A battle is brewing for control of the European Union. At stake, according to some, is the very future direction of the organization.
Pending final approval by the Czech Republic, the last EU member still to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, the European Union will have a full-time president. The post will have some real powers, similar to those possessed by the head of government. But equally importantly, the new president will essentially operate as head of state, the symbolic figurehead of the European Union. The choice of who will occupy that position therefore is therefore important.
Until recently, former British Prime Minster Tony Blair appeared to be the undisputed frontrunner. Blair is a widely known figure who enjoys strong support by the British government, has close ties to the United States, and could operate effectively in an international context.
But the United Kingdom has traditionally been one of the more Euroskeptic members of the European Union. In addition, his friendship with former U.S. President George W. Bush, his support for the Iraq War, and his close ties to the United States undermine support for his candidacy among some EU members. Belgium and Luxembourg have already indicated that they would not support a Blair presidency; France and Germany have withheld their assessment for now.
In this context, Jean-Claude Juncker, Prime Minister of Luxembourg, has thrown his hat into the ring. Junker is seen to be much more pro-Europe. But this could also be his downfall, as some of the EU member states may not want a president who pushes too hard for further integration. The United Kingdom would likely veto his presidency. Indeed, this may be his very plan; to advance his own candidacy as a way of sinking Blair’s, allowing a third (compromise) candidate to come to the fore.
The politics of choosing a new EU president will be interesting to watch over the next several months. If nothing else, the battle over who will become the EU’s first full-time president exposes some key divisions within the EU.