A warning note for the next European Commission president
by our secret columnist in Brussels
Jobseekers beware – do not apply to be the next president of the European Commission. The money and the pension are good, but you will regret you ever became involved – warns our secret columnist Schadenfreude
First, all of the presidents and prime ministers of the 27 (nearly 28) member states want to take your measure. They have different ideas about what they want and the last thing they want from you is new ideas or independence of mind. They will try to extract from you pledges about what you will do for them. Worse still, once you are nominated you have to be confirmed by the European Parliament. You have to appear before MEPs and set out your policy - long before you have the slightest idea of what the upcoming problems will be. And it is not enough for you to put up a good show. The European Commission is approved as a slate so if any of the national nominees make a hash, you are all out.
This is only the beginning. When your appointment is confirmed you will be lobbied insistently by every member state demanding that its nominee- however obscure a figure – should get one of the key jobs and not one of the makeweights. You cannot please all of them and so you start with grudges against you. And its gets no better. When you tell your new colleagues how you propose to distribute the portfolios skin and hair will fly. Their foreign ministers will be on to you demanding to know why you are underrating their nominee.
Suppose you patch up a settlement and get down to work. You now have a collection of prima donnas of different political doctrines and cultures, all put up by their home governments to get some programme going - preferably with financial reward. Every time something is conceded, others have to be paid off. You have no authority. You spend your time putting together temporary alliances. To complicate your life, you have a vice-president – there is a separate squabble about who get that title – who is also a high representative on the European Council side. The person in this position claims to have inside knowledge of what the member states will bear. Commission meetings would strain the patience of a saint.
Very soon, you will have trouble with the staff. Their conditions of service are in a 'statute' at which the member states nibble because they say it costs too much. When staff unions think that their privileges are being eroded, they go to court. They do not talk about" working to rule" – how else do they work? You are the scapegoat. It is not much better when you attend meetings of the council. They are heads of state and government. You are a paid employee. Their chairman gives the press conference while you look on, gritting your teeth as you join in the celebration of success. It looks like you have no friends left. You had your own political career. Now cultivate your garden