The Little People of the Superstate

Almost like answering Henry Kissinger’s famous question–Who do I call if I want to talk to Europe?–the 27 states of the EU have selected the top two figures of their superstate. Mr. Kissinger can now dial Herman Van Rompuy or Catherine Ashton.

Tony Blair, the ambitious British ex-prime minister, was the first one on the list of candidates for the EU presidency. But Germany and France didn’t want a strong and ambitious politician to be a head of the Union, and thus be the decision-maker. Even as Europe was in the process of ratifying the Lisbon treaty, no one really wanted to lose their national power.

And that is how Belgian Prime Minister Van Rompuy became the first EU president and EU Trade Commissioner Ashton became the new foreign relations chief.

Van Rompuy was a compromise figure during the 2007-2008 Belgian political crisis. Unable to form a government, Belgium called elections for the second time. Elections likely would have been called a third time if not for Van Rompuy, who was suggested as an alternative, moderate figure to head a joint government.

Ashton did a decent job as a head of the EU’s Directorate-General for Trade. The impression I received from meeting her during her spring 2009 visit to the U.S. was that she would have implemented sounder trade policies if she were not constrained by political duties. But if Ashton could not stand up for her ideas as trade commissioner, her prospects as the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy do not appear great.

More and more, it looks like much ado about nothing. The Lisbon treaty was ratified by all 27 states, the EU president and foreign relations chief have been elected, but it is unlikely that this will bring real change to the European Superstate’s policies.