Tuesday 17 November 2009

On not running the world

It is often alleged (by Mel Gibson among others) that the Fabian Society runs a secret global governance plot from our modest Dartmouth Street offices just next to St James Park in London. The inaugural meeting of the United Nations certainly took place barely a hundred yards away at Westminster Central Hall back in 1946. Unfortunately, I can't really help further with these intriguing speculations, since most of the conspiring must take place well above my pay grade,

But Ian Traynor of The Guardian is reporting some top level diplomatic negotiations in the green room margins as both Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Party of European Socialists Chair Poul Nyrup Rasmussen MEP, the former Danish PM, were speaking at our Global Change We Need conference held at the Amnesty International Human Rights Centre in London the weekend before last. Albeit that Traynor suggests a somewhat non-historic encounter, if he is right that they disagreed about both the Blair candidacy for EU Council President and the Miliband non-candidacy for EU High Representative: [nb: correction: Post initially attributed Ian Traynor's report to Ian Black]

David Miliband, the foreign secretary, was the frontrunner for foreign minister and fitted the bill. The French and Germans would have supported him. Ten days ago at a Fabian Society meeting in London, though, Miliband emerged seething with anger from a meeting with Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, the Danish head of the European socialists, who told him that they would never support Blair for president. Miliband told Rasmussen he did not want the job.

While we couldn't possibly comment about that, the answer to Henry Kissinger's famous European rolodex dilemma remains shrouded in mystery too.

It was interesting to see The Independent highlight some momentum behind The Iron Lady of the North, Vaira Vike-Freiberga of Latvia, who was Next Left's outsider tip for the EU Presidency a fortnight ago.

Ladbrokes still keep Tony Blair at the head of the list for EU Council President, though joint favourite Jan-Peter Balkenende, also at 5/2, is widely thought a likelier winner. For those looking for betting value, Next Left's outside tip for the role is Vaira Vike-Freiberga of Latvia at 20/1.

She's now come in to 10-1, with a new A Woman to Head Europe website and the backing of Neelie Kroes and Margot Wallstrom on the Barroso Commission.

But I fear she will have damaged her candidacy with EU leaders with her hard-hitting criticism that the process was being conducted with Soviet-style lack of transparency.

The tip was simply based on the idea that the most prominent possible female candidate, and the most prominent possible candidate from behind the Iron Curtain, could offer an alternative if the EU wanted to break with the assumption that the job would go to the little-known Prime Minister of Belgium.

With all three Benelux candidates still in the frame, there is a good chance that this was to overestimate the imagination which the EU 27 will bring to the role.

Gratuitous offensive generalisations about the Belgians are to be deplored. They are no more or less likely to be famous internationally than the citizens of any similarly sized nation.

Speaking as somebody who could give you chapter and verse on the contributions made by the (Milibandesque) former PM Guy Verhoefstadt to debates about the third way, and having myself spoken at the Flemish Social Democrats conference last Autumn. (Verhoefstadt is also in the EU Presidency betting at 16-1 but faces the problem not just of another Belgian PM, but that another rival Dutch PM Jan Peter Balkenende may have the Harry Potter vote sewn up).

So I would take the fact that I could have told you nothing at all about Herman van Rompuy before this race as circumstantial evidence that, over the last year, he has remained a much lower profile Belgian prime minister than we are all used to.

Here are the latest Ladbrokes odds for the Presidency role.

Herman Van Rompuy 2/3 on
Jan-Peter Balkenende 4/1
Tony Blair 4/1
Jean-Claude Juncker 7/1
Paavo Lipponen 10/1
Vaira Vike-Freiberga 10/1
Wolfgang Schussel 12/1
Francois Fillon 16/1
Guy Verhofstadt 16/1
Martti Ahtisaari 16/1

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