why the optimism?
During Monday’s accession talks, the Croatians concluded a chapter dedicated to fishing, as euractiv.com reported, leaving only four of 35 chapters to be completed: relations with neighboring countries and human rights (which might not be simple), economic competition, budget policy and other topics (which are only remaining technicalities).
And the Hungarians, who now chair the EU, boast that they will achieve that before their chairmanship is up (that is, by the end of June). In July, the scepter passes from Budapest to Warsaw. Tomorrow, European Commission chief José Barroso is expected to congratulate the Croatians on their progress in the negotiations. “Expect good news,” was his message to Zagreb.
The closing of negotiations with Croatia would be good news for Hungary as well. Its highly unremarkable chairmanship could tally a significant and tangible success.