Dutch prime minister 'actively lobbying' for top EU job

Jan Peter Balkenende.   Photo Roel Rozenburg

Jan Peter Balkenende.  Photo Roel Rozenburg

Published: 6 November 2009 16:21 | Changed: 11 November 2009 10:32

By Jeroen van der Kris in Brussels

Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende is actively lobbying for his appointment as the first 'president' of the European Union, Polish ambassador to the EU Jan Tombinski told NRC Handelsblad.

According to Tombinski, Balkenende is not personally involved, but members of his staff "are promoting his person to the post" in several European capitals.

Balkenende has denied rumours that he wants the job. "Nonsense," he said on Thursday in response to a question by a reporter whether his mind is already in Brussels. Balkenende earlier denied to the Dutch parliament that he is a candidate for the job of EU president, a position created by the Lisbon Treaty.

Van Rompuy: 'excellent chance'

Balkenende has been named as a possible candidate in diplomatic circles, but recently the Belgian prime minister Herman Van Rompuy has appeared as a serious competitor.

"If you've been around Brussels as a prime minister for a while you risk to have also enemies," Tombinski said. "Van Rompuy is a new face. He didn't have a chance to be in a conflicting situation with colleagues. And the man with the fewest enemies gets the job."

Meanwhile, Belgian politicians have stopped being coy about their prime minister's ambitions. Yves Leterme, the Belgian foreign minister, said Thursday Van Rompuy "has an excellent chance".

Miliband for EU foreign minister?

The new EU president will replace the current system of alternating the EU presidency between member states every six months. It is one of a number of top appointments which have to be filled in the coming weeks. Another new top job that needs to be filled is that of High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, often referred to as the EU foreign minister.

Everybody agrees that the High Representative and the EU president have to come from different political families. And since the High Representative will also be the vice-president of the European Commission, Barroso needs to know who will get the job before he can fill in the rest of the puzzle.

A much heard name for EU foreign minister is David Miliband, the British foreign minister. If that is the case, the French will want an equally important financial portfolio in the Commission.

More women please

José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, also needs to fill his cabinet, and he is looking for more women. Each of the 27 EU member states has a right to name one Commissioner, and Barosso only has three women so far. The outgoing Commission has eight women. In a letter to the EU heads of government Barroso asked them to "share the responsibility" of making sure that the new Commission will have enough women Commissioners.

Barroso's job is difficult enough without the representation of women. The member states can name their own Commissioners, but it is up to Barroso to decide which portfolio they will get. Many countries want an important financial or economic portfolio, especially France, Britain, Germany and Poland. The Netherlands got one of the top jobs last time around with Nellie Kroes on Competition, so they will have to settle for less this time, is the word in Brussels. Barroso can't please everybody all the time.

And some social democrats too

Most countries have already named their Commissioners, and those that haven't are hoping for one of the top jobs. Sweden, like Britain, has not named a Commissioner yet because its foreign minister, Carl Bildt, is hoping to get the job of High Representative. The Netherlands is also keeping its options open as long as Balkenende is still in the running for EU president.

Barroso is also looking for liberals and social democrats. He already has plenty of Christian democrats, because they are in power in many EU countries right now. But Barroso also needs the European parliament to approve his new Commission, and he needs the liberals and social democrats for that.

The Netherlands could increase its chances of getting an attractive portfolio by putting forward a woman and a social democrat. But the names circulating in The Hague are mostly Christian democrats: ministers Ernst Hirsh Ballin and Maria van der Hoeven, former ministers Cees Veerman and Yvonne van Rooy. Only if Balkenende becomes EU president do social democrats enter the picture. Deputy minister for European Affairs Frans Timmermans is interested, and so is deputy justice minister Nebahat Albayrak.