Monday, February 22, 2010
Jobs for the boys
EUobserver today reports that Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has written an angry letter to EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton demanding to know why Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has appointed 'his man' as the EU's new ambassador to Washington when, under the Lisbon Treaty, Ashton is meant to be overseeing such appointments.
Ashton is currently in talks with the member states about establishing the EU's new diplomatic corps, the External Action Service (EAS), and Barroso spotted this "transitional" phase as an opportunity to install Joao Vale de Almeida, his former chief of staff, as his eyes and ears in Washington. As one EU diplomat said, "In the future, if the US wants to send a message to the EU, it will go through Almeida because it knows he has a special relationship with Barroso. Ashton will be left out."
As Charlemagne points out, Ashton, who is supposed to serve both national governments and the Commission, has consistently been criticised by member states for being in bed with the Commission and allowing it too much sway over the EU's new foreign policy apparatus. No one can argue that this isn't a significant and symbolic move by Barroso. After all, he didn't send his mate off to one of the EU's various new embassies in Kabul or Addis Ababa but to Washington!
Many have argued that the appointment of the low-profile Ashton as EU Foreign Minister was an attempt by member states to limit the influence that the post would have over national governments. This of course begs the question why create the post in the first place? However, the 'play it safe' appointment of Ashton appears to be backfiring entirely as the Commission sees her weakness as a golden opportunity to increase its influence over the EU's foreign policy - a far greater threat to the institutional balance.
It is tempting to admire Barroso's cunning but it’s also a bit worrying that national governments were powerless to stop him appointing an old mate to such a key position, given the clear conflict of interest.
Incidentally, Carl Bildt is all over the place at the moment. Having been one of the strongest supporters of the Lisbon Treaty he now claims to have always predicted (like some others) that the institutional set-up that it created was destined to fail. "I’ve always questioned whether the construction would work... the post [EU foreign minister] is set up in a way that makes it virtually impossible", he told Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter.
Just goes to show that there's nothing quite like the cold shower of reality to make people come to their senses.