Politics: Catherine Feore looks into the not-too-distant future of the European Union employment merry-go-round and the women in the race for EU top jobs.
I am not a great fan of futurology or personality politics in journalism, but with so many top jobs up for grabs in the EU, it’s hard not to join in the speculation. All are focused on this human drama with way too many characters; hacks are greedily eyeing-up the possibility of producing a lot of copy over the normally dull summer months. Expect to see the drama unfold over the next days, weeks, months to come. Thwarted ambitions, triumphant victories, sly operators, low cunning and high office – and that’s just the race to become the next British prime minister.
Where the UK’s race is like its famous Grand National with many runners of varying ability and interesting backstories, the EU’s challenge is more like a game of three-dimensional chess. The EU is a little more dignified – so far – but a lot more complex.
It’s also a bit less fun and much more nerdy. Nobody is ever going to ask Valdis Dombrovskis if he ever snorted cocaine. Whether this is a good or a bad thing depends on your perspective. Do you want your country run by the latest person to hop out of the clown car, or do you prefer a measured debate based on who has the qualifications, broad political support and personal skills to steer the EU through the next five years?
Slaying the Lernaean Hydra President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, tried to head-off this Herculean task at the pass (to mix my metaphors) by organizing an informal dinner just two days after the European Parliamentary elections.
There are many big posts up for grabs: his own – President of the European Council; President of the European Commission; President of the European Parliament; President of the European Central Bank; and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Then there are lots of runner-up prizes, and some are pretty impressive. There are the big commission jobs: Competition, Trade, Internal Market, Economic and Monetary Union, Financial Services.
Didn’t get one of these? Well there are also European Commission Vice-Presidential posts – more money and less work, what’s not to like?! For the MEPs there are Vice-Presidents posts in the European Parliament, chairmanships of important committees and influential and high-profile roles – like the Brexit Steering Committee.
European posts failing, you could be given a nod and a wink that you are being considered for an upcoming ‘world’ job, and there’s always ECA, EIB, EIF, EBRD and other trinkets. Who knows, they may even need to find a new chairman for the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
There is much to be taken into consideration. Jobs for the boys (and girls)… with an eye on geographic distribution – East/West, North/South; with another eye on size – the big versus the small countries; a further eye on political balance; and probably a number of other factors I haven’t even considered, it is clear that some complicated trade-offs will be needed.
It used to be that the heads of government could divvy up the EU posts relatively easily with lots of side deals and promises, but this has changed with a less biddable European Parliament. The recent elections also mean the main groups of social democrats and Christian Democrats wield less influence within the Parliament and no party holds an overall majority. This weakens the parliament’s ability to agree on and coronate their Spitzenkandidat (a party’s lead candidate).
EU Commissioners will have to be approved in hearings before the relevant committee in September. In the past, the Parliament has rejected proposed candidates. In 2004 the Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee vetoed Rocco Buttiglione because of his views on women and homosexuality. In 2009, the parliament deemed Alenka Bratušek, a former Prime Minister of Slovenia, as unqualified and others, such as Miguel Cañete and Jonathan Hill, faced some tough resistance because of their previous roles. The current President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, even faced a vote in Council – though only Hungary and the UK voted against him.
The only concrete commitment from Tusk’s dinner was to fill two of the most senior roles with women. Why have only two women when you could have five?! So, just for the fun of it, I am going to make some confident predictions that will no doubt be proved wrong in the very near future.
President of the European Commission – Margrethe Vestager, she’s popular, charismatic, was a government minister, as former Commissioner for Competition has made a lot of tough decisions. And yes, she would be the first woman in the job. (Decision June/July, mandate from 1 November).
President of the European Council – Dalia Grybauskaitė is coming to the end of her second mandate as President of Lithuania, constitutionally she cannot stand again. Grybauskaitė was also a European Commissioner in 2004-2009.
President of the European Parliament – Mairead McGuinness, currently a Vice-President. She is an MEP from the Irish party Fine Gael, which is part of the largest group in Parliament, the EPP. If the parliament wants someone with a lot of sass and a lot of steal, Mairead is the woman, she’s also a great communicator. (Mandate begins July).
President of the European Central Bank – Christine Lagarde, currently the Managing Director of the IMF and former Finance Minister of France, is respected, tough and widely liked. She, of course, is also a she. Some may fear the politicization of this role – but in the IMF she has been seen as impartial. (Mandate begins November).
High Representative of the European Union – Kristalina Georgieva, was a former Vice- President of the European Commission under Juncker from 2014-2016. She has been the Chief Executive of the World Bank since 2017 and served for a short time as its Acting President. She is Bulgarian, highly respected and has much experience in the field of development.
All bets are off, but don’t fret too much. Whoever succeeds will be guided by broader objectives outlined by the Council and the European Parliament.