Friday, November 20, 2009


BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union leaders named Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy, who is little known outside his own country, as the bloc's first president on Thursday to lead efforts to make it more influential on the world stage.

They also chose Baroness Catherine Ashton, a Briton little known even in her own country, as EU foreign affairs chief under a deal that kept out more established figures such as Tony Blair, and raised questions about how the bloc plans to lift its profile.

The appointments are intended to bolster the EU's standing and help it to match the rise of emerging powers such as China following the global economic crisis, but neither Ashton nor Van Rompuy is a familiar figure outside Europe....

Van Rompuy, 62, and Ashton, 53, are compromise candidates who plan to use quiet diplomacy and consensus. At least initially they will not have the weight in foreign capitals that a better-known figure such as Blair, a former British prime minister, would have had.

Agreement on the positions took weeks, undermining efforts to present the bloc as a united force, partly because Britain had demanded Blair should be president.

The breakthrough came when Prime Minister Gordon Brown dropped that demand and backed EU Trade Commissioner Ashton as foreign affairs chief and vice-president of the EU's executive European Commission instead.

The role of president of the council of EU leaders was created under the Lisbon treaty, which takes effect on December 1 and creates a diplomatic corps to be headed by Ashton. She replaces Spaniard Javier Solana.

The White House said Washington had no stronger partner than Europe in advancing security and prosperity around the world.

"These two new positions, and related changes to take effect on December 1 as a result of the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty, will strengthen the EU and enable it to be an even stronger partner to the United States," it said.

EU leaders had sought a political balance to satisfy member states and the European Parliament, whose approval is needed for Ashton. This was achieved by appointing a center-right president and a center-left high representative for foreign affairs....

Ashton, a former member of the House of Lords, Britain's upper house of parliament, has little foreign affairs experience. But she has made a good impression as trade commissioner".

"EU Names Belgian PM Van Rompuy as first President," 20 November 2009, in

"Who is Hillary Clinton’s “favourite new colleague”? Just take a look at this passage from a long profile of Clinton in Vogue that includes a gushing quote on the “vital and attractive” David Miliband:
When I mentioned to her over lunch that I had spoken with him, she lit up. “Oh, my God!” I joked that I got a crush over the phone in about five seconds partly because of his accent, and she said, “Well, if you saw him it would be a big crush. I mean, he is so vibrant, vital, attractive, smart. He’s really a good guy. And he’s so young!”"

Alex Barker ['Westminister Blog'], "Miliband's new admirer," 17 November 2009, in

On the first of the two above articles, all one can say is (to use a vernacular expression): 'I told you so'. To wit my piece in last week's entry, in which I predicted that the EU would not go for the most highly qualified candidates for either the Commission President or the Vice-President and High Representative for Foreign Affairs. In the event, the pick of Lady Ashton, more than represents something worse than even I could have imagined. A person (to para-phrase the great Lord Curzon): 'of the utmost insignificance'. As the Financial Times, Diplomatic Correspondent, Gideon Rachman notes, quite trenchantly:

"If the answer is Herman Van Rompuy and Cathy Ashton, what the hell was the question? Europe’s choices for its new “president” and “foreign minister” are like the result of some sort of computer-dating programme that has gone badly wrong. If you fed in all the criteria for the jobs into your computer and it spat out the names - “Van Rompuy” and “Ashton”, you would ring the systems department and tell them that there had been some sort of catastrophic breakdown.

Lady Ashton is not the best candidate in Europe for the job - she is not even close to the best candidate in Britain. If the EU leaders were determined to have a Brit there were plenty of other much better qualified people: Chris Patten, Mark Malloch Brown, Paddy Ashdown, Peter Mandelson, Geoff Hoon, Chris Huhne, Kenny Dalglish. It might be objected that none of these men are women. But that need not be an insuperable problem.

I am in Dubai and when I informed a fellow Brit that Europe’s choice was Ashton, he startled me by saying “what an interesting and imaginative choice”. But it turned out that he thought I had said “Ashdown”. Lady Ashton is the classic example of somebody who is not a household name, even in her own household. She is also a vindication of the accident theory of history. She was only sent to Brussels as trade commissioner because Peter Mandelson was unexpectedly summoned back to Britain by a desperate Gordon Brown. And Brown only chose Ashton to replace Mandelson because he could not risk choosing a prominent politician and thus sparking a by-election. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. I bet she can’t believe her luck. As for Van Rompuy, I hope he writes some good haikus while chairing the meetings. He might even have material for an absurdist play.(
Gideon Rachman,"Europe's Computer-Dating System malfunctions," 20 November 2009, in

I think that absurd, is the best that one can say about the entire process that has landed Europe with Baroness Ashton as its 'high-representative' for Foreign Affairs for the next five year (!). No doubt when Henry Kissinger famously asked more than thirty years ago, 'who can I telephone who speaks for Europe?' I rather doubt that he imagined that it would be this innocuous, little suburban nobody.

Speaking of suburban nobodies, that brings us to the subject matter of the American Secretary of State, Mme. Hillary Clinton. After her disastrous tour of the Near and Middle East at the beginning of the month, it would have behooved her, one would have thought to say little if nothing at all, in matters diplomatic and otherwise. Unfortunately, as we can see, from this jeux d'espirit (if that is what it is), we were meant to be disappointed. What can one say about such gaucherie except that it merely reinforces Pericles dictum that the female sex should neither be seen nor heard. Unfortunately, we are left for another three (3) years, if not more with this very intelligent (just not in the art of diplomacy unfortunately), ambitious, provincial, bourgeois politician, who occupies the august precincts of Foggy Bottom. We truly live, dear reader in decadent, boring and banal times indeed.