Sunday 13 December 2009

Merkel's coup: Uwe Corsepius will become the next Secretary General of the EU Council

According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the German Uwe Corsepius will become the next Secretary General of the Council of the European Union.

Corsepius, who was mentioned as a candidate among others, has been confirmed by the heads of state and government at the European Council meeting on Friday, following agreements made on 19 November as Jean Quatremer knows. He will take over from Pierre de Boissieu in 1 1/2 years, as Angela Merkel informed at a press conference after the summit on Friday.

(UPDATE:) The formal approval of this decision was made on 22 December 2009 by the Council meeting (see the press release that uses parts of this blog post). According to this decision, Corsepius will serve as Secretary General from 26 June 2011 until 30 June 2015.

Economist Uwe Corsepius is 49 years old and is the head of the European Policy Division in the German Chancellery - he is thus the EU advisor of Angela Merkel and was, inter alia, responsible the for negotiations ahead of the Berlin Declaration during the German EU Council Presidency that led to the Lisbon Treaty. Jan Seifert wrote about him at the time as being one of the "sherpas" of Angela Merkel (here's a photo of him at the time).

On the website of the German politics and history channel Phoenix it is noted that he started his career in the Chancellery under Helmut Kohl and climbed up in the hierarchy under Gerhard Schröder. In 2005, Merkel made him head of the EU division in the Chancellery.

Three weeks ago, several German online news magazines published a short portrait (produced by DPA) about him, in which he is quoted with the words: "I am no visionary.", which would fit into the choices made with van Rompuy and Ashton, but which fits much better for the job he will have to do at the Council.

Actually, it seems that, according to several sources like EurActiv, Corsepius was also a possible candidate for Ashton's job, but didn't get it - probably for balance reasons as we know how Ashton was chosen. Therefore it is mentioned in the Frankfurter Rundschau that despite the choice of Corsepius for Council Secretary General, Merkel might still demand that a German becomes head of the European Central Bank - a clear sign that she is showing muscles after renouncing to get one of the three top posts (filled with Barroso, van Rompuy, and Ashton).

The amount of background information on Corsepius on the net is limited, but interesting to note is that Cecilia Malmström, Swedish Minster for EU Affairs and candidate for the next EU Commission, mentions Corsepius first in an a blog post about a visit to Berlin in April of this year. Usually he is described as "descrete", or as a person having relevant influence in German EU politics, for example preventing advancements in the negoations around the new anti-discrimination directive, as ZEIT online notices. In the Financial Times Germany, he is described as having a "boyish" face, with moments of "dash" behaviour. His only direct international experience, according to the FT, was his work at the IMF in the early 90s.

All in all, the choice of a national high level bureaucrat like Corsepius instead of an EU insider like de Boissieu is another clear indicator of the "Coup des Etats" I have criticised recently - member states are trying to secure their influence in the EU by the choice of personalities to counterbalance the new provisions of the Lisbon Treaty.

PS.: And if there are doubts, I'd just like to say that this choice is as bad as any other choice made by national leaders to secure their individual interests instead of promoting the good for all European citizens. These posts should be distributed according to merit, not according to geography and power considerations.

(Updated: 17 Dec 09; 12:30; 23 Dec 09 17:30)


Anonymous said...

The Corsepius appointment doesn't represent any change from that of de Boissieu. Before he got the deputy secretary general job ten years ago - which apart from the name was really little different to his new job - de Boissieu was no more an EU insider than Corsepius. OK he was physically based in Brussels, as France's permanent rep, but that's the only difference in terms of defending their respective national interests.

The real battle for national interests at stake now in the Council is who will replace Jean-Claude Piris as head of the legal service (he's been there since 1988). With the Commission equivalent out of French hands, how will France manoeuvre to keep the post.

Julien Frisch said...

First, thanks a lot for this interesting background information.

Second, I still think it is a difference whether you become SG after 10 years in the Council, having been in the Brussels environment even before (thus removed from Paris) or whether you enter directly from the Chancellery to the top of an EU organ.

But the legal service info is still very interesting!

Anonymous said...

De Boissieu has already been Secretary General in all but name for the past ten years. Solana, formally the Secretary General, was running round the world doing the high rep job, not running the general secretariat of the Council. Formally there is a difference since 1 December, but in practice little has changed.

His appointment as SG for just 1.5 years is clearly a transitional one, to enable the new structures - in particular related to the European Council President and the External Action Service - to bed in before handing over the reins to a newcomer.

It doesn't make sense to compare Corsepius's background to that of de Boissieu today. Rather the comparison should be made with de Boissieu ten years ago. And in that respect, there is no great difference. De Boissieu is much less an EU insider than for example is Catherine Day, his Commission opposite number, who's made her career inside the Commission.

That's not to say that he always acts in French interests over those of the Union as a whole. But it's fair to say that he will be acutely aware of France's interests in any given situation, given his past experience and contacts. (Not least among his ENA classmates was Claude Guéant, Sarkozy's right-hand man.)

Anonymous said...

julian - I think you have unrealistic expectations. there is almost noone at senior level in the council that DOES NOT come parachuted in from national administrations. Who would this insider be?

Julien Frisch said...

Well, with time one could expect that EU officials who entered the institutions at a lower level and have made their way up over time should be able to fill these posts.

And I am not totally against filling EU posts with national officials, but I am against filling the posts with national officials according to national power quotas and influence considerations from national leaders.

Anonymous said...

"with time one could expect that EU officials who entered the institutions at a lower level and have made their way up over time should be able to fill these posts."

hah - you must be dreaming! (me too, I am an EU official).

Julien Frisch said...

Well, since I am just a political citizen I have the right to dream - unlike desperate EU officials... :-D

Anonymous said...

de Boissieu, renowned for his universal contempt towards all and sundry (apparently he believes to be a superior intelligence: observing him with other diplomats dispels this myth within 30 seconds at most) is likely to be replaced by yet another tame German friend of friends?
Goodness, been there, done that.
In the history of the Council there was also a former SecGen, a guy by the name of Jürgen Trumpf, such a low profile that at the Council meetings people thought he was a messenger and gave him photocopies to do.
From "Vieille France" to German carpet?
How quaintly appropriate, after Ashton and Van Rompuy...