Saturday 31 October 2009

Will Tarja Halonen become European Council President?

While other sources still search the European Council President on the male side of life, let's follow Jerzy Buzek's proposal and look again at the feminine Europe.

She is number 68 on the Forbes list of the most powerful women in the world, but she is hardly known to a wider public.

Having held three different ministerial posts from 1987-91, being minister for foreign affairs from 1995-2000 (including the Finnish EU Council Presidency in 1999) and being president of Finland since 2000 (including the Finnish EU-Council Presidency in 2006), she has more national and European executive experience than any other women on the continent.

She is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders (CWWL) and was convenor of the International Women Colloquium on Women's Empowerment earlier this year where she became the new president of the CWWL - following Mary Robinson...

So Harja Talonen is a powerful woman with a lot of high level experience and excellent international contacts. She comes from a northern European state and she is a Social Democrat who managed to be in office without creating noise around the continent, which speaks in favour of more diplomatic qualities.

If you add these together, she would not only qualify for the job of European Council President who will need to moderate between the EU's heads of state and government, she also unites a number of demographic and political properties (female, from the north, social democrat) that could well fit the complex equilibrium of the post distribution that we are going to see due to this special declaration to the Lisbon Treaty.

So my bets are on Ms Halonen - and if she won't become European Council President, her profile also fits the Foreign Minister post...

Update: Read also eurosocialist's article "Woman @ EU top: let’s enter the 21st century now!"


nilleren said...

interesting and insightful as always, thanks

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

People in the Finnish MFA say Halonen's hanging around in corridors at EU summits can faintly embarrassing. The updated Finnish constitution (2000 IIRC) was a bit of a mess that left it not really clear as to who led foreign policy PM or Pres. President Halonen would often go along despite not having a particularly clear role whilst ministers or PM was in the negotiations. So her EU experience from being president isn't what say a French person might expect. The Finnish president isn't quite like the German president (bonus points for anyone who can remember his name!) but isn't the French pres either.

Halonen is from the left of the SDP, neutralist and not atlanticist by inclination. She was very suspicious of CFSP and ESDP at the start - minimising them publicly. This is all to do with the Finnish neutral tradition. I'm not certain but she might not have even been particularly pro-joining the EU in the first place, in the way that some of the leftwing in both Sweden and Finland were not.

She is the type of politician who will insist that the Finnish troops in Afghanistan are peacekeeping, and then ignore questions along the lines of "if that is so, why do people keep shooting at them and blowing them up with IEDs?" That doesn't fit well into her narrative of Finland's place in the world.

I find this troubling in that she talks a good talk on universal human rights but then supports a foreign policy that suggests an unwillingness to do much in support of them outside of Finland.

Without a doubt she is dedicated to third world development and international social justice in that sense - along with all the progressive ideals domestically that I support, but I don't think much of her foreign policy thinking.

FWIW, she speaks English a hell of lot better than I speak Finnish, but she isn't the best English speaker in the Finnish top ranks by a long way, and I don't think she speaks French at all which I know can matter in these races!

Julien Frisch said...

@ Toby

Thanks for writing this comprehensive comment, that is much appreciated!

Eurosocialiste said...

In theory, yes she's a great candidate but why the heck would we want a social-democrat at the head of the European council while 2/3d of European governments are right-wing? That would be a political suicide for the PES. I'd put my bet on Vaira Vike-Freiberga.
PS: thanks for linking to my blogpost!

Julien Frisch said...

My theory - heads of state and government create a weak European Council President and give it to a socialist. EPP gets strong High Representative (who is also Commission Vice-President) in return.

I am just confused by the Van Rompuy rumours...