A Complete Failure in Brussels
The European Commission, which likes to proudly present itself as keeper of the Holy Grail, in the form of the European treaties, and which sees itself as the core of the political project of the century, has been completely out of commission when it comes to crisis management. First, it remained silent in order not to endanger the re-election of its president, Jose Manuel Barroso. And once he was confirmed in office after a protracted stalemate, he had suffered so many indignities that leaders in the important European capitals no longer took him seriously.
In addition, the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, the successor document to the failed European constitution, put the European Parliament -- previously a talking shop without much power -- onto a largely equal footing with the Commission. The parliament and the European Council, which comprises the heads of state or government of the 27 EU members, have suddenly become the poles of power in Brussels, says Professor Jörg Monar of the College of Europe, a university known for grooming future eurocrats. The European Commission, he says, "is getting increasingly crushed" between the two.
Breakfast on Mondays
Former Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy so far hasn't done anything to change the state of malaise in Brussels. He was chosen as the first permanent president of the European Council and was supposed to lend more European solidarity to the summits of national EU leaders. That effort went pretty much awry. "Van Rompuy was travelling in Asia as the crisis summit was being held in Brussels," scoffed the CSU's Ferber, adding that European Commission President Barroso was "busy with the EU-Latin American summit."
Now the impotent want to regroup. Van Rompuy has announced the creation of "some crisis cabinet" that would quickly bring together "the main players and the main institutions." It would include Jean-Claude Trichet, the president of the European Central Bank, European Commission President Barroso and, naturally, Van Rompuy himself. "That's hilarious," one government adviser in Berlin said in response to the proposal. And inside the Elysee Palace, Sarkozy's official residence, people were "laughing out loud," according to insiders.
Barroso and Van Rompuy have since scaled back their ambitious plan a bit. They are now meeting for breakfast every Monday.
Hans-Jürgen Schlamp is DER SPIEGEL's Brussels correspondent.
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