The Italian Romano Prodi will physically abandon his office as President of the European Commission in November, even if he has already been keeping a sharp eye on Italian internal politics for some time now. He will be the last to leave the ship after the exodus of Diamantopoulos, Solbes, Barnier and Cie, and the expected resignations of Commissioners wanting to participate in the European elections to take place from 10th to 13th June. The next president will take the reins of an institution which, more than ever, seems to act as secretary to the member states. The new Commission will have to resuscitate the European spirit it embodies and, to get things off on the right foot, it will take over on November 1st, All Saints Day.
‘I don’t know who my successor will be. I only know that this job was unknown before io arrived and today a great many people are interested’ the Italian has stated, thus belittling the work of Jacques Delors and Santer. The Prodi Commission actually demonstrated that it would offer flexible jobs, subject to personal interests which would not prevent involvement in national politics. That particular honey pot is bound to attract a good number of bees.
Prodi’s successor will be chosen from among them at the Brussels summit on 17th and 18th June and the European institutions’ unwritten rules lead them to favour the nomination of a Northern conservative. Chris Patten, former Chairman of the British Conservative Party and current Foreign Affairs Commissioner for the Union, is in pole position. He has significant support: Valery Giscard d’Estaing has declared that ‘he has the talent, the convictions and the political position to make a good president’.
The conservative Austrian Prime Minister, Wolfgang Schussel, his Belgian counterpart, the Liberal Guy Verhofstadt, and the Luxembourg Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker (whose application is weaker since he would prefer to stand in the national elections) would also appear to correspond to this profile of a conservative man from the cold north.
Sex doesn’t come into it
So, European equality is tied to ideology and nationality but it seems for the moment that sex is not taken into account. The European Popular Party (EPP) has chosen Loyola de Palacio as one of the candidates it will support for the presidency - one woman among a group of men. The obsession with alternation and European consensus could therefore include Loyola de Palacio’s femininity in the masculine history of the European Commission. However, the defeat of the Aznar government has made this possibility recede.
The next president of the European Commission will inevitably be a Northern conservative man. Women will remain outside the Commission’s door. The race of the macho men from the North to Brussels has got off to a good start. But this surge forward will also make them skedaddle at the first call of national parties, just like Solbes, Barnier and the others.