This year’s edition of Brussels Forum, hosted three interesting speakers: EEAS’s Lady Ashton, Council’s Mr Van Rompuy and NATO’s Rasmussen. All three of them will step down from their positions this year, which inspires for a reflection about their key challenges, successes and failures over the past years.
Since Van Rompuy became a President of the Council five years ago, we have seen a transformation of the Council into one of the most important EU institutions. A little joke made by President Van Rompuy during Brussels Forum actually contains a bit of truth about why the Council became so influential: “I took this job now almost five years ago, and some are saying that the European Council became the most important institution in the European Union. There are two reasons for this. I don’t know if it is true, but there are two reasons. The first reason, of course, is they had a brilliant President of the Council. The second reason is that we had a crisis, and a crisis helps a lot to put people together. We can’t have a meeting with the 28 leaders and then after the meeting I had to confront the president, say we had an excellent meeting, but we just didn’t agree on anything. That’s impossible. We had to agree. We had to converge. We had to take decisions otherwise we were punished by the markets the day after.”
Lady Ashton also presented a few reflections about her achievements: “(…) success for me is about making sure there’s a second high representative, which there will be. And I said that for my time in office, there were three things that mattered. One, I had to build a service because when I started, we had lots of fabulous people, but they were scattered in eight buildings in Brussels and across the world doing things that were not what we do now. We now have 140 delegations that are EU operating across the world who are a real network of impressive people who can deliver the range of what the EU does”.
Indeed, it must have been a difficult job to create this machine, one which requires a skilful diplomat and negotiator, which Lady Ashton is. However, while the first part of the work has been done – creating a network of delegations around the world – it will be interesting to observe how this peculiar machine will develop under new leadership.
Strong words came from NATO Secretary General Rasmussen, who will be leaving his position this year but, according to the Brussels rumour mill, might remain in town in a different role. Rasmussen said “We cannot continue to disarm while the rest of the world is re-arming and some are rattling their arms on our borders. NATO’s greatest responsibility is to protect and defend our populations and our territories. To do that we must insure that we have the full range of capabilities to deter and defend against any threat. To back off diplomatic softpower with military hard power. Now we need real power.” Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg has just been announced as his successor and while congratulations to the new Secretary General are flowing in and the excitement around this new appointment is still high, it will be interesting to observe if his rhetoric will stay as strong.
Three strong individuals will leave Brussels, however I am looking forward to seeing which opportunities this change will bring for Europe and NATO.