Stop Press: Buzek declares "a woman could and should" be EU President - La Treizième Étoile: A blog on EU politics
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Stop Press: Buzek declares "a woman could and should" be EU President

Friday, 30 October 2009
While the main media's converge today on yesterday's EU Summit in Brussels centred on the granting of an exception that the Czech president made a condition for signing the Lisbon Treaty and on the possible identity of the President of the European Council that would be created once it is in force, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek made his most telling remark on the role that seems not to have been picked up.

European Parliament President Jerzy BuzekBuried in a relatively long speech delivered before the Summit meeting, he made reference to the future post (of which Tony Blair is/was a forerunner) and said:

"As far as the position of the permanent European Council President is concerned, this person should be a 'chairman or chairwoman' rather than a President. At the same time it should be considered that a woman could and should occupy this position. Appointing a woman would send a positive signal".

This small paragraph is remarkable for two main reasons.

Firstly, Buzek's interpretation dispels the belief that the President will be the face and voice of Europe. Last week in an interview for Le Figaro, French President Nicolas Sarkozy (16 October) declared "there are two visions for the role of the permanent President of the European Council: the face and voice of Europe around the World or, as others have conceived, the President will ensure the smooth and efficient functioning of the European Council (...) In reality, we are looking for Mr. Right who will do both."

Buzek's words imply that he is looking just for the latter of those visions: that the President will be one to ensure the smooth and efficient continuation of the European machinery. This is not the job that Tony Blair would be interested in, and after all, his global clout would be no good if the post did not list being the face and voice of Europe in its job description (which is still largely undefined).

Secondly, Buzek's will to see a woman appointed essentially disregards all of those candidates that have already but their names (formally or informally) forward: the likes of Mr Blair, Jean-Claude Juncker, Jan-Peter Balkenende, Wolfgang Schüssel, Felipe Gonzalez, etc...

Vaira Vike-Freiberga (Photo: europa.eu)Instead it would strongly suggest that the preferred candidate for Buzek would be Vaira Vike-Freiberga (left), who at 71 years of age is a former Latvian President whose candidacy is being heavily encouraged lately by the neighbouring Lithuania.

But just who is Ms Vike-Freiberga? Well, she was the first female president of Latvia, a former Soviet republic that joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.

She is dubbed by many as the Iron Lady of Latvia and served as President of Latvia for eight years after being elected in 1999 and re-elected in 2003.

She was a staunch supporter of intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, which could cause divisions of opinion from the other states towards her candidacy, like we have already seen in the case of Mr Blair.

So what chance is there of a Latvian assuming the post that is to be created once the Czech Republic ratifies the Lisbon Treaty? Well, it would certainly come as a surprise. The big powers in Europe would naturally like their country to be represented, so to give the post to a country who only joined in 2004 and not one of the founders would cause a stir.

Latvia does not use the Euro as its currency (although it would like to), and its position and relationship with Russia could become important symbolic considerations should she be chosen for the post.

Set amongst the background of the other subjects addressed at the Summit it is surprising this small section of Mr Buzek's speech was not picked up by the big media outlets. José Manuel Barroso has also recently sent a rallying cry for more women to fill the top posts in the EU urging the national leaders to see "gender balance as a common goal and a shared responsibility".

So who are the front-runners in the race for EU Council President now?

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