“She hasn’t got a hope,” I said when the first rumours started flying around that former Latvian president Vaira Vike-Freiberga might be coaxed out of retirement to stand for the presidency of the European Council.
I was very wrong. The odds of “VVF” landing the job of “Mrs EU” seem to be shortening by the hour. The reasons are several.
First, there’s the weakness of her rivals – or, one should say, her probable rivals. Most of them haven’t even had the balls to say they want the job for fear of looking stupid when they don’t get it. That shows what a lot of vainglorious political animals they must be. Not even the sole “celebrity” candidate, Mr Sincerity himself, Tony Blair, has officially said he would like to be the President. Such apparent modesty is of the false variety.
This points to how VVF’s campaign has really “gained traction” as the banal phrase has it. No, let’s put it in simple terms: this is why VVF’s candidacy does actually have a point.
“It should be made known to the public at large who is competing for the job and the governments should have a choice rather than having one single candidate presented to them. That seems to be an elementary aspect of democracy.” Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Nov 16.
In illustrating out how shabby the whole selection process is, St Vaira has shown she isn’t afraid to speak out against the very institutions the likes of Blair and Van Whassisname from That Place in The Low Countries are trying to snuggle up to, if she feels it is in their best interest.
She looks decent, as if she cares that the citizens of the continent should at least be given the courtesy of a being informed about who would like to represent them. She’s calling the EU’s bluff on all sorts of matters: whether it takes gender equality seriously, whether it values its newer members, whether the Lisbon treaty is really designed to improve democracy or merely make life easier for eurocrats.
“Somewhat more openness and transparency would be advisable, especially as this is the first time we are indulging in this exercise. It would have been a wonderful opportunity to open up the process and really answer to the needs of citizens. “
Perhaps this hasn’t all been a calculated master plan on her part. Maybe there is an element of hubris in her bid as there must be among all those coveting the historic role of Europe’s First President. Just think how many streets and convention centres you’d get named after you.
Estonia’s President Toomas Hendrik Ilves has also put his name forward, if somewhat cautiously, for both the presidential role and the foreign policy brief. He has more chance of the former than the latter, and little chance of that. He is just as qualified as VVF – perhaps even more so – but somehow his candidacy doesn’t seem to have picked up any steam. Maybe the rest of Europe doesn’t “get” his penchant for bow ties, but more likely the rest of Europe thinks complicating ties with Russia is more bother than he’s worth.
There’s an element of right person, right time that seems to rule Ilves out but rules VVF in. It’s remarkable that no-one had given much thought to how the European president would actually be selected, but that’s what’s happened and the impression is that it’s all being worked out on the back of Frederik Reinfeldt’s fag packet.
Regardless of her ultimate motivation, VVF is playing the modest hand she was dealt with the skill of a Mississippi riverboat card sharp. Who’s to say she can’t keep doubling up and hit the jackpot, particularly when most of her rivals seem to think they are playing Snap rather than Brussels Hold ‘Em?
As one journalist put it at today’s joint press conference of VVF and PM Valdis Dombrovskis, the fact that El Presidente is apparently going to be picked over dinner in Brussels amounts to “a slap in the face for democracy” though it admittedly makes a change from light jazz as an accompaniment to the crudites.
If no decision is forthcoming by the time the EU bigwigs reach for the cheese and biscuits, perhaps an impromptu game of “pass the parcel” could decide the matter?