Socialist, conservative or liberal. Male or female. Northerner, easterner. Monetary hawk or dove. Striking a balance for the EU’s top jobs seems an almost impossible task for the bloc’s leaders, even without the gamesmanship some are using to conceal their true objectives. Now they can add Donald Trump’s view to their unmanageable list of criteria after the US president lashed out at Margrethe Vestager, one of the contenders for the European Commission presidency, as someone who “hates” America.
The EU needs new presidents for the commission, European Council and European Central Bank, the European Parliament and must appoint a new foreign policy chief. The parliament meets for its opening session on Tuesday, so the bloc’s leaders will rush back to Brussels on Sunday for another late-night summit to break the log-jam.
The EU’s difficulties in filling top posts is another sign of its dysfunctionality after a decade of crises. It speaks to the erosion of trust between capitals that has made compromise harder to reach. Vital though these appointments are, Europe needs to focus on bigger problems: steering a way through Mr Trump’s trade wars, bolstering the eurozone, protecting the rule of law and meeting ambitious targets for carbon emissions.
Under its treaties, the EU is supposed to respect the “geographical and demographic diversity” with its commission, council and foreign policy appointments. This should not mean discarding the most qualified and talented candidates for the role on the basis that they do not tick the right box. The EU’s most senior officials are supposed to represent European not narrow national or party political interests. Effectiveness in the job will do more for the legitimacy of the EU project than the lettering on a passport.
In that spirit, this newspaper has selected its dream team for these posts to show what Europe could be missing. Ms Vestager would make an excellent commission boss. As Europe’s antitrust enforcer she has held US tech companies to account but also stood up to Paris and Berlin to protect the interests of European consumers. The Dane has integrity, guts, flair and a modern, strategic vision. She would make Europe a regulatory superpower but not a protectionist one. And never mind Mr Trump.
Finland’s Erkki Liikanen may lack the monetary imagination and technical grasp of France’s Benoît Cœuré. But he would probably make a better ECB president, arguably the most important job of them all. He stood squarely with Mario Draghi on the ECB’s embrace of unconventional monetary policy. He has the political experience and leadership skills to sell ECB policy to sceptical northern Europeans.
Germany’s Angela Merkel has repeatedly ruled out taking over as president of the European Council. She should be persuaded. The German chancellor commands the respect of her fellow leaders and is a global figure. She is a champion of the rules-based international order that the EU must repair and protect. She has patience and resilience. She has kept the EU moving forward in testing times. She remains popular at home. Somebody needs to convince Germans they have most to lose if the euro or EU falters.
Lastly, as one of Europe’s pre-eminent international public servants, Kristalina Georgieva, the Bulgarian number two at the World Bank, would make a skilled foreign policy chief.
Too Nordic, no French, no southerners. It is easy to quibble with this line up. But there are other senior jobs that need to be filled. And Europe needs a dream.