by N. Peter Kramer
For Guy Verhofstadt to chair the conference on the Future of Europe is a red line for a group of member states. They see his zealous commitment to a ‘federal Europe’ as too great a risk. On Tuesday, the 27 EU foreign ministers talked about the issue at their meeting in Luxembourg but failed to take a decision. It is clear that the candidacy of the Belgian ex-Prime Minister and former President of the Liberal group (ALDE) in the European Parliament remains unacceptable to a considerable group of member states.
After last year’s European elections, there was an informal agreement between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron that Verhofstadt should be allowed to chair the conference on the Future of Europe. It was clearly Macron’s idea; he was looking for another job for Verhofstadt as having personally toppled him as President of ALDE and changing the name of the Liberal group to Renew instead of ALDE. As we have seen more often, Merkel succumbed to the French President. The idea was to appoint a triumvirate to preside over the conference, with Verhofstadt as primus-inter-pares. In the European Parliament the three largest groups, Christian-Democrats (EPP), Socialists (S&D) and Liberals (Renew), rallied behind the idea and behind Verhofstadt.
But, last June the memberstates voted in favour of ‘an eminent European personality as an independent and sole president, who must be able to represent the common interest of the three EU institutions’; a description that was already plummeting Verhofstadt’s candidacy chances. He is certainly eminent, but independent? His ambition to relegate EU member states into a sort of ‘EU provinces’ under the tight leadership of the EU capital Brussels is – thank goodness- a bridge too far for any sensible member state.