The next best choice

The “Next best Choice” was the way in which the left-wing news­pa­per Infor­ma­tion described the choice of Her­man Van Rompuy.11Infor­ma­tion: Det næst­bed­ste valg, 10 Novem­ber 2009. He might not be an inter­na­tion­al show­stop­per, but he is con­sid­ered valu­able because of his strong ana­lyt­i­cal sense and abil­i­ty to cre­ate con­sen­sus. The Dan­ish Prime Min­is­ter (PM) Lars Løkke Ras­mussen empha­sised this point when asked if he thought that the new Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil was too unknown for the pres­ti­gious job: “You can be very good at your job, even if you are not well-known”.22Søndagsavisen: Løkke: Nye EU-ledere kan blive pro­fil­er, 19 Novem­ber 2009. The Dan­ish Mem­ber of Euro­pean Par­lia­ment (MEP) Jens Rohde, also from the PM’s Lib­er­al par­ty, did not agree with Løkke. He thought that Van Rompuy was cho­sen so as not to over­shad­ow the heads of the nation­al gov­ern­ments.33Nord­jyske Stift­ti­dende: Jens Rohde: EU-Udnævnelser: Hvor er mod?, 24 Novem­ber 2009.

Anoth­er news­pa­per called it a “sen­si­ble choice” to give the post to Van Rompuy since the EU is now in need of “peace” to imple­ment the Lis­bon Treaty.44Dag­bladenes Bureau: For­nuftigt Valg, 20 Novem­ber 2009. Kris­teligt Dag­blad, a cen­trist dai­ly news­pa­per, is very crit­i­cal towards the new fig­ure and calls it unam­bi­tious and a waste of a good oppor­tu­ni­ty for pro­fil­ing the EU.55Kris­teligt Dag­blad: Europæisk Selvmål, 21 Novem­ber 2009. At the grass­roots lev­el, the Dan­ish Euro­pean Move­ment wel­comed the new Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil with­out any crit­i­cal com­ments. The Youth divi­sion of the move­ment was, how­ev­er, not sat­is­fied with the new lead­ers, call­ing it a vic­to­ry for those opposed to a strong EU.

Not a lot of atten­tion has been paid to the ques­tion: which changes to the role of the rotat­ing coun­cil pres­i­den­cy are expect­ed? The shift­ing pri­or­i­ties of the rotat­ing pres­i­den­cy are gen­er­al­ly seen as hav­ing dam­aged the con­sis­ten­cy of EU for­eign pol­i­cy and it is one of the main goals of the Lis­bon Treaty to change this with the com­mon High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Union for For­eign Affairs and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy. The Con­fed­er­a­tion of Dan­ish Indus­try (Dan­sk Indus­tri – DI) asks for more focus on finan­cial issues, but does not men­tion the new role of the pres­i­den­cy. Jyl­land­sposten, a con­ser­v­a­tive dai­ly, empha­sis­es the pos­si­ble fight for the spot­light and the lack of clar­i­ty in the divi­sion of labour. The Span­ish Pres­i­den­cy will make prece­dence for the divi­sion of labour between the Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil and the rotat­ing presidency.

Danish Diplomat to the rescue

The Prime Min­is­ter had the same atti­tude towards Cather­ine Ash­ton as he had towards Van Rompuy: even though you are not a polit­i­cal super­star you can still be very fit for the job.66Søndagsavisen: Løkke: Nye EU-ledere kan blive pro­fil­er, 19 Novem­ber 2009. The over­all impres­sion in the Dan­ish debate when Ash­ton was named as the new High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Union for For­eign Affairs and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy was that she was elect­ed because, in terms of gen­der and polit­i­cal affil­i­a­tion, she rep­re­sent­ed that which Van Rompuy is not. There was cri­tique of her lack of for­eign pol­i­cy expe­ri­ence, but some lead­ing dailies have stat­ed that much of the cri­tique was chau­vin­ist77Infor­ma­tion: Hvor­for er baronessen usyn­lig?, 24 Feb­ru­ary 2010. and pre­ma­ture.88Jyl­land­sposten: Europas ansigter, 21 Novem­ber 2010.

Dan­ish news­pa­pers also cov­ered exten­sive­ly the appoint­ment of Cather­ine Ashton’s new coun­selor, Poul Skytte Christof­fersen, in late Feb­ru­ary 2010. Ash­ton per­son­al­ly request­ed the nom­i­na­tion of Skytte Christof­fersen, until then Denmark’s Ambas­sador to the EU. The Dan­ish Min­is­ter for For­eign Affairs, Lene Espersen, was very sat­is­fied by the choice and called Ashton’s request “a huge acknowl­edge­ment of Skytte Christoffersen’s abil­i­ties and expe­ri­ence.”99Jyl­land­sposten: EU’s uden­rigst­jen­este får en dansker i spid­sen, 26 Feb­ru­ary 2010. Ashton’s dou­ble role as both High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive and Vice Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is hard­ly men­tioned in the Dan­ish debate.

In favour of a strong Europe

On EU for­eign pol­i­cy, Espersen has also declared work­ing for EU uni­ty as her first pri­or­i­ty: The “EU risks end­ing up as a “loos­er region” if we don’t learn how to agree and speak with [one] voice.”1010Berlingske Tidende: EU står alt for ofte fuld­stændigt afk­lædt og for­pjus­ket tilbage, 6 March 2010. The For­eign Min­is­ter has expressed her­self since Feb­ru­ary 2010 to be a strong sup­port­er of a strong EU in the world. How­ev­er, nation­al experts are not too opti­mistic on behalf of the Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice (EEAS). In gen­er­al many observers argue that inter­nal bick­er­ing is dam­ag­ing Ash­ton and the EU, which is para­dox­i­cal con­sid­er­ing the Lis­bon Treaty was meant to strength­en the EU’s role in the world.1111Mandag mor­gen: Knald eller fald for EUs uden­rigst­jen­este, 8 March 2010.

Mar­lene Wind of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Copen­hagen fears that Dan­ish diplo­mats will not get the top posi­tions in the EEAS hier­ar­chy. With Den­mark hav­ing an opt-out in vital pol­i­cy areas, high-rank­ing offi­cials should be from mem­ber states which are ful­ly inte­grat­ed into the EU.

Oth­er observers are also scep­ti­cal about the role of the EEAS. They fear that the EU will turn into the role of a medi­a­tor rather than a pow­er­ful actor, and that the rest of the world will turn away from the EU in world pol­i­tics.1212Week­en­davisen: EU’s uden­rigspoli­tik: Høje FUSP, 29 Jan­u­ary 2010. Towards the end of March 2010 the very crit­i­cal atti­tude in the media towards Ash­ton seemed to fade away as she picked up the pace and the EEAS start­ed to come together.

A half open door

The Dan­ish debate con­cern­ing the Euro­pean Cit­i­zens’ Ini­tia­tive (ECI) has been dom­i­nat­ed by the rather com­pli­cat­ed pro­ce­dures the Com­mis­sion is set­ting up for the peti­tions. The EU-crit­i­cal grass­roots move­ments, such as “Radikal EU-kri­tisk netværk” and “Folke­bevægelsen med EU”, were ini­tial­ly against this devel­op­ment. Folke­bevægelsen answered a Com­mis­sion-hear­ing stat­ing that the word­ing in the Lis­bon Treaty should be inter­pret­ed in the least restric­tive way. Fur­ther­more, the Com­mis­sion should be oblig­ed to take the request seri­ous­ly and not only con­sid­er it.1313Folke­bevægelsen mod EU: Giv borg­erne reel ind­fly­delse!, 30 Jan­u­ary 2010, avail­able at: http://www.folkebevaegelsen.dk/spip.php?article2276&var_recherche=giv%20boprgerne%20reel%20indflydelse (last acces: 19 May 2010). Also, MEP Morten Messer­schmidt from Dan­sk Folkepar­ti wants all restric­tions on the peti­tions removed.

More EU-friend­ly grass­roots are also com­plain­ing over the com­pli­cat­ed pro­ce­dures. The Dan­ish branch of the NGO-net­work Con­cord Den­mark has launched the first ECI, “Keep your promis­es to the poor”. Despite the enthu­si­asm over the pos­si­bil­i­ty to have direct influ­ence over the Commission’s agen­da, the NGO fears that the new demands require a lot of resources that are not avail­able to most grass­roots move­ments.1414Poli­tiken: EU spæn­der ben for sin egen folke­lighed, 15 April 2010. A con­se­quence of this could be a favour­ing of the lob­by indus­try instead of the grass­roots move­ments, since they are the only ones who have the resources to make peti­tions of this kind.1515Infor­ma­tion: EU åbn­er døren for direk­te borg­erind­fly­delse – men ikke helt, 7 April 2010. The Euro­pean Move­ment, a pro-EU group, argues that the ECI is only a small part of the pos­i­tive demo­c­ra­t­ic devel­op­ment the EU is under­go­ing with the Lis­bon Treaty.

    Footnotes

  • 1Infor­ma­tion: Det næst­bed­ste valg, 10 Novem­ber 2009.
  • 2Søndagsavisen: Løkke: Nye EU-ledere kan blive pro­fil­er, 19 Novem­ber 2009.
  • 3Nord­jyske Stift­ti­dende: Jens Rohde: EU-Udnævnelser: Hvor er mod?, 24 Novem­ber 2009.
  • 4Dag­bladenes Bureau: For­nuftigt Valg, 20 Novem­ber 2009.
  • 5Kris­teligt Dag­blad: Europæisk Selvmål, 21 Novem­ber 2009.
  • 6Søndagsavisen: Løkke: Nye EU-ledere kan blive pro­fil­er, 19 Novem­ber 2009.
  • 7Infor­ma­tion: Hvor­for er baronessen usyn­lig?, 24 Feb­ru­ary 2010.
  • 8Jyl­land­sposten: Europas ansigter, 21 Novem­ber 2010.
  • 9Jyl­land­sposten: EU’s uden­rigst­jen­este får en dansker i spid­sen, 26 Feb­ru­ary 2010.
  • 10Berlingske Tidende: EU står alt for ofte fuld­stændigt afk­lædt og for­pjus­ket tilbage, 6 March 2010.
  • 11Mandag mor­gen: Knald eller fald for EUs uden­rigst­jen­este, 8 March 2010.
  • 12Week­en­davisen: EU’s uden­rigspoli­tik: Høje FUSP, 29 Jan­u­ary 2010.
  • 13Folke­bevægelsen mod EU: Giv borg­erne reel ind­fly­delse!, 30 Jan­u­ary 2010, avail­able at: http://www.folkebevaegelsen.dk/spip.php?article2276&var_recherche=giv%20boprgerne%20reel%20indflydelse (last acces: 19 May 2010).
  • 14Poli­tiken: EU spæn­der ben for sin egen folke­lighed, 15 April 2010.
  • 15Infor­ma­tion: EU åbn­er døren for direk­te borg­erind­fly­delse – men ikke helt, 7 April 2010.

The reports focus on a report­ing peri­od from Decem­ber 2009 until May 2010. This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March and April 2010. Most of the 31 reports were deliv­ered in May 2010.

The EU-27 Watch No. 9 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained therein.