The current speculation about the next President of the European Commission may well affect me personally, since I’d really like to get a job on the inside come the autumn.
I hope it’s Peter Sutherland, who is today’s focus of gossip. I met him once or twice in my junior Anglo-Irish politics days around 1990, and despite the massive regard in which he was even then held by the great and the good he still seemed like a fairly nice guy.
This morning I had a meeting with one of the new European Commisioners, Janez Potočnik. I’d bumped into him a couple of times in his previous job, as chief negotiator for Slovenia, and he’s been given responsibility (in the six months between joining the EU on 1 May and a whole new set of 25 Commissioners taking office on 1 November) for among other things the EU policy towards the countries on its periphery. I gave him the highlights of my trip to Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan last month, and he drank in every word hungrily.
With any luck Potočnik will be re-appointed to the new Commission that starts in November. At 46 he must be the youngest of the current European Commission; he is bright and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind to us. And if he ends up with a portfolio that I am interested in, I think it would be fun to work with him; he has a sense of humour. So we’ll see what happens.
So we’ll see. Probably there will be one Commissioner for the Western Balkans, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey and northern Cyprus, which probably won’t be Potočnik because he’s from that part of the world; and I must have a fairly good shot at landing a senior job with that person given my experience.
But there might be a specific Commissioner with responsibility for the “European Neighbourhood”, ie the countries from Ukraine through to Morocco, which might well be Potočnik given that’s what he’s doing now. And though I’ve been working on the Balkans now for seven and a half years, I am really attracted, not so much by Moldova and the Caucasus which I have been working on more recently, but by North Africa which I think is the crucial area for European stability (or instability) in the years to come.
Anyway all will depend on decisions taken by the next President of the European Commission, which takes me back to Peter Sutherland. The one thing that counts against him is that Ireland is not in the Schengen border agreement. Well, we’ll see how insistent the French are on that point. It surprises many of my Brussels friends to learn that Ireland uses the euro as currency (mind you, even fewer are aware that Kosovo and Montenegro also use it). It surprises many of my British friends to learn that although English is the native language of only 1.5% of the population of the euro zone, it is nonetheless the only official language of the European Central Bank.
I’m going to Paris for a couple of work meetings on Friday. My colleague who I’m going with cannot speak French to save his life. I more or less can. I may find myself transitioning from being his boss to being his translator…