I previously briefed you on the machinations behind the scramble for EU Top Jobs and the close relationship between Foreign Policy and Physics.

The dramatic result?

Not very exciting.

Belgium’s Herman Van Rompuy is chosen as president of the European Council and the UK’s Catherine Ashton becomes the EU High Represenative (aka foreign policy chief). An elegant score-draw between those preferring people with only one wobbly bit at the front, and those demanding more top jobs for people with two.

The modest good news about Baroness Ashton’s appointment is that someone has to disappear into the morass of EU procedures and try to set up the new EU External Action Service along minimally competent and unwasteful lines.

Far too much of the current EU machinery is dominated by poor communication, ponderous procedures and petty empire-building. Brits tend to want to get on with doing a solid unwasteful job; if the EAS is ever to be significant and efficient, some sturdy UK common sense applied to its workings from the very start will be valuable.

How did the UK really do in all this?

Could this be a typical Brown manoeuvre? Cleverly executed but basically unwise?

The UK looks to have played a deft EU negotiating hand, stubbornly keeping Tony Blair in play as a potential candidate for the top job despite firm opposition from other capitals, then with pseudo-magnanimity trading in that demand to get something else, viz the appointment of Baroness Ashton as HiRep.

Nicely done, no doubt. But do UK plc really gain by having someone with no real foreign policy experience in that job, if that opens the way to others getting top EU economic portfolios?

Some pro-EU experts are doing their best to talk up the choices. My Polish friend Adam Jasser:

In some way the EU craving for star quality leaders was like trying to cover the lack of substance with appearances. Whether Europe will be treated seriously or not by the outside world depends on its ability to speak with one voice and get its priorities sorted out. If it happens,  Presidents Hu-Jintao, Medvedev and Obama will come to respect van Rompuy and Ashton pretty soon and the world will learn their names.

But if the EU remains divided, confused and stuck in denial about the changing world, no star qualities of any leader, even those of Tony Blair, will save it from real irrelevance.

Another reported view has it that Baroness Ashton will be a first-rate disaster.


There is no chance of the EU ‘speaking with one voice’ with these appointments.

Squeaking with one voice, perhaps.

It is not the words which count, but the authority, strength and sense of purpose of the speaker.

And since Europe’s leaders have chosen people who are so vastly non-threatening to their own self-esteem, the key European voices with authority and sense of purpose will remain those in national capitals.

A point no doubt not lost on the UK Conservatives as they mull over how best to assert a clear UK voice for the better.