`Mr. Europe' to Retire; Race on for Successor European Leaders Take Sides in Choice of New Union President

By Howard LaFranchi, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 6, 1994 | Go to article overview

`Mr. Europe' to Retire; Race on for Successor European Leaders Take Sides in Choice of New Union President


Howard LaFranchi, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


HE represents Europe at summits of the Group of Seven countries, speaks with the voice of the European Union to both the 340 million citizens of the Union and the rest of the world, and symbolizes what Europe is and what it expects to become.

He has been president of the EU's Commission since 1985 - the Frenchman Jacques Delors. But after 10 years of what many EU observers consider one of the most productive presidencies in the Commission's four-decade existence, and certainly its highest-profiled one (some refer to the French Socialist as "president of Europe" or simply "Mr. Europe"), Mr. Delors will step down in December.

Delors's announced departure has opened a heated contest for the man (as of now, no women figure as candidates) who will be asked to incarnate a Europe facing challenges undreamed of during the relatively stable era before the fall of the Berlin Wall. And as leaders of the EU accelerate the back-room dealing for Delors's successor, the public of this Union that is trying to become more democratic and "draw closer to the people" sees that it has very little say in the process.

Some analysts argue that the Commission, which proposes and enforces Union law, has lost some of its influence and stature in the last few years as a nationalist wave has washed over Europe. But Stanley Crossick, director of the Belmont European Policy Center in Brussels, where the Commission sits, expects the Commission president's role as spokesman for Europe to grow along with the Union.

The Commission presidency "is a far more important and high-profile job than it once was," he says.

The EU's current membership of 12 countries is expected to jump to 15 or 16 next year as Austria, Finland, Norway, and Sweden vote on joining, and to as many as 20 around the turn of the century with the first Eastern European candidates.

EU leaders are expected to make their choice at their June summit in Greece. And although a list of favorites is circulating among governments, observers caution that the bargaining process could still deliver a surprise.

"It's important to emphasize that at this point in the process 10 years ago, Jacques Delors's name did not even figure on the list," Mr. Crossick says.

Long-time Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers was long considered the top runner for the post, since he enjoyed the support of the Union's "Big Three:" Germany, France, and Britain. …

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