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Mary Robinson for President of the European Council

by Frank Schnittger Thu Oct 22nd, 2009 at 06:49:17 AM EST

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Tony Blair is being widely touted in the British media as the obvious and only choice for the Presidency of the European Council - a new full time post created under the Lisbon Treaty.  But there is another potential candidate, Mary Robinson, currently co-Chair of the Road to Copenhagen, who has far better credentials as an environmentalist, human rights activist, and embodiment of the European ideal.  Watch her in the video above making the link between human rights and climate change.  Look at her credentials and those of Tony Blair, and make your own choice.

Promoted by afew

See also Does Mary Robinson want to be President of the EU Council? and "Appointing Blair would be a hostile act" - Hague.

The growing debate on who should be the first full-time President of the European Council is much to welcomed - and shows a level of popular engagement with the EU project post Lisbon which I hope will be taken into account by the electorate for this august post - the heads of the 27 Governments represented on the Council.

A number of current and past prime ministers have been suggested for the post including Felipe González, Paavo Lipponen, Jan Peter Balkenende, Jean-Claude Juncker and Herman Van Rompuy. However, by far the most controversial suggestion has been Tony Blair.

The job is not particularly well defined in the Treaty, but it is generally accepted that it will involve preparing and chairing meetings of the Council and representing the EU throughout Europe and abroad. However it does not have executive powers (reserved for the President of the Commission) and neither will it have a hands on role in foreign policy formulation (the responsibility of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy).

The chief role of the office of President of the Council will therefore be to coordinate the work of the Council and ensure that it develops agreed positions on the key issues confronting the EU over the next few years - Globalisation, Financial Regulation, Climate Change, Energy security, Peace Keeping and the promotion of Human Rights.

Despite his positive role in the Northern Irish Peace process, Tony Blair is spectacularly unqualified to develop a European consensus on these issues. He divided Europe over the Iraq war; he championed the neo-liberal market de-regulation "reforms" which led, in part, to the current global financial crisis; he failed to take the UK into the Euro; and the UK derogated from the Schengen agreement and the Charter of Fundamental Rights under his leadership.

After 10 years of his Premiership, the UK is far behind its major European partners in terms of EU integration, financial market regulation, renewable energy production, and Climate Change mitigation. Appointing Tony Blair to the position of President of the Council would signal that the EU is no longer committed to forging ahead on those issues.

Much has been made of the possibility that his appointment might encourage the UK to be less Euro-sceptic and luke warm in its commitment to the EU. However the statements by Conservative leaders opposing his appointment, and the revulsion felt my many within the UK at his deceitful justifications for participating in the invasion of Iraq means that his appointment might, if anything, further alienate the UK from the EU.

One cannot ameliorate the democratic deficit within the EU and the lack of engagement which many people feel with European institutions by appointing to the Presidency someone who is widely perceived as having subverted the democratic process in his own country during his Premiership.

The Lisbon Treaty provides for the EU having to respond to Citizens petitions signed by over 1 million people throughout the EU. Already over 38,00O have signed a Stop Blair petition against his appointment. If people want to propose a more inspirational choice for the office of President, they could do worse than campaign for Mary Robinson. A Facebook group supporting her candidacy has attracted over 6000 members in just a few days.

So who is Mary Robinson, and why should we support her?

Mary was first elected to the Irish Senate in 1969 at the age of 25.

Mary Robinson - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

From this body she campaigned on a wide range of liberal issues, including the right of women to sit on juries, the then requirement that all women upon marriage resign from the civil service, and the right to the legal availability of contraception. This latter campaign won her many enemies. Condoms and other items were regularly sent in the post to the senator by conservative critics and a false rumour was spread that the chain of pharmacies Hayes, Conyngham Robinson was owned by her family (and so therefore that her promotion of contraception was an attempt to benefit members of her family). So unpopular was her campaign among fellow politicians that when she introduced the first bill proposing to liberalise the law on contraception into the senate, no other member would agree to 'second' the initiative and so it could not be further discussed.

As well a campaigning on women's issues, Mary also fought for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland.
LGBT rights in the Republic of Ireland - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Homosexuality was formally decriminalised in 1993. This was the result of a campaign by Senator David Norris and the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform which led to a ruling in 1988 that Irish laws prohibiting homosexual activities were in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform was founded in the 1970s to fight for the decriminalisation of homosexuality, its founding members including Senator Norris and current and former President of Ireland Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson.

The use of European Law to achieve social reforms in Ireland is a common theme throughout her work (and explains the hostility of Coir and other religious and conservative anti-Lisbon Treaty groups to the (PDF) Charter of Fundamental Rights which will become law as part of the Lisbon Treaty.

Mary's environmental credentials also go back to the 1970's.

Mary Robinson, along with hundreds of thousands of other Irish people, clashed with Dublin Corporation when it planned to built its new administrative headquarters on Wood Quay, one of Europe's best preserved Viking sites. Though Robinson and people who in the past might not have espoused her causes, fought a determined battle, Wood Quay was ultimately bulldozed and concreted over, to build the controversial Civic Offices.

On 3 December, 1990, Mary Robinson was inaugurated as the seventh President of Ireland, the first successful candidate not from the dominant conservative Fianna Fail party, and the first female President. It should be noted that the President of Ireland is a popularly elected office - unlike most of the Heads of Government represented on the EU Council - and thus her election demonstrates her popular appeal and direct connection with the electorate - qualities which the EU Council could benefit from.

As President she revolutionised what had been something of a moribund Office populated by semi retired senior politicians by inviting many excluded and marginalised groups to her Official Residence and doing much to end the historic enmity between Ireland and Great Britain, the former colonial power.

Mary Robinson - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

She reached out to the Irish 'diaspora' (the vast number of Irish emigrants and people of Irish descent). She also changed the face of Anglo-Irish relations, visiting Britain and became the first Irish president to meet Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. She welcomed visits by senior British royals, most notably the Prince of Wales to her official residence, Áras an Uachtaráin.

She retained a high profile on human rights issues by meeting Tenzin Gyatso (the 14th Dalai Lama) to the fury of the People's Republic of China and visited Rwanda to draw attention to the humanitarian catastrophe there.

Despite being unapologetically on the left of the Irish political spectrum, her popularity was unprecedented.
Mary Robinson - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

By half way through her term of office her popularity rating reached an unheard of 93%.[13]

In one of her roles as president, the signing into laws of Bills passed by the Oireachtas she was called upon to sign two very significant Bills that she had fought for throughout her political career. A Bill to fully liberalise the law on the availability of contraceptives, and a law fully decriminalising homosexuality and unlike Britain and much of the world at the time, providing for a fully equal age of consent, treating heterosexuals and LGBT people alike.

There can be no doubt, therefore, about her abilities as a unifying force, even when her agenda is far ahead of the very conservative Irish political landscape she inherited.

She resigned from the Presidency a few months before her term of Office ended in 1997 to take up an appointment as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Mary Robinson - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Robinson was the first High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Tibet, making her trip in 1998. During her tenure she criticised the Irish system of permits for non-EU immigrants as similar to "bonded labour" and criticised the United States' use of capital punishment. Though she had initially announced her intention to serve a single four-year period, she extended the term by a year following an appeal from Annan, allowing her to preside over the 2001 World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, as Secretary-General. Robinson's posting as High Commissioner ended in 2002, after sustained pressure from the United States led her to declare she was no longer able to continue her work.[14] Robinson had criticised the US for violating human rights in its war on terrorism and the World Conference against Racism was widely condemned in the US for its perceived anti-semitism. Michael Rubin even went so far as to suggest that she be tried for war crimes for presiding over "an intellectual pogrom against Jews and Israel."

There can therefore also be no doubt about her willingness to take on powerful adversaries in support of unpopular causes. Do we want the European Union to stand up for European values as encoded in the Charter of Fundamental Rights?  Then we could have no finer representative than Mary Robinson who has stood up for those values all her political life in so doing transforming Ireland form a conservative backwater and helping to build a more humanitarian world order.

Since 2002, Mary Robinson has been Honorary President of Oxfam International and she is also a founding member and Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders. She serves on many boards including the Vaccine Fund and is a founding member of the Elders along with a number of other very distinguished statemen and women.
Mary Robinson - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

On 18 July 2007 in Johannesburg, South Africa, Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel, and Desmond Tutu convened a group of world leaders to contribute their wisdom, independent leadership and integrity to tackle some of the world's toughest problems. Nelson Mandela announced the formation of this new group, The Elders, in a speech he delivered on the occasion of his 89th birthday.

Archbishop Tutu will serve as the Chair of The Elders. The founding members of this group also include Graça Machel, Kofi Annan, Ela Bhatt, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Jimmy Carter, Li Zhaoxing and Muhammad Yunus.

Mary Robinson's newest project is the Ethical Globalization Initiative (EGI), which seeks to incorporate human rights into the globalization process, and support capacity building and good governance in developing countries.  

What finer representative could we have of what the EU should be about - human rights, humanitarian concerns, climate change - someone who has braved opposition both at home and abroad in support of the policies she and we believe in, policies which have now been incorporated into the Lisbon Treaty which also creates the post of full time President of the European Council - a post ideally suited to her talents.

Go lobby your political leaders for someone we can believe in.

Protestor assails Blair in Hebron - The Irish Times - Tue, Oct 20, 2009

Bodyguards subdued a Palestinian man today as he approached Middle East envoy Tony Blair, shouting at him and calling him a "terrorist".

The former British prime minister was confronted while visiting an ancient mosque during an official trip to the West Bank city of Hebron.

The protester, carrying a bag, was backed into a corner by guards who tried to shut him up. "He is not welcome in the land of Palestine," the struggling man shouted.

And not welcome in Europe either!

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Oct 20th, 2009 at 12:50:23 PM EST
The good thing about visiting mosques is that you are safe from shoes...
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Tue Oct 20th, 2009 at 01:38:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think Mary Robinson would be a great choice. Not only is she one of the few politicians with integrity, but I would consider it a great sign for the first EU President to be a woman - would be one step more in direction of womens equality.
by Fran on Tue Oct 20th, 2009 at 04:47:08 PM EST
excellent point.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Oct 21st, 2009 at 09:16:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Plus the bonus of giving a counter-point to all that "where is Europe's Obama?" crap.
by det on Wed Oct 21st, 2009 at 09:43:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I should have referenced an excellent post by Nanne on the growing support for Mary Robinson.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Oct 20th, 2009 at 07:38:43 PM EST
Mary Robinson would certainly stand head and shoulders above any other Anglophone candidate.  Has anyone heard whether she's interested in the job?
by Pope Epopt on Wed Oct 21st, 2009 at 05:44:33 AM EST
Was wondering myself -- I haven't read anything in the dozen or so articles mentioning her as candidate.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Oct 21st, 2009 at 06:16:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Afaik, no candidate has declared any interest (including Blair). It seems to be a thing that is not done.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Wed Oct 21st, 2009 at 07:16:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You do read about advisors saying this and that about Bliar (including his boredness with his current job), and you do read about the aspirations of Verhofstadt and Balkenende. Last year, Juncker first said he does NOT want the job. I don't know about Lipponen.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Oct 21st, 2009 at 08:52:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have sent an e-mail to Ethical Globalisation Initiative on that very point and have asked them to forward it to her.  (I do not have a direct e-mail address).  Hopefully we will get a response...

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Oct 21st, 2009 at 11:05:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Dear Frank Schnittger,

On behalf of Mary Robinson thank for your interest in supporting her for the new post of president of the European Council.  She is travelling at the moment but below is her response to Margot Wallstrom, Vice President of the European Commission on the issue.

 "I very much appreciate the support you have offered to the campaign being mounted to have me nominated as President of the EU.

 It is humbling and gratifying to be mentioned as a possibility for such a position - particularly when it appears that the campaign is being led by civil society and those interested in issues we both wish to address and progress.

As you know during recent times I have become increasingly focussed on climate change and its negative impacts on the developing world - i.e. on the issue of climate justice. It is a topic of extreme urgency and is proving very time-consuming and demanding.

With this focus I could not commit myself to considering accepting the challenge of the EU Presidency.   I share your aspiration that a woman candidate will become apparent, and indeed successful, for one (or more!) of the senior posts in the EU but that person will not be me.  I would be grateful if you could help me get this message across very clearly to those who have supported the idea of my being a candidate for the EU Presidency."

I hope this is helpful.

Kind regards,

Mary Baylis

Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative

271 Madison Avenue, Suite 1007

New York,  NY 10016

Tel: (212) 895-8082 Fax: (212) 895-8084


notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Oct 21st, 2009 at 01:38:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Turn that into a diary and I'll FP it.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 21st, 2009 at 01:57:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Oct 21st, 2009 at 07:54:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"The major problem- one of the major problems, for there are several- one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of whom manages to get people to let them do it to them.
To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.

And so, in yet another aspect, Mary is head-and-shoulders above Tony.

by det on Wed Oct 21st, 2009 at 03:13:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I suspect the consensus amongst European leaders would be to avoid someone as controversial as Blair on as independent as Robinson. The usual pattern for filling EU posts is to find someone harmless from, say, Luxembourg.
by Gary J on Wed Oct 21st, 2009 at 06:00:29 AM EST
Would you like to expand on that "harmless"?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Oct 21st, 2009 at 06:09:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The British government will certainly not see Juncker as 'harmless'.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Oct 21st, 2009 at 06:13:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Harmless in the sense of not controversial and unlikely to initiate anything unexpected. Someone who will facilitate what the member states want to do, but not pursue a distinctive or challenging agenda.
by Gary J on Wed Oct 21st, 2009 at 07:21:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is always the possibility that they will consider Mary as good for the optics but not really one of them (an ex-Prime Minister) and thus either not a real heavyweight who might pursue an independent agenda and pose a threat to theirs, or as too much of an unknown quantity.  

If they take the former view - that she is good for the optics but not a threat to their designs - they might very well appoint her - and might also be in for something of a surprise as she has a track record of pursuing a very principled line.

However he success as President of Ireland was not in breeching the very narrow limits of its real powers, but in popularising the office and greatly increasing popular engagement with it.  Thus if they want someone to reduce the "democratic deficit" and increase popular engagement with the EU, they could not do better.

The question of how effective the Council would be as a decision making body on contentious issues under her chairmanship is a different matter.  My view would be that her lack of ego, good listening skills, determination not to ignore the smaller players etc. would make her a very popular and effective chair though not necessarily very popular with the Major countries who might be looking for more of a puppet to do their bidding.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Oct 21st, 2009 at 01:33:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Campaign proposes Robinson as EU premier - The Irish Times - Fri, Oct 23, 2009
A CAMPAIGN is under way to have former Irish president Mary Robinson considered for the new post of president of the European Council, which will be established when the Lisbon Treaty comes into effect. An online petition has been launched and a website set up by those campaigning for Ms Robinson to be appointed to the position, which is expected to go to a former prime minister of an EU member state.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Oct 22nd, 2009 at 08:22:52 PM EST
"EU Premier"?

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 23rd, 2009 at 03:47:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course WE know it's not like that.  But the very fact that the MSM are widely using the short-hand of EU Premier or President perhaps tells us a few interesting things:

  1. Long titles which require explanation don't make catchy headlines

  2. Non specialist journalists don't always know what they are talking about

  3. The MSM think that there is a market in project the post as that of EU Premier/President

  4. This perhaps reflects some popular yearning for one public face to represent the complexity that is the EU.

  5. Some euro-sceptic Press may want to deliberately inflate the post as a scare tactic to excite their supporters

  6. Some Federalist EU supporters mights like the post to evolve into "the public face of the EU"

In short, the terminological inexactitude may not entirely be a bad thing - if it reflects a yearning for a more accessible, visible, accountable and coherent face of the EU - and if it leads to a better level of engagement in the EU as a consequence.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Oct 23rd, 2009 at 08:46:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Re 1, as I wrote elsewhere, there might be a language issue here: in English, "EU President" is really the most economical -- though at least "Council President" should not be that difficult... --, in German however, Ratspräsident beats even EU-Präsident.

EU Premier or President

IMO, not an insignificant difference -- and given that Ireland has both, such a confusion is the more glaring. The EU's de-facto Premier is the President of the Commission, and that regardless of whether the President of the European Council will remain the low-key chairman or be turned into an "EU President" as per Bliar's and Sarko's wishes.

Some Federalist EU supporters mights like the post to evolve into "the public face of the EU"

Nah, more the Confederationists: the intergovermentalists.

it reflects a yearning for a more accessible, visible, accountable and coherent face of the EU

How will a Council President Blair be a more accessible, visible, accountable and coherent face of the EU than a Commission President Barroso?

And why hasn't this yearning you analyse materialise in a practice to call Barroso EU Premier?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Oct 23rd, 2009 at 09:41:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You left out my conditional "if" in front of the yearning quote. I don't know whether or the extent to which it exists although I suspect it does.  Barroso is seen as the head bureaucrat and not as a politically elected figure.  Prime Ministers are mostly indirectly elected -via their Parliaments - and so I suppose by electing a Council President they are conferring some indirect democrat legitimacy to the President.  Yes, I know they also elect/appoint the President of the Commission and so you can argue the same logic applies.

I'm not saying this is right or logical, but for whatever reason the popular conception of the post seems to regard it as more of their representative - rather than a representative of the "Brussels Democracy" - and insofar as this improves the democratic legitimacy of the EU, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Oct 23rd, 2009 at 09:53:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I know they also elect/appoint the President of the Commission and so you can argue the same logic applies.

I think the same logic could apply regarding the bureaucrat/politically elected figure perceptions, too. (And at least my perception of Barroso is not that of a bureaucrat...)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Oct 23rd, 2009 at 10:05:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
All I'm saying is that the way the President of the Council post is being portrayed and perceived in the MSM is quite different to the way the President of the Commission is being portrayed and perceived, and although that may not always be well grounded in the job spec and mode of election of either post, and may thus grate with the eurocognoscenti, it may not altogether be a bad thing that they are perceived so differently.  Whether this difference of perception will prove long lasting or not is of course a separate issue and may well depend on the first incumbent of the Council post.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Oct 23rd, 2009 at 10:27:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
in the MSM

English-language MSM.

it may not altogether be a bad thing that they are perceived so differently

That wasn't your original point :-) But I still don't see it.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Oct 23rd, 2009 at 02:52:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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