The concept behind the European Union is very simple. It is the member states linked together first in a community and now in a tighter union.
In some ways it mirrors that great other union across the pond where the states govern themselves but come together under Congress, the Senate and ultimately the President to be the United States of America.
The problem with the European Union of States is that it was and is designed by bureaucrats – hence simple it isn’t.
The Treaty of Lisbon was meant to iron out many of these wrinkles, create openness and democracy – but it failed at the first hurdle. Some countries held a referendum to vote for its approval, others opted to pass it in parliament, in Britain a referendum was promised but the Labour Government fearing it would be rejected reneged and used its large parliamentary majority to force the treaty through.
Yesterday was meant to be a milestone for the European Union. Its leaders –not the voters - selected a president Herman Van Rompuy. You might not recognise his name but he is the prime minister of Belgium, is credited with holding that fractious country together and is probably also known to the people of surrounding nations such as Holland, Luxembourg and France. His main selling point is he isn’t Tony Blair!
Also selected was a new European supremo for foreign affairs. This post goes to a Briton who has two names. In the UK, because we are meant to tug our forelocks, she’s Baroness Ashton. In Europe she’s plain Catherine Ashton, I think at last night’s press conference she was even called Cathy – but she is Lady Catherine to the likes of me.
Now I doubt if many people in the UK have ever heard of Baroness Ashton. She has never been elected to public office but apparently as one of our Commissioners in Europe has made a name for herself handling the trade portfolio. Britain’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, hailed her appointment at his press conference saying this proved the UK was at the heart of Europe and argued that Britons would be delighted and proud she’d attained the position. As I write news of pending street parties in celebration has yet to reach me.
Ok – so Europe now has a president – Herman Van Rompuy. But hang on – there’s another president too. Let us not forget Durao Barroso from Portugal, who has been president of the European Commission and continues in that role. It is also probably fair to say he is wider known in Europe and internationally than Rompuy and certainly more so than the Baroness.
So that’s two then. Well yes and no. Every six months a member state holds the presidency of the European Union. Currently it is Sweden – in January it is my adopted home of Spain. That means that José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero – the president of the Spanish Government but not the country because Spain is a monarchy – will oversee the affairs of the EU. Now if Spain has the presidency surely that means that Zapatero in some form or other is a president too. So that makes three.
It was Henry Kissinger who said – when you want to contact Europe who do you call? It’s quite simple Henry – the president. And if you can’t get one, you can always try the other two.