After all the horse-trading, the final two

The names Hermann van Rompuy and Cathy Asthon have baffled Europeans today. But they may prove to be exactly the type of names Europe needs at its top

After weeks of horse-trading for candidates for the two future top EU
positions, the new President and the new Foreign Minister, the two names,
Hermann van Rompuy and Cathy Ashton, have provoked European-wide bafflement.
Years to get an important new treaty, intended to allow Europe
to speak with one voice and take on its responsibility in the world, all to get
two largely unknown names. For many, it seems that Europe
is missing its own magic moment.

But van Rompuy and Ashton might actually be good choices. Yes, they are
unknown and do not convey strong opinions or visions for Europe.
And they are not overly experienced in foreign affairs. However, this has an
advantage: they are not foot printed, and are unlikely to stick to ‘old’
experiences and ideas. Their newness might be precisely the chance for the EU
to build a new foreign service and to shape the world’s foreign policy agenda
by overcoming resource deficiencies and national divisions. This will certainly
not start with strong EU representations in Washington
or Moscow. But
it might quickly be very strong in regions in which EU policies already have
definite value-added to national policies, such as the Balkans or neighbouring
countries such as Georgia, Ukraine or Armenia.

Cathy Ashton may not know much about the Middle East or Russia. But she
has solid experience as Europe’s trade policy chief – an area where Europe is strong, has a real impact and defends its
interests. Her job as trade commissioner was helped by strong institutions. To
build the necessary foreign policy institutions now is the silent and
unspectacular way to nurture a common European foreign policy over time. The
choice of Cathy reflects the non-heroic style of European policy that does not
want to copy super-powers, but shape globalisation in a post-modern way.

History shows that the world produces and gets the people it needs. There is
no doubt that Europe is – from West to East
and from North to South – in a re-nationalisation swing. This is not the moment
to produce great European figures. It is the moment to do groundwork behind the
scenes. Ashton and van Rompuy could be the right people for the posts, even if
their appointments may seem a little out of the blue. Only history will prove
whether they are really are the right choices for Europe.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


ECFR Alumni · Former Senior Policy Fellow

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