As the unseemly scramble to get the top posts in the EU is now in full swing, it’s a good time to reflect on the way people end up with the portfolios on offer, writes Tim McNamara.
Like a medieval marriage fayre, doting parents (member states) jostle and hassle to get their precious offspring the most eligible partner they can aspire to. The richer and more influential parents, with an in-built sense of entitlement, cast envious eyes at each other trying to ensure that there is a parity of esteem when the music stops.
Some may exhibit delusional behaviour; shooting for the sky but acting in a quixotic way and ending up tilting at windmills. Sorry you can’t have the ravishing single market portfolio but have you considered the disciplinarian Customs and indirect tax brief?
As perfectly illustrated in the Danish TV series Borgen, everybody fears being left sitting whilst the last dance begins. It normally means that the only portfolio on offer is the one nobody else wants (multilingualism?). It’s reminiscent of being back at school and the two best footballers are picking their teams and the only one left is the short-sighted dyspraxic who has a slight limp.
With Jean-Claude Juncker acting as a wise old Mama San, he will be the focus of special pleading as to who is most suitable to particular roles. Of course, those who wield the power in such places will remain discreetly in the background ensuring their ‘special needs‘ are catered for.
Mama San will no doubt be bombarded by the equivalent of dating agencies as they polish the personal ads of their favourites. Virtues will be played up whilst vices will remain hidden (for now?). The Berlaymont bordello will no doubt end up with a mixed bag of abilities and interests that should be designed to cater for most tastes (in a political sense, of course).
It is also true that some may be trying to dodge what they might be matched with. For example some are just hard work with little reward e.g administration. Others might consider that a particular policy area would be a nightmare, e.g. immigration. Like ugly sisters at the ball, hope springs eternal.
Could a “mature erudite English gentleman from Yorkshire, bald, with a good sense of humour and who likes travel”, be an eligible candidate for one of the more attractive of portfolios at Junckers disposal?
Of course one or two of Juncker’s future partners are already known. “Steady, reliable, consistent, German, bachelor strives for energetic role” seems a cinderella-like shoe-in for an attractive role.
Others may not want to be perceived as one of 28 co-habitees and prefer a more monogamous relationship. “Statuesque, blonde, Scandinavian with a penchant for ‘selfies’ desires dominant role with stable of clients”? Or could “Suave, Polish, Oxford-educated diplomat, ex-journalist with an interest in expensive furniture” be a candidate for the same role.
There is also the position of Head of the EU’s External Action service. Could it be that the leaders of the member states will be beguiled by a “Strawberry blonde Italian, discreet,with experience of affairs abroad”? The President of the parliament? “ Tall German man, hairsuite, bear, bibliophile, likes football, has well-appointed apartment in Brussels.
In the interests of transparency, maybe all of the candidates for Commission posts should post a personal ad?
Tim McNamara is head of the Peercourt consultancy firm. He was previously political editor at the European Commission.