Friday, 29 January 2010

Update on the EU's "Visibility"

The Times has now started bashing Ashton for her failure to fly the European flag in devastated Port-au-Prince. It's strange to see a newspaper such as the Times - one generally sceptical towards all things European and which seems to doubt the usefulness of European initiatives - effectively supporting a vanity trip for the EU. While it is good to fly the flag, it's vastly more important to get things done, which in Ashton's case means organising good co-ordination.

Despite the attacks on Ashton's style, I have to say that I haven't heard/read a similar attack on her co-ordination efforts. There's probably more that can be done in this area, but if Ashton's opposition can't back up their criticism with evidence - or even claims - of effective policy failure, then it's just hot air.

Watching Ashton briefing the EP on Haiti, I was struck by how the government-opposition roles were reversed. The EPP is normally in government mode (it is, after all, the largest party, and controls the Commission - perhaps even forcing Barroso to lending more public backing to Jeleva then he wanted to). Yet here the S&D group was playing the role of the governing party: Michael Cashman gave a particularly vocal defence of Ashton while strongly attacking other parties (translation: EPP) for "political point scoring".

Which raises the question: was lobbying for such a high profile post politically wise?

The EPP is very much in power at the moment; it's the strongest in the EP and controls the Council and Commission. But while the S&D group has largely started to play a more natural (if sometimes grandstanding) opposition role, Ashton's prominence makes it harder to claim that they have nothing to do with the current Commission. On one hand, the S&D are making the best of an awkward hand - the state-centredness of the Commission means that unless the centre-left aren't in power in any member state, they will have at least one Commissioner. Nevertheless the S&D have strongly looked for some governmental power, and it's not completely free to play the constructive oppositional politics it needs to if it wants to have any hope of making an impact.

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