The title of this post ascribes the attack to France, which may or may not be fair, since Francois Fillon and Nicholas Sarkozy are not the same person, and neither is fully analogous with the country they lead. But what has come out of Paris, apparently from government insiders, is undoubtedly an attack.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
If the French government really wanted to support Jose Manuel Barroso's re-appointment as President of the European Commission, it could have been lobbying in the European Parliament and national capitals. Or it could have kept quiet and let the likeliest outcome of the debate in the European Parliament just happen. But no. This clever piece of political manoeuvering has suddenly given all those MEPs to the right of centre who were going to vote for Barroso a priceless excuse not to: a potentially better candidate is just waiting for the nod. Even better, it gives those on the left the perfect opportunity to score a political victory against the right by succeeding in rejecting the Member States' centre-right nominee, just weeks after European elections that were such a calamitous blow for the social democratic family across the continent.
Who stands to lose from a rejection of Barroso (apart from Barroso himself)? Only those on the right who really do like Barroso, and an as-yet undefined group across the political spectrum who have existing or potential objections to Fillon. But with Fillon's distinct lack of international profile, it is possible that he will fail to attract much hardened opposition.
There is also good reason to believe (hap-tip to Charlemagne and Jon Worth) that such an outcome would represent a new landmark moment for the European Parliament in its inorexable rise, and a commensurate defeat for the Member State governments who have nominated Fillon. For me, this is the only significant question mark over the cleverness of the French ploy, since a precedent will have been set that will make it easier in the future for the European Parliament to reject France's own nominees to the Commission By implication in the more distant future, it could also jeopardise France's and other Member States' preferences for other key EU positions, institutional arrangements, and other political stakes.
The other question mark for me is not about the cleverness of the ploy, but about the suitablity of the candidate himself. If he has been unable to step out from the shadow of his President as Prime Minister, what are the prospects for his ability to rise above national governments' lobbying as President of the Commission?