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You can always tell when leadership positions at the European Union are about to change hands. The first clue, is that no form of voting occurs. The second clue is that we the public are made privvy to a few muffled and anonymous whispers, and a blurry picture emerges of an elite game of chess taking place. This, after all, was how we came to acquire our beloved president, Mr Van Rompuy, and our vice president, Baroness Ashton.
The baroness’ political career it seems is not long for this world. For months now, the muffled whispers have been getting louder, amidst growing suspicion that the serial democracy evader is in fact rather crap at her job. So far, so Brussels. But then progress struck. The Belgian foreign minister – a member of an elected government – actually went on record and told us that she was crap at her job. And then the dam broke, and a whole swathe of foreign ministers came out and publicly told us that she was crap at her job. Not for a long time have we, the European public, felt so fussed over. Ok, so nobody was actually asking us what we thought, but at least some relatively important and accountable figures had taken a public position on the vice presidency.
Not much, but certainly a far cry from the process by which Ashton and Rompuy were apponted. Not only were there not elections – either involving the general public or our elected MEP’s. Nobody even told us who was standing – the candidacies for job remained a closely guarded secret. And so we the public were denied the right to even debate or discuss who ought to get the job. The reason given was that a prime minister who stood and lost would go back to his country looking like he wasn’t that keen to be PM after all – as though the avoidance of professional embarrassment mattered more than the public’s right to know about so important a matter. Such is the contempt amongst the European political class for the demos.
The power that Ashton and her foreign exec exercises on the world stage derives from us as citizens, and as producers and consumers. On a very basic level, she enjoys leverage not because she is a great diplomat but because Europe is one huge common market. Yet for now we will have to be content with being nothing more than observers, degradingly poking our noses into the little chess came that surrounds the future of Ashton and European foreign policy.
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