“He Did Not Take the Fruit of Those Who Had Planted the Tree …”
Since the fve-year terms of the European Parliament and Commission coincided, there was lively speculation about who would lead the Commission after the 2004 European elections. Romano Prodi no longer stood a chance of a second term as Commission President — even he did not think so. In the media and in countless meetings speculation reached fever pitch. We thought back to 1999. After those elections, the EPP Group had once again ended up as the largest group. Yet our victory had had no impact whatsoever on the composition of the Prodi Commission, let alone on who would be the Commission President. But in 2004, the proposed European Constitution determined that government leaders in the European Council would have to take into account the results of the elections.
In February, a European politician telephoned me and asked me to contact Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, a Liberal, who was a candidate for President of the European Commission. I presumed that Verhofstadt had asked this politician to smooth the way with the EPP. After discreetly inquiring among political friends, I did not comply with the request. All had said “No”. We would nominate our own candidate if we won the European elections. However, not everyone shared this view. Our Benelux Prime Ministers, Jan-Peter Balkenende of the Netherlands and Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, unoffcially supported Verhofstadt. But even they had a problem. When the word went around that German Chancellor Gerhard Schrüder and French President Jacques Chirac were nominating Verhofstadt, it was abundantly clear that — like Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand in 1994 — they had not reached agreement with the British. In the course of this evolving deadlock, the divisions over the war in Iraq had left deep scars: the Franco-German axis, supported by Belgium, was diametrically opposed to Britain.