Who will be the EU's first 'George Washington'?
On Nov. 19, European leaders are set to select the first president of the 27-member bloc to serve a renewable 2-1/2 year term. Here is a list of potential candidates for Europe’s new top spot.
Jean-Claude Juncker: A staunch Europhile and longstanding prime minister of Luxembourg, Juncker is a popular candidate for the top EU job. The exceptionally eloquent Eurogroup president has the active support of both the Netherlands and Belgium.
However, his reaction to the global financial crisis was considered timid and lukewarm by some, and his candidacy is further tainted by his country’s opaque bank confidentiality policies.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga: Dubbed “the Iron Lady of the East,” the 71-year-old former Latvian president (1999-2007) is a respected figure in the European Union. She is considered a moral authority in a country riddled by corruption. “Her personal history […] incarnates the reconciliation of the people of Europe," wrote renowned French politician and feminist Simone Veil in a column in leading French daily Le Figaro mid-November, hailing her intellectual and moral qualities.Vike-Freiberga’s exceptional life story mirrors some of the most dramatic moments in the continent’s history. Born in 1937 in Riga, Latvia, she was 11 when her parents escaped the 1944 Soviet occupation for post-war Germany, where they lived in a refugee camp. The family then moved to Morocco before moving to Canada, where she graduated and launched a highly successful scientific career. In 1998, she returned to her native land. Renowned - and dreaded - for her frank speech, Vike-Freiberga compared the way business is conducted in the EU to the way things were done in the former Soviet Union in an interview with the Spanish daily El Mundo on November 12.
Tony Blair: Eloquent, charismatic and well-known on the international stage, the former British prime minister was initially considered the ideal candidate to represent the EU in the international community. But, since the last EU summit in Brussels in October, Blair’s candidacy is dead and buried. His proximity to former US President George W. Bush and his support for the Iraq war are now considered to be major handicaps. His candidacy has been further compromised by the fact that his country is neither a member of the Eurozone nor of Europe's 25 nation passport-free Schengen zone.
Herman Van Rompuy: Belgium’s social-democratic prime minister is one of the frontrunners for the post. According to several media reports, Paris and Berlin have chosen to endorse his candidacy, which the 62-year old economist has not actually made official yet, nor even publicly mentioned as a possibility. Van Rompuy’s collaborators describe him as hard-working and discreet, and a skillful negotiator. He succeeded in pacifying his deeply divided countrymen within one year of arriving in office. His success has not gone unnoticed in Brussels, although he is not particularly well-known for his pro-Europe stance. Critics describe him as calculating, cynical and inflexible. “He can kill off his rivals without leaving any fingerprints,” a former Christian Democrat party leader said.
mas Hendrik-Ilves: President of Estonia since 2006, the 55-year-old Christian Democrat officially submitted his candidacy for president or foreign policy chief. Hendrik-Ilves returned to his native Estonia to begin a diplomatic career just months before the fall of the Berlin Wall. He was named foreign minister just three years later, in 1996. A fervent European, Hendrik-Ilves actively campaigned for his country’s EU membership in 2004. He was elected vice-president of the EU foreign affairs commission that very year, but left the post when he was became prime minister of his country. He claims that “Estonia must be one of Europe’s idea builders.”
Paavo Tapio Lipponen: The former Finnish prime minister has a very strong knowledge of European affairs. He wrote an op-ed piece in the Financial Times last October on the institutional future of the European Union – a move widely interpreted as an indirect submission of his candidacy for president. The 68-year-old socialist is viewed by some as a good compromise candidate, but his somewhat lacking presence on the international scene is a sizeable handicap.