The presidency stakes

The Economist
October 8, 2009

A PARISH council would not choose a chairman before his role and powers had been agreed. A corner shop would not select two bosses without deciding which carried more clout. Not so the European Union, which is preparing to choose two new bosses without any final agreement on the sort of person who should run the club.

At a summit at the end of this month (or, just possibly, in December if the Czech president still has not signed the Lisbon treaty) 27 national leaders will gather in Brussels and—after hours of coffee-fuelled, fluorescent-lit horse-trading—emerge with the name of the first permanent president of the European Council, a new post whose holder will chair summits and represent EU governments around the world. They should also choose a new foreign-policy high representative. Both choices are in theory made by majority vote. The pecking-order between the two posts will become clear only when they are filled. Lisbon sketches out the job of council president: the only guaranteed role is the rather dull one of chairing summits. The high rep’s job is described in detail and enjoys things that convey power in the EU: a big budget, lots of staff and a guaranteed seat in important meetings. Yet if the president is a big-hitter whose name opens doors in Beijing and Washington, he will surely overshadow his rival.