Dithering is not necessarily a bad thing in international affairs. If President Obama is right to procrastinate over more troops for Afghanistan (as he is), you could equally argue that the European Union leaders are doing us all a favour by taking their time in deciding the new posts of President and High Representative.
Of course it isn't what the hosts, Sweden, wanted of the meeting this week. Nice clean decisions with the communiqué ready before the talks start – Harold Macmillan's recipe for a successful summit – is what world leaders prefer. But there are times when decisiveness can negate judgement and Europe's presidential choice is one of them.
At the very least it has produced a wider range of names putting their hat in the ring. True, most of the figures mentioned seem well on the grey-suited side, although the dismissal of them by the British press as nonentities reflects more on London's increasing parochialism than informed assessment.
But the point is that at a time when politics only comes alive when it is treated as a sporting event, Europe is at last beginning to have a list of runners and riders to give the choice some sense of a contest.
Which does not excuse the disgraceful way in which the posts are being discussed and eventually decided by Europe's premiers in conclave. The Treaty of Lisbon, they have all declared, will introduce a new era in EU development of greater openness, democratic accountability and modernity. In its very first decision since the treaty has been ratified its leaders have managed to countermand every one of those principles.
There is no transparency about the way in which the candidates have been chosen. The choice is being made by a group of leaders horse-trading behind closed doors. The very last thing the decision represents is a step into the world of the 21st century.
This doesn't only apply to the jobs in the EU. What we have here, in microcosm, is exactly the same method of conducting affairs as we have seen in the case of the choice of UN Secretary General and the heads of the World Bank, IMF and other international institutions.
It is becoming increasingly less acceptable on the global scene and it should have already become impermissible in Europe. If the EU had genuinely wanted to make real the promises of Lisbon, then it should have given to the European Parliament the job of reviewing and interviewing the candidates, and thus making known their qualities, before producing a shortlist for the leaders to decide. That would have been a real step towards democracy.
The trouble in the EU's case is made worse by the potentially fatal lack of job definition for either role. Some, such as President Sarkozy, argue that the choice is between a high profile "big hitter" such as Blair to represent Europe to the world or more of a discreet chairman like the Belgian Van Rompuy able to organise the meetings.
But that begs the question of just what "representing Europe to the world" means and how that cuts across the job of High Representative (Foreign Minister in plain English), and indeed how either would effectively represent Europe as a whole when there is so much disagreement on any major policy area, particularly foreign policy.
It is easy enough to dismiss the whole pantomime as being a lot of fuss about nothing jobs. Well maybe they are. But the point about these appointments under the Lisbon Treaty was that they were supposed to represent a sense of common purpose to the enterprise. As it is there isn't – not at the moment at least – the common sense of purpose to represent.
But the jobs nonetheless can serve a useful political purpose internally rather than externally, trying to give a human face to what has become a foreign irrelevant institution to most of its inhabitants. Take virtually any opinion poll and the results are the same, the citizens of Europe may or may not believe the EU is necessary but precious few think that it is "theirs."
The right sort of President and High Representative could provide a point of common focus. Would any of the current candidates meet this bill? Tony Blair wouldn't because he's too divisive. But Vaira Vike-Freiburg, the feisty former president of Latvia, would put a woman on the masthead while Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister of Sweden, has all the right qualities for High Representative.
Not that I'm putting my money on them, given the way these decisions are made.Reuse content