Madame La Presidente?
What are the arguments for electing a woman as the first President of Europe?
October 16, 2009
The political jockeying for one of the real trophies in political Europe's more streamlined power structure is fast taking shape.
The position of the President of Europe (formally the President of the European Council) will end the practice of presenting a new European face to the world every six months — which took place whenever another country took over the rotating Presidency of the European Union.
While the post's real powers are generally involved with coordination, there is an element that addresses Henry Kissinger's lament about the lack of European integration: "When I want to call Europe, I cannot find a phone number."
Giving Europe a more constant "face" requires the selection of a person who is truly skilled on the political front — and one who has some public appeal. In addition, given today's ever more complex world, and growing skepticism about professional politicians, it would be refreshing to find a candidate who has not spent his or her entire life in the political sphere.
Preferably, there would also be an element of surprise in presenting the new president — meaning somebody who has not been part of the European "furniture" for all too long.
Of course, there are the eternal candidates, such as Luxemburg's Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker.
And Britain has launched a full-blown campaign to convince Europe that the only qualified political heavyweight with enough of a global profile — and ready availability — is none other than former Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Never mind Mr. Blair's key supporting role in the rather inglorious Iraq venture, which hardly provides his fellow European citizens with the confidence that he has the maturity, and independence, of judgment to chart the right course for Europe's future.
One can rest assured that plenty of other (male) candidates will be, and are being, bandied about. But in order to have a surprise element, it would be far more intriguing to choose a woman as the first President of Europe.
At the top of the list in that category is Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor. She has certainly proven that she is a good balancer of varying European interests — and that, owing to her personal modesty, she has the required skills to bring people together.
The problem, though, is that the German Chancellor is still very much needed to keep running the German government.
Fortunately, there is another — in many ways even better — option. Christine Lagarde, France's Minister for the Economy, Industry and Employment, makes a good impression wherever she goes.
As the former global chairman of Baker McKenzie, one of the world's top law firms, her array of skills extends to more than just politics.
In a world increasingly dominated by complex economic issues, she has a solid grasp of all of these matters — including her service as French trade minister from 2005 to 2007.
She not only has a clear grasp of the complex social, economic and financial issues that will determine the continent's future — but even more importantly, she can articulate what lies ahead in plain English, which her fellow citizens of Europe can easily follow.
There will, of course, always be detractors — including those who argue that, for reasons of political balance, her selection is unlikely given that José Manuel Barroso, another center-right politician, has been reappointed as President of the European Commission.
Having two politicians roughly from the same political camp leading Europe is seen as a non-starter by some.
Others are more categorical and argue that only a former head of government can be considered as President of Europe. Mere ministers are not considered enough of a "heavyweight."
The pointlessness of this argument is made plain by the discussions about Mr. Barroso, a former Portuguese prime minister, who was not considered heavyweight enough by his opponents. If anything, his example shows that pure formalities ought not to determine the ultimate outcome of the selection process.
If true competence and the element of surprise matter, then there is hardly a way around giving Christine Lagarde not just full consideration, but also the job.
Making a woman the President of Europe would also be one more-than-symbolic way to outperform the United States, as well as China. It would put Europe on the global map in an instant.
After all, so far, women leaders of large nations — curiously enough — have been restricted to South Asia, from India's Indira Gandhi and Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto to Indonesia’s Megawati Sukarnoputri and Bangladesh’s Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina.
While that is an admirable fact of global life, there is nothing wrong with Europe matching that record more than four decades after India first gave it a go.
Making a woman the President of Europe would also be one more-than-symbolic way to outperform the United States, as well as China.
Given growing skepticism about professional politicians, it would be refreshing to find a candidate who has not spent his or her entire life in the political sphere.
Angela Merkel has certainly proven that she is a good balancer of varying European interests. She has the required skills to bring people together.